about everyone who grew up in America during the 70's recognizes the names
of Sid and Marty Krofft. These brothers were responsible for some
of the most fondly remembered (and truly bizarre) children's programming
of the time. Every Saturday morning for nearly a decade, millions
of children tuned into a Krofft produced show. Now Rhino has release
the entire run of Krofft's first show from 1969: H. R. Pufnstuf.
Coming from a family of puppeteers, The Kroffts
naturally went into the family business. Older brother Sid was performing
with the Ringling Bros. circus at the age of 10. In the 50's he went
on to tour with a number of big name acts including Frank Sinatra, Judy
Garland, and Tony Martin. In 1957 the artistic Sid brought in his
business minded brother Marty. The two would be the perfect match
of artistic vision and down to earth sensibility.
The brothers toured with their own puppet show,
had an off Broadway show (a risqué burlesque production called Les
Poupees de Paris,) and appeared at the 1962's World's Fair. (Along
with the 1965 and 1967 Fairs too.) They also created a show for the
Six Flags amusement park. All the while their puppets were getting
more intricate and the shows more grand. Along the way, they started
putting people inside of intricate costumes.
The costumes are what led to their entry into
children's television. In 1967 the animation team of Hanna and Barbera
approached the Kroffts to make a set of costumes for a new show they were
going to launch. This show would have a series of cartoons presented
by a anthropomorphic cartoon rock band. As the idea progressed, the
Hanna-Barbera team decided that a live action framing segment would have
more appeal, so they commissioned the Kroffts to make the costumes for
the band. The costumes looked great and the show, The Banana Splits
Adventure Hour, was a huge hit.
The Kroffts realize a large part of the success
of The Banana Splits was due to the costumes they created. They reasoned
that they could come up with something even more imaginative and sell it
to a network. The timing was perfect. Various groups were pressuring
the networks to have less violent programming, and the Splits has proven
that live action shows would be accepted on Saturday mornings.
NBC was interested, and the Kroffts spent a year
working up the concept. H. R. Pufnstuf, made its television debut
on September 6th, 1969.
As retold in the beginning song of every episode, H. R. Pufnstuf
was the story of a young boy, Jimmy (Jack Wild,) and his golden talking
flute, Freddy. One day Jimmy finds a beautiful boat that invites
him to go for a ride. When they get out to sea, it turns out that
the boat is a trap. An evil witch, Witchie-poo (Billie Hayes,) has
planted the snare in order to steal the flute. The boat grabs Jimmy,
but he fights free and jumps overboard. He swims to Living Island
were he is rescued by H.R. Pufnstuf and his side kicks Cling and Clang.
The witch is furious, but she flies back to her castle to try again another
That sets up the plot for every episode. Jimmy tries to get back
home with the help of Pufnstuf and the other residents of Living Island,
while Witchiepoo tries to steal the flute with the bumbling help of her
But back to the show. This was a fun outing. Living Island
turns out be a place where just about everything is alive and can talk.
Trees, mushrooms, clocks, buildings, everything. It was very colorful,
and creative place, with hippy trees, walking alarm clocks, sneezing
houses and living clouds. The shows had a lot of action, some comedy,
and just the right amount of suspense. Most of the songs in the show
were just so-so, but when they were good, they were great. I fondly
remember "Oranges, Smoranges" where Witchie-poo sings all the words rhyming
In my opinion, Billie
Hayes as Witchie-poo was the star of the show. She tool the role
and ran with it, making the witch both menacing and goofy.
Her character being anything but understated, she wasn't afraid to make
a fool of herself. Her acting was so over-the-top, that you
couldn't help but like her.
Jack Wild was an adequate Jimmy. He was able to sing and dance,
and the his accent worked well with the show. The main problem was
that he couldn't compete with the scenery. With talking mushrooms
and polka dotted horses filling the frame, you eye just wasn't drawn to
Jack. Even Billie Hayes had a lot of heavy makeup and prosthetics
to make her appear almost inhuman. Jack tried, but his best scenes
were the ones where he was undisguised and could compete with the other
actors on an equal basis.
I was surprised when I found out several years ago that there were only
seventeen episodes of H. R. Pufnstuf. I could recall watching
the show for years it seemed. Well, I was right. H. R. Pufnstuf
was a fixture on Saturday mornings for at least three years. (Two
on NBC, and another year on ABC with a year off in between.) They
just showed them over and over. That's a total of 156 weeks that
they spread 17 episodes over. Pretty thin.
But if it was popular enough to run for three years, why didn't they
make more? Well, it's because the networks were cheap. They
figured that there was no need to make more when they could reshow those
17 indefinitely. This was a problem that would plague the Kroffts
for most of their Saturday morning kids show career.
So how does the show hold up today? Pretty well I'd say.
Watching them back to back can get tiring, but they still have a certain
charm to them. The plots are very repetitive, but the story is not
the show's attraction. It is the wildly creative and unusual setting
and life size puppets that make the show so enjoyable.
My sons, aged 7 and 11, really enjoyed the episodes that they watched.
I was surprised that in this day of computerized special effects and hyper-active
animation the more sedate pace of Pufnstuf would interest them, but it
did. They enjoyed it and asked for more.
The two channel mono mix on this DVD was typical for a late 60's TV
show. It did not sound full and rich, but the dialog was clear and
easy to understand. There weren't any noticeable hiss or other major
The video was a mixed bag. The full frame prints that were used very
good. The colors were bright with little if any fading. There were
only occasional spots of dirt, and very few other instances of print damage.
The encoding wasn't as good as I was hoping for. There were a
lot of digital artifacts in the picture. There was instances of color
bleeding, especially around deep red object like Ludicrous Lion's coat,
and aliasing was a common problem. There was a good amount of digital
noise in the picture too, causing large expanses of color to seem to shimmer
or move. In addition to there defects, there was a strange interference
when two bright colors touched each other. It would cause a stair
step silver line to appear between the two colors. This happened
a lot on the magic boat in the introductory song, and sometimes appeared
along the edges of Pufnstuf's sash. A little more care in the creation
of this DVD would have resulted in a superior set. As it was, these
video defects were not so bad as to be distracting, but they were noticeable.
There are some great extras included with this set, all included on
the third disc.
Interview with Sid and Marty Krofft:
A 22 minute talk with Pufnstuf's creators. They talk about their
start in show business and what they did up before TV. They talk
about Pufnstuf, of course, including the rumors that the show was filled
with drug references. (Though they don't come right out and deny
it, they do strongly imply that there is no basis to the rumors.)
A great extra, that I was excited to watch.
Interview with Billie Hayes:
A 10 minute talk with the actress who played Witchie-poo. Since her
character is my favorite one on the show, I was happy to see this interview.
I was done at some sort of convention, there are people milling around
tables in the background which is a little distracting, but it is a
good chat none the less. She talks about how show got into acting
and how she came to the attention of the Kroffts. She reminisces
about the show.
Interview with Jack Wild:
This 11 ½ minute interview is the same one that appears on Rhino's
earlier Pufnstuf DVD. He talks about how he got started in show business
and his memories of working with the Kroffts.
Interview with Hal Erickson:
Erickson is a television historian and the author of Sid and Marty Krofft:
A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Children's Television, 1969-1993.
(Which is an excellent book and highly recommended to anyone interested
in the Krofft's programs or Saturday morning children's shows. Don't
let the title fool you, the book is not dry and filled with interesting
anecdotes. A very valuable resource. You can purchase a copy
at Amazon.) Erickson talks about what Saturday morning television
was like at the time Pufnstuf was aired, and the forces acting on programming
content at the time. This 10 minute interview is very informative.
Here's Irving: An 8 minute
pilot for a children's TV show that the Kroffts created in the 50's.
This puppet show involved an old circus lion who reminisces about the performers
he know and things he had seen. Created with traditional puppets,
this show is a glimpse of what the Krofft stage shows must have looked
like. A wonderful extra to include.
This set is a great stroll down memory lane. Getting the whole
series in one set is a real treat. I enjoyed seeing these again,
and my young sons liked it too. There were a lot of digital artifacts
that were noticeable, but they didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the
DVDs. Recommended. Now they need to release the Pufnstuf
movie, and the rest of the Krofft shows. (Yes, I'd even like to see
the oddly disturbing Liddsville on DVD.)