By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
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By Roger Calamaio
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Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968, children's watchdog groups sprang up and pointed a collective finger at -- what else -- cartoon violence! Kiddie animation seemed an unlikely scapegoat. After all, James Earl Ray didn't drop a 16-ton Acme anvil to kill the dream. Nevertheless, cartoon censors were able to make a clean sweep of gun-wielding thugs, superheroes administering knuckle sandwiches or any other kind of malevolent slapstick that a kid could hurt himself imitating.
Almost overnight, kids were getting pelted with (yawn) educational and moralistic programming. Yogi Bear went from robbing picnic baskets to outwitting ecological villains like Mr. Dirt and Mr. Pollution. And it only got worse from there. "Those are political decisions made by executives. Kids go to school five days a week; they don't need to learn any more lessons on the weekend." So says Marty Krofft, the business mind behind the puppet-creating pair of Sid and Marty Krofft, responsible for such memorable live-action Saturday morning eye candy as H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Land of the Lost, Lidsville, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and Sigmund and the Sea Monster.
The Kroffts didn't have Ph.D.'s in child psychology. They were showmen, world-class puppeteers who entertained grown-ups for more than a decade before television came a-calling. Thank Hoo Doo that someone was out there keeping up kids' morale. And like recently re-formed rockers KISS have discovered, those kids grew up to be adults with disposable incomes.
For them, Kid Rhino Home Video recently released a three-volume set, The World of Sid & Marty Krofft, and has followed that up with a continuous stream of Krofft home video releases. What this World of S&M lacked in rock 'em, sock 'em violence, it made up for in silliness, slapstick and phantasmagoric splendor.
Perhaps the Kroffts' greatest achievement was re-creating the popular psychedelic sights and sounds of the day for pre-drug teens with the appropriate amount of "don't do this, kids" malevolence. Still, a lot of people thought Pufnstuf trippy enough to name head shops after him, while others contend that the H.R. stands for "hand rolled." And let's not even get into the impetus for the name "Lidsville."
The focus of at least seven Krofft shows was kids or juvenile-brained adults getting taken away on "bad trips" and finding themselves unable to get back home. "Of course, isn't that always the case? Everybody's always trying to get home," reasons Marty, whose deep and smoky Alex Rocco voice betrays a world-weariness that comes from decades of making deals with people who get in the way of making Krofft fantasies become realities.
"Actually, we got everybody getting stuck somewhere. We never got anybody off any island. As far as the psychedelics," he continues, "I think colors and music were always a part of what we did. When we named Pufnstuf, the NBC guy said that's too sissy, too soft, that title. Lidsville, no, that's too soft. Nobody got it then. We were just doing double entendres. I guess they were trips, the shows."
It was this healthy contempt for the network meddling that led to the brothers pushing the envelope wherever possible. "Don't touch the evil mushrooms!" warns Pufnstuf in the episode included in the boxed set. How could these watchdog groups have missed the visual pun of Jimmy actually tripping on them evil 'shrooms? "They went over everybody's heads then," says Krofft laughing.
Certainly there was nothing violent they could find in a show whose star was Puf, a manic dragon who never breathed fire! "Well, you know, Puf was a bit of a sissy," chuckles Krofft. "I think Barney did a good job of copying us. You notice we never sued them. You only do that once in your life."
Krofft is alluding to the time he and his brother sued McDonald's for hamburglaring all their ideas. The similarities between Hizzoner Pufnstuf and Mayor McCheese were inescapable when the fast-food franchise ran its "McDonaldland" spots during the show it was ripping its ideas off of. "The leading case in copyright law is Sid and Marty Krofft v. McDonald's," says Krofft. "We were at them for 13 years trying to resolve this thing. We went to the Appellate Court of the United States. They copied us. They had access to our ideas and were going to do a deal with us to do these things, but then somebody in their ad agency wrote a letter to us saying they were not going forth with the McDonaldland campaign à la Pufnstuf. So that hung them right there. But it's hard to beat up on the elephant. They wound up paying some money, but it was not enough or I wouldn't be working today," he adds.
The Kroffts followed Pufnstuf with a musical series, The Bugaloos. A bee group in every sense of the word, they never really rocked out, but any place called Tranquility Forest must have severe noise ordinances. The Bugaloos never quite reached Pufnstuf's stature, either, possibly because they were just eight antennae away from being a buncha bleedin' fairies. In Episode 14, "Benita's Double Trouble," blonde Bugaloo IQ dresses in drag to impersonate big mouth Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye). This swishy spectacle could be seen as a precursor to glitter rock, if only the Bugaloos' lullaby music didn't make even Olivia Newton-John sound like Cannibal Corpse.