On many an occasion, Betsy and I have been delighted about how our interests and experiences with candy, toys and pop culture have coincided, despite having grown up in very different circumstances. Numerous times we have brought up the subject of Sid and Marty Krofft and the psychedelic Saturday morning shows they created.
Last weekend I discovered that all 17 episodes of H.R. Pufnstuf were available on Netflix. So Sunday morning when we sat down to eat breakfast I fired up the Roku box to watch the first episode. I guess our expectations and memories of the show were quite different since we had last seen it more than 40 years ago. I tried to keep in mind that I was just 10 years old when I first saw it, but I still sat there in disbelief at how BAD it was. Betsy and I glanced at each other numerous times to communicate our astonishment.
It began with Jimmy (Jack Wild) running through what looks like mountains straight out of the Sound of Music. He kicks a rock and begins to play a flute while running down to a beach where he discovers a weird sailboat with “Living Island” on its sail. He unquestionably jumps in and the boat floats away. The next mind-blowing image is of a witch “driving” an absurd flying broom with a puppet vulture in a sidecar. She waves a wand and the sailboat transforms into a dark and scary ride. He escapes from monster hands clutching him, dives into the water and makes it to a beach before collapsing in exhaustion.
Keep in mind, that was all within just the first minute or so. This entire opening is accompanied by the most insipid song narration I’ve ever heard. Jimmy is rescued by Pufnstuf (some kind of dragon I guess) and a couple of lemming-like policemen. He initially looks shocked by the nightmare he finds himself in but within a few seconds he’s dancing along with them, still soaking wet, as credits roll.
The next few scenes are mostly expository as Pufnstuf explains to Jimmy where he is and introduces him to some of the denizens of Living Island. Despite the apparently cheap production, I was captivated by the astounding variety of scenery and props created by some truly mad craftsmen. My biggest pet peeve was the worst recorded laugh track I’d ever heard.
We were saved by the bell when Betsy’s daughter called to chat and did not finish watching it then. Later I finished watching it. Here are a few more observations:
- Witchiepoo was so hyper all the time I was waiting for her fake chin to fall off.
- More than one character could be considered nightmarish, but Witchiepoo’s henchman, Seymour the Spider, must have haunted many a little kid’s dreams.
- I wonder if the creators of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast were influenced by this. There are talking candlesticks, books, clocks and many other anthropomorphic objects.
- Judy the Frog, with her Vegas style outfit complete with pink cummerbund, bowler hat and glittery leggings was just bizarre.
- Near the end of the episode four freaky faces materialize in the sky. I finally figured out they must be the four winds, but why one of them is a dead ringer for John Wayne I have no idea.
The show must have percolated in my mind the rest of the day. By evening I decided to write about it. I’m sure I would lose my mind if I attempted to watch all 17 episodes. They would find me drooling glassy-eyed in my chair. I decided to just watch the last one and here are a few more notes:
- Jimmy is still kicking rocks in the first scene, just before being zapped by Witchiepoo.
- I thought the production value after 16 previous episodes would improve. Nope. Same crappy sets and costumes.
- This seems to be a “flashback” episode. Jimmy gets amnesia after Witchiepoo causes him to hit his head. Recycled scenes from previous shows – they really got cheap with this episode.
- In one of the flashbacks Jimmy appears to have walked right out of the set of Oliver in full costume.
- Witchiepoo “rewards” several evil trees from the forest who capture and deliver Jimmy to her by kicking them. Good thing they were not Ents from Middle Earth.
- I just noticed that Pufnstuf wears white go-go boots. Also Witchiepoo wears a white rabbit’s foot as a pendant.
- Apparently, Jimmy never gets off Living Island.
Being a blog about consumerism I thought to research the show’s contribution to product tie-ins and collectibles. With some searching I found a few objects and ephemera that were produced. Most notably a lunch box, board game, comic books and hand puppets.
I’ve been trying to recall my memories of the show as a 10-year old. However, I can’t do that. A few visuals remain deep in my brain as well as a certain knowledge that I saw some of the episodes 40-some years ago. Upon watching it again now I have no recollection of any of the plots or dialogue. I can’t say that it had much, if any, influence on a young me. I wonder what a 10-year-old of today would think about this show.
The year this debuted in 1969 was a tumultuous year across every social and media spectrum. I imagine to some extent this show was created to reflect that psychedelic era. At times I almost wish I had been 10 years older so I could have experienced that incredible decade.
The biggest controversy regarding H.R. Pufnstuf was that the show contained many hidden drug references, which the Krofft brothers denied. Though it had such a short run it certainly became a cultural icon and its influences can be found to this day.