Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pop focus: H.R. Pufnstuf

For kids too young to have their minds melted by LSD in the 1960s, Sid and Mary Krofft did the job in the early 1970s.

The producers programs, such as "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Lidsville" mixed wild costuming, bubblegum pop music and dumb jokes into a surreal Saturday morning souffle that still triggers troubling half memories amongst those of us of a certain age.

Like most kids my age, I remember just enough of these shows to be really freaked out by them. Old kids thought they were stupid or mildly amusing. But if you were only 4, 5 or 6 when watching -- as I was -- they were confusing, yet compelling. Our young minds just didn't know what to do with them.

"H.R. Pufnstuf" appeared during the 1969 TV season on NBC and the network repeated the same 17 episodes each year through 1973, when the series entered syndication.

The action centered on a British kid, Jimmy (played by Jack Wild), who owned a magic talking flute named Freddie. Sounds normal enough so far, right? But things get really weird when Jimmy boards a mysterious magic ship and ends up on a fantastical island inhabited by an assortment of odd creatures, including the friendly mayor of the place, H.R. Pufnstuf.

I didn't realize it until years later that Pufnstuf was a dragon, but apparently that's what he was. Anyway, most of the show's plots center on Pufnstuf trying to protect Jimmy from the show's villain, Witchiepoo (a witch, I got that a the time), who's trying to steal Jimmy's flute. Yes, maybe there's something Freudian going on.

The show featured lots of musical numbers and had an addictive theme song that the nearest person in his or her late 40s could probably sing-hum to you if pressed. Jack Wild had a good voice. Before "Pufnstuf" he played the Artful Dodger in the film version of "Oliver!" He also recorded a couple of albums, one of which included a version of the Small Faces' "Lazy Sunday." The Small Faces' lead vocalist, Steve Marriott, also played the Artful Dodger on stage in London and he and Wild had similar, rough-edged voices.

One thing that muddled up the memories of my generation even more, is the fact that McDonald's -- in the early days in its campaign to ruin the health of America's youth -- copied "Pufnstuf" in creating its Saturday morning ads of the 1970s.

Mayor McCheese might as well have been Pufnstuf's brother. If you were young at the time, it was tough to sort out what was "Pufnstuf" and what was McDonald's. The Kroffts successfully sued McDonald's over the whole thing later in the decade.

There also was a feature-length "Pufnstuf" movie that pops up on cable occasionally.

So, if you're up to it, here's a look back at the show, with images, video and memorabilia. We'll tackle "Lidsville," which focused on the adventures of a kid who falls into a giant top hat, some other time.



























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