Friday, February 20, 2009

Pufnstuf & Other Stuff by David Martindale

David Martindale. Pufnstuf & Other Stuff: The Weird and Wonderful World of Sid & Morty Krofft. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998.

Sid and Morty Krofft produced Saturday morning children’s TV programs that aired from 1969, beginning with “H.R. Pufnstuf” and ending with “The Last Saucer”, which went off the air in 1976. Their shows were known for the wholesome entertainment. The shows were colorful and often followed the then popular psychedelic color patterns. Thus, the shows had a crossover appeal to young adults who like the psychedelic touches, often taking drugs while watching. While the Kroffts opposed drug use, they knew their “trippy” style shows appealed to children and drug using adults.

The dialogue was youth oriented trendy. The writers insist there were no drug references placed into the shows. The references fans deduced were unintentional, such as those who thought Pufnstuff referred to “puffing marijuana” and Lidsville referred to “a lid of pot”.

The Kroffts believe in intelligent dialogue that did not talk down to children. The show was meant for entertainment. They were not presenting an educational show, as they felt educational shows did not attract as many viewers.

The Krofft production company also produced TV shows such as “Donny & Marie” as well as a few movies.

The Krofft children’s shows have made comebacks in re-runs.

The Krofft brothers are fifth generation puppeteers. The Kroffts had puppets on the first ever color TV broadcast as well as on several variety shows in the 1950s.

A third Krofft brother Harry was their office manager.

Marty Krofft started out as a car salesman. He was the top Ford salesman at age 17. This sales experience helped sell their TV shows. He made people believe in how good whatever it was that he was selling.

The Kroffts made popular the idea of transforming puppetry into one where a person would wear a puppet costume.

The Kroffts had puppet shows at Six Flags parks and other attractions. They were grossing a million dollars annually. They received recurring work on the Dean martin Show. Liberace liked the puppets and asked his fans to write NBC in support of the puppets. Dean Martin didn’t appreciate the mail, especially since many of the puppet fans were critical of him. He fired the Kroffts after eight shows even though they were contracted for 26 shows.

NBC had the Kroffts create suits for the Banana Splits TV characters. While making the suits, a network executive suggested they should create their own show. Sid Krofft quickly sold the NBC’s programming executive on the idea of “H.R. Pufnstuff”. The idea was creating within hours , given to NBC executive Larry White on a Friday, and on Monday NBCL agreed to the idea as the first new show chosen by them for its 1969-70 season.

The show had a million dollar cost overrun that could have bankrupted the Kroffts had it not been a hit. The last show was a dream show of clips from previous shows because they had run out of money. NBC paid them $52,000 per episode and their lack of TV experience led them to fail to keep costs under control.

The Kroffts were so inexperienced they refused the network’s request to change the name of the show, which usually is not something newcomers stand up to network executives about. NBC executives though Pufnstuf seemed too feminine a name. The Kroffts also refused to show network executives a rough cut of the first show before music and sound effects were added. Fortunately for the Kroffts, the network executives did not force these issues.

The name Pufnstuf was inspired by the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”. H.R. is Royal Highness reversed.

The Kroffts sued McDonald’s in 1971 for copyright law violations for the McDonaldland characters that appeared similar to Krofft intellectual property. A leading point in the dispute was that McDonald’s employees had consulted with the Kroffts and then created characters without their assistance. In 1983, the Kroffts they used one lawyer versus a team of lawyers for McDonalds.

Ludicrous Lion was inspired by W.C. Fields. Judy Frog was inspired by Judy Garland.

Cassandra Peterson was hired for one day of work to help guide Pufnstuf around a syndication show convention. Peterson would later become famous as Elvira, Mistress of the Dead.

The Kroffts felt 17 good episodes were enough. They moved on to produce a different show, “The Bugaloos”. “The Bugaloos” featured original songs and was an early music video show, before such shows existed. Phil Collins’s mother was the Bugaloo’s music agent. Phil Collins was one of three under final consideration for the role of IQ Bugaloo, yet the role went to John McIndoe. The actors did both TV shows and song recordings. Their work days often left them only 3 to 4 hours of sleep.

“Lidsville” was the next Krofft TV show. It starred Butch Patrick as a boy transformed to a magic land.

“Sigmund and the Sea Monster”, starring Johnny Whitaker, was based on a real experience Sid Krofft had finding large seaweed on the beach. Whitaker later worked as a computer help desk specialist at CBS. The show’s set once caught fire. No one was hurt yet Rip Taylor gained notice for fleeing the fire in public while still dressed in costume. “Sigmund and the Sea Monster” was the first Krofft show to drop its appeal to the adult market while focusing on the children’s market.

“Land of the Lost” was the next Krofft TV series. A linguist. Victoria Fromkin, was hired to create a new Pakuni language for the show. UCLA basketball players portrayed the Sleestaks, including Bill Laimbeer, who would later play in the NBA.

“For Our Nuts” was a Krofft series starring Bob Denver and Chuck McCann. The Kroffts also had another space themed show on ABC, “The Lost Saucer”. Both appeared on Saturday mornings.

The “Krofft Supershow” on ABC presented serialized segments with rock and roll music.

“The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” brought the Brady Bunch cast back together, except for Eve Plumb who was replaced by Geri Reisch. The show was quickly slapped together. It was ravaged by some critics by others give it cultural significance.

The Krofft’s “Pink Lady and Jeff” lasted one month in 1980. The Krofft’s “Barbara and the Mandrell Sisters” was successful.

“D.C. Follies of the Kroffts” in 1987 presented puppets of politicians.

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