ROOM 38 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
In Search Of... H.R. Pufnstufby G Radice
Date of Article: 27th October 2016
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This is a strange, scary, freaky demented show...The thought of seeing this show again sends shivers up my spine. Therefore I have no choice but to give it a "10"
Let me take you back to a television time in my life when I was regularly traumatised by the TV offerings of the time - Dr Who's "The Web Of Fear" and the East German production of The Singing Ringing Tree immediately spring to mind.
I think it was around 1970 when H.R. Pufnstuf was first let loose on the UK viewing public. (1969 in USA).
I would best describe it as a trippy mix of surreal live action, over-sized puppets, ear-piercing sound effects, vivid colours (imagined on a black and white set), a screeching laughter track, and just about anything else that the producers could throw at the screen and through it. Looking back, I think the writers and producers probably had more fun putting it together than I did watching it as an 8 year old (I hated the laughter track and the whole thing played like one big noisy blur) but I have to admit that it certainly rates high as a TV show that left its mark on me. The prevailing theme of H.R. Pufnstuf was that of a stranger in a strange land..a very, very strange land..
H.R.Pufnstuf: Opening Credits (Run time: 1 min 49 seconds)
Once upon a summertime
Just a dream from yesterday
A boy and his magic golden flute
Heard a boat from off the bay
"Come and play with me, Jimmy
Come and play with me.
And I will take you on a trip
Far across the sea."
But the boat belonged to a kooky old witch
Who had in mind the flute to snitch
From her Vroom Broom in the sky
She watched her plans materialize
She waved her wand
The beautiful boat was gone
The skies grew dark
The sea grew rough
And the boat sailed on and on and on and on and on and on.
But Pufnstuff was watching too
And knew exactly what to do
He saw the witch's boat attack
And as the boy was fighting back
He called his rescue racer crew
As often they'd rehearsed
And off to save the boy they flew
But who would get there first?
But now the boy had washed ashore
Puf arrived to save the day
Which made the witch so mad and sore
She shook her fist and screamed away.
Who's your friend when things get rough?
Can't do a little cause he can't do enough.
Who's your friend when things get rough?
Can't do a little cause he can't do enough.
There was no messing about with this show - The use of an opening ballad set the scene and allowed the producers / writers etc to dive straight into story and character development. It also helped explain the premise to any viewers who just happened to be tuning in and hadn't seen the show beforehand - Gilligan's Island was using a similar ploy. The music for the series is credited to Gene Page Jr. with songs and special material credited to Les Szarvas . Paul Simon was also credited after he successfully sued the producers claiming that the song's theme mimicked too closely that of his own song The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
The show was created by brothers Sid and Marty Krofft.
Sid Krofft was born Cydus Yolas on July 30, 1929 in Athens, Greece. Marty Krofft was born Moshopopoulos Yolas on April 9, 1937 in Montréal, Québec, Canada.
"For years, they claimed to have been born to a family of fifth-generation puppeteers, but revealed in 2008 that this story was invented by a publicist in the 1940s. Their father was, in fact, a clock salesman who moved from Canada to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to New York City" (New York Times)
Following on from their success with an adult-orientated puppet show called Les Poupées De Paris (which they travelled with throughout the USA) and from other live shows including those they put on at Theme Parks, Marty and Sid Krofft were approached by Hanna Barbara to build the 'walkaround' costumes for The Banana Splits....A 1968 show many people of a certain age will remember with fondness.
The Banana Splits: Opening Credits (Run time: 39 seconds)
In 1969 NBC approached the Kroffts to create their own Saturday Morning Children's series and they picked H.R. Pufnstuf, the fans' favourite character by far, from their live shows. The first of 17 thirty minute episodes was first aired in USA in early September 1969 and the final episode aired on December 27th 1969. It was filmed at Paramount Studios, Hollywood USA.
The Main Cast
Lancashire born 17 year old Jack Wild (Jimmy) was the star of the show and was reportedly paid $1m for the role. It was at the 1968 premiere of Oliver! when Jack Wild met Sid and Marty Krofft who both thought he would make a good lead. Marty Krofft accepted guardianship of Jack Wild while filming the show in America and later described bringing him into his home as a mistake. "He made my life Hell"
Jack Wild started smoking at a young age and battled with alcoholism. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and sadly died on 1st March 2006 aged 53 years.
Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo) was born August 5, 1932 in DuQuoin, Illinois, USA. According to some sources on the web only two actresses auditioned to play Witchiepooh. However, this information appears to be contradicted in the book Sid and Marty Krofft: A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Children's Television, 1969-1993 by Hal Erickson. "About a zillion actresses showed up. They'd leap up on the desks, throw themselves on the couch and shriek and yell. We went home every night with headaches but still no witch... Billie Hayes landed the role because, according to Sid: "She had a great cackle"
Lennie Weinrib (H.R. Pufnstuf / Voice) was born April 29 1935 in The Bronx, New York and died June 28, 2006 in Santiago, Chile following a stroke. He was an American actor, voice actor and writer and probably best known for being the voice of H.R. Pufnstuf and Inch High, Private Eye.
Marty Krofft said that even after Weinrib retired to Chile, he continued doing occasional voices for him via a recording studio in Santiago and that
"Nobody ever captured H.R. Pufnstuf like this guy."
Roberto Gamanet (H.R. Pufnstuf / Costumed) "..A native of Central America, Roberto Gamanet had occasionally worked with the Kroffts in the early 1960s. He was shy yet funny, considerate, and probably one of the world's most talented puppeteers....He was also very professional and never rocked the boat about anything." (Joy Campbell)
Taken from the book:
Sid and Marty Krofft: A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Children's Television, 1969-1993 by Hal Erickson
Roberto image courtesy mptvimages.com © 1978 Mario Casilli
Joan Gerbler (Freddy The Flute) was born July 29 1935 in Detroit USA and died in Los Angeles in August 22 2011. She was an American voice actress who provided the vocals for a variety of cartoons. A protégé of Mel Blanc, her first voice role was "all the children in a Japanese train wreck for a Godzilla television episode" and she went on to voice characters from such shows as Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home and Duck Tales. However, she identified Freddy the Flute as her favorite role. Summing up her years with Sid and Marty Krofft, Joan Gerbler is on record as saying: "Fun - crazy - always budget problems - nice guys though."
1: The Magic Path
Jimmy and H.R. Pufnstuf infiltrate Witchiepoo's castle to rescue Judy Frog so that they can get directions to the Magic Path
2: The Wheely Bird
Jimmy and H.R. Pufnstuf use a bird-shaped "Trojan Horse" as a ruse to enter Witchipoo's castle and recover Freddy from Witchiepoo.
3: Show Biz Witch
When shyster Ludicrous Lion convinces Jimmy that he has a super-duper pogo stick for sale that could bounce him home, H.R. Pufnstuf and Jimmy conduct a talent show to raise the money.
4: The Mechanical Boy
Witchiepoo puts a spell on Jimmy that turns him into a mechanical boy and commands him to acquire Freddy for her.
5: The Stand In
When H.R. Pufnstuf’s sister Shirley comes to Living Island to make a movie, Jimmy and Freddie get parts in it. Together, they hatch a plot to get Witchiepoo into the movie so that Jimmy can steal her Vroom Broom to escape.
6: The Golden Key
When Jimmy buys a map to the location of the Golden Key which unlocks the Golden Door (a secret way off of Living Island), Witchiepoo captures H.R. Pufnstuf and imprisons him in her dungeon diverting Jimmy from his escape.
7: The Birthday Party
Witchiepoo invites herself to Jimmy's surprise birthday party and steals Freddy by rendering the partygoers helpless with laughing gas.
8: The Box Kite Kaper
Jimmy and Freddy attempt to fly from Living Island in a giant box kite during a kite-flying contest.
9: You Can't Have Your Cake
Witchiepoo hides in a cake to steal Freddy The Flute.
10: The Horse With The Golden Throat
The Polka-Dotted Horse accidentally swallows Freddy causing a big catastrophe with Dr. Blinky, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Jimmy.
11: Dinner For Two
Jimmy and Freddy both age 70 years when the Clock Family's time machine malfunctions. Witchiepoo mistakes Jimmy for an old man and falls in love with him.
12: Flute, Book And Candle
Freddy gets turned into a mushroom by the touch of Witchiepoo's evil mushrooms.
13: A Tooth For A Tooth
Disguised as a little girl, Witchiepoo visits Dr. Blinky about a bad tooth. But she breaks into fits of rage when the pain becomes too much forcing the doctor to calm her down via love potion
14: The Visiting Witch
Witchiepoo receives a message from headquarters that the Boss Witch is coming to Living Island for an inspection. In a plot to impress the Boss Witch, she ends up kidnapping H.R. Pufnstuf.
15: The Almost Election Of Witchiepoo
Witchiepoo runs for Mayor of Living Island challenging H.R. Pufnstuf.
16: Whaddya Mean The Horse Gets The Girl?
H.R. Pufnstuf's sister Shirley stars in a movie to raise money for Living Island's anti-witch fund.
17: Jimmy Who?
Jimmy gets amnesia that Dr. Blinky and Witchiepoo take turns trying to cure with flashbacks. ( This Flashback episode probably helped keep the budget down)
It has been suggested that several characters that popped up in H.R.Pufnstuf over the 17 episodes bore more than some passing resemblance to various famous entertainers, be it through their mannerisms or voices. These allegedly include:
Judy Frog / Judy Garland,
Miss Wristwatch / ZsaZsa Gabor,
Lady Boyd / Gladys Knight,
The Ludicrous Lion / WC Fields and
The Talking Trees / Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre.
Maybe this is all part of H.R. Pufnstuf's enduring appeal? It worked on a couple of levels: although aimed at the kids' market there was much in the show for the adults to pick up on, identify with and laugh along to as well.
The drug references from the series have all been written about and discussed before: The Hand Rolled and / or Happy Relaxing 'Puff and Stuff', magic mushrooms, Pufnstuf's head looking like a cannabis bud, The boat being a metaphor for drugs: "Come and play with me Jimmy, come and play with me and I will take you on a trip far across the sea.." etc etc...Make up your own minds but I'm going to steer well clear of the subject and draw a big white line under the matter.
So why only 17 episodes?
The live action show lasted only 17 episodes. NBC wanted a second season but offered only a small increase in the show’s $52,000-an-episode - (edit:some sources quote $54,000) - budget (about $335,000 today). The brothers already were spending twice that and couldn’t afford to continue. Still, the show became a huge cultural hit in syndication.
Much of what used up the budget were the puppets and the sets that had to be built up from scratch. Adding to the overall cost was the fact that the Kroffts wanted H.R. Pufnstuf to be shot using film rather than on video. Si Rose - a producer - was brought in to condense the scripts but the filming still went over budget.
During shooting the team were anywhere between one to three million dollars over budget on the show.
A film of H.R. Pufnstuf was rushed into production for cinema distribution. Filming began in January 1970 financed by Universal Pictures and Kellogg's Cereal - a sponsor of the TV show at the time. There were some additions to the cast for the film: Martha Raye played The Boss Witch and Cass Elliot (singer in the group Mamas and Papas and reportedly a neighbour of Sid's) was cast as Witch Hazel. The film title lost the initials H & R and was just called Pufnstuf. Additionally, a soundtrack from the film was released on LP, cassette and and 8-Track in 1970
Film Trailer - Pufnstuf (1970) (Run time: 2 minutes 51 seconds)
Today, the legend that is H.R.Pufnstuf lives on.. The character (along with Cling and Clang, Freddy the Flute and the Rescue Racer) appeared in a special Nickelodeon show earlier this year (2016): “H.R. Pufnstuf Comes to Mutt & Stuff!” and a new film is currently in production.
Like all shows it has its fans and its detractors:
..Anyone who didn't grow up in the 70s who sees this show just sits there in stunned amazement. But, if you saw this show back in its heyday, you probably loved it.
..This hateful production showcases all of the most negative emotions as the feature entertainment... Show this to kids and you are guaranteed to screw them up. And its legal! Do not be surprised if there is a class action when those kids realise the subliminal damage done by watching this program all those years ago.
..I cannot recommend this show highly enough! It is a major reason that I grew up with the wild imagination I still have to this day!
..As a kid I couldn't watch it, it made no sense. The sets and costumes were almost as bad, filled with garish colors and weird designs, it's enough to make you have nightmares. I wouldn't recommend this show for anyone. It has no value, of any kind. It's certainly not educational and I would venture to say that it's not even entertaining. Stay away from this in droves.
..The show brings back so many memories. I absolutely adored it, for me it was kind of like the first real show I enjoyed watching on a regular basis.
H.R. Pufnstuf: End Credits (Run time: 1 minute 2 seconds)
Erickson, Hal "Sid and Marty Krofft: A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Children's Television, 1969-1993"
Fandom / Wiki
New York Times