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The co-creator of a slew of 1970s children's programming regarded as both beloved childhood memories and the height of psychedelic camp, Marty Krofft and his brother Sid co-produced such eye-popping, live-action shows as "H.R. Pufnstuf" (NBC, 1969-1971), "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" (NBC, 1973-75) and "Land of the Lost" (NBC, 1974-77). After serving as assistant to older brother Sid's puppetry show in the 1960s, Marty teamed with his brother to design costumes for "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" (NBC, 1968-1970). Soon the Kroffts were creating their own series, which blended oversized creature costumes with young actors, canned laughter and bright colors. By the mid-1970s, the Kroffts' success with children led to the primetime, where they brought their fanciful sensibilities to "Donny and Marie" (ABC, 1976-79) before changing viewer tastes rendered their carnival/variety show approach obsolete. Sid and Marty Krofft spent the better part of the next three decades attempting to repackage their library for new audiences, though the results - including a big budget film version of "Lost" (2009) - failed to capture the quirky innocence of the series. But their best work lived on with a generation of...
The co-creator of a slew of 1970s children's programming regarded as both beloved childhood memories and the height of psychedelic camp, Marty Krofft and his brother Sid co-produced such eye-popping, live-action shows as "H.R. Pufnstuf" (NBC, 1969-1971), "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" (NBC, 1973-75) and "Land of the Lost" (NBC, 1974-77). After serving as assistant to older brother Sid's puppetry show in the 1960s, Marty teamed with his brother to design costumes for "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" (NBC, 1968-1970). Soon the Kroffts were creating their own series, which blended oversized creature costumes with young actors, canned laughter and bright colors. By the mid-1970s, the Kroffts' success with children led to the primetime, where they brought their fanciful sensibilities to "Donny and Marie" (ABC, 1976-79) before changing viewer tastes rendered their carnival/variety show approach obsolete. Sid and Marty Krofft spent the better part of the next three decades attempting to repackage their library for new audiences, though the results - including a big budget film version of "Lost" (2009) - failed to capture the quirky innocence of the series. But their best work lived on with a generation of adults who remembered their candy-colored fantasy worlds as a weekly trip to a happier, if occasionally stranger place.
Born Moshopolous Yolas on April 9, 1937 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Marty Krofft's brother Cydos, who later billed himself as Sid, frequently claimed that his family was fifth-generation puppeteers who dated back to the 1700s. However, the story was a fabrication created by a publicist in the 1940s; the Kroffts' father was actually a Greek clock salesman who brought the family from Canada to Providence, RI and later New York City in search of job opportunities. While older brother Sid exercised his fascination with puppetry through stints with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which would later form the basis for their 1978 made-for-TV film "Sideshow" (NBC), Marty remained in New York, working for a car dealership. Eventually, Marty joined the act in the 1950s, initially serving as Sid's assistant before assuming a managerial role. The two would essentially retain these roles for the remainder of their professional lives, with Sid conceiving many of the ideas for shows while Marty made sure that the money was available to bring them to life.
The Kroffts soon graduated to opening for A-list talent like Judy Garland before launching their own headlining act, "Les Poupées de Paris," a Folies Bergere-like variety show featuring puppets performing somewhat risqué musical numbers. A number of the puppets were modeled after celebrities of the day, many of whom the Kroffts were able to enlist to record their own voices for the show's soundtrack. "Les Poupées de Paris" opened in 1961 at the Gilded Rafters Supper Club in Los Angeles, where it quickly became a success. The following year, the show was featured at the Seattle World's Fair and later at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965. The exposure led to the Kroffts' television debut on "The Dean Martin Show" (NBC, 1965-1974), as well as work for major companies like Ford and the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, which hired them to design puppet shows for their various amusement parks across the United States.
In 1967, animation veterans Hanna-Barbera approached the Kroffts to build walk-around, or full body/ fully moveable costumes for a new live-action children's series on NBC. The success of the ensuing program, "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour," prompted the network to approach the Kroffts about producing their own series. The brothers proposed a live-action show for kids that would combine their walk-around suits with more traditional marionettes, and selected Luther, a dragon character they built for San Antonio's HemisFair in 1968, as its lead. After casting British actor Jack Wild as the show's human lead and changing Luther's name to the more memorable "H.R. Pufnstuf," the Kroffts found themselves with a runaway hit series with young viewers. They would subsequently adopt the show's basic formula - bright, near-psychedelic sets and color schemes, broad slapstick humor and outlandish puppets and costumes - for a dizzying array of similar live-action children series, including "The Bugaloos" (NBC, 1970-72), about a quartet of insectoid pop stars; "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," with famed little person actor Billy Barty inside an awkward sea creature costume; and "The Krofft Supershow" (ABC, 1976-78), a variety series focusing on several different Krofft creations, including "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl" (1976-77) with Deirdre Hall, later of "Days of Our Lives" (NBC, 1965- ), as one-half of a superhero team, and "Bigfoot and Wildboy" (1976-79), which partnered a feral child with the legendary monster.
Most of the series featured a combination of young actors like Johnny Whitaker or Butch Patrick with established performers whose careers were on the wane, like Jim Nabors on "The Lost Saucer" (1975-76), Bob Denver on "Far Out Space Nuts" (CBS, 1975-76) or Charles Nelson Reilly, who starred on what was unquestionably the Kroffts' most bizarre creation, "Lidsville" (ABC, 1971-73), about a world populated by humanoid hats. And while most of the Kroffts' projects skated a thin line between childish fantasy and outright camp, they took a decidedly serious approach to "Land of the Lost," a sci-fi adventure about two children and their father in an alternate universe populated by dinosaurs and fiendish lizard men. The stop-motion animation for the creatures was impressive by weekly television standards, and original scripts were penned by such well-respected sci-fi writers as Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova and Norman Spinrad, as well as several writers from the original "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69) series.
"Land of the Lost," along with most of the other Krofft shows, was a massive hit with young viewers, to whom the brothers directed a barrage of tie-in material - from live shows featuring the characters to toys, lunch boxes and other childhood ephemera. They were also fiercely protective of their brand, as evidenced by a 1973 lawsuit brought against the McDonald's corporation that alleged the fast food giant had infringed their copyright on "H.R. Pufnstuf" with its McDonaldland marketing campaign, which featured characters similar to their creations. The Kroffts won the case, which resulted in an award of more than $1 million in damages to their company. In 1976, the Kroffts struck pay dirt with their first weekly primetime variety series, "Donny and Marie," which featured the two most popular members of the singing Osmond clan with an array of celebrity guests. The show was a considerable success, though the Kroffts would lose control of the program to the Osmonds in a contentious legal battle after its second season.
Undaunted, they crafted "The Brady Bunch Hour" (ABC, 1976-77), an astonishingly garish variety series featuring most of the original cast "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974) performing disco-influenced musical numbers. Its dismal failure was quickly followed by a slew of misfires, including the infamous "Pink Lady and Jeff" (NBC, 1980), which was frequently cited as one of the worst television series that ever aired. A massive indoor amusement park built by the Kroffts at the Omni International complex in Atlanta, GA, also closed after six months due to poor attendance. There were brief reprieves from this downward turn, most notably the variety series "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters" (NBC, 1980-82) and "Pryor's Place" (NBC, 1984-85), an unlikely combination of comedian Richard Pryor and children's programming which netted multiple Emmy nominations. Neither were ratings successes, and with their syndicated puppet series "D.C. Follies" (1987-89) relegated to odd broadcast hours before its own cancellation, the Kroffts' reign as the kings of children's programming had come to an end. However, their '70s output remained exceptionally popular with adults, who enjoyed the shows as pleasant childhood nostalgia.
To that end, the Kroffts spent much of the 1990s and new millennium trying to revamp their old programs for new audiences other than generation X. They enjoyed brief success with "Land of the Lost" (ABC, 1991-92), an updated version of the science fiction series with improved special effects. A new take on "Family Affair" (The WB, 2002-03) also enjoyed a strong opening before fading into obscurity. Their most high-profile revival was a big-budget theatrical remake of "Land of the Lost" (2002) with Will Ferrell that endured a critical drubbing and low box office returns. Undaunted, the Kroffts moved ahead with updates of "The Bugaloos," "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Lidsville" for film and television. Regardless of any late career misses, the Krofft brothers product and name became eternally synonymous with a kinder, gentler, more simplistic time for children who wanted nothing more than to tune into their fantastic worlds every Saturday morning.
By Paul Gaita
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CAST: (feature film)
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