Catching Up With … TV Pioneer Marty Krofft

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Photo Credit: © 2015 VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Credit: ROBERT VOETS

By Kellie Freeze, ReMIND Magazine

In the world of children’s television, few have amassed careers as prolific as producers Sid and Marty Krofft. The dynamic duo took their out-of-the-box imaginations as puppeteers and transformed kids TV with live-action series including H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Land of the Lost. During April’s Daytime Emmy Awards, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored the brothers with Lifetime Achievement Awards. But the awards don’t mean that the Kroffts are even considering retirement; when we chatted with Marty about their legendary career and unforgettable characters, he revealed that at the ages of 81 and 88, he and Sid are as busy as ever.

Marty, your brother Sid started as a puppeteer and opened for acts like Liberace and Frank Sinatra. How did you get involved and make the leap to TV?
Marty Krofft: We were the opening act for Judy Garland at the Flamingo in Vegas, the first time she ever went out live. That was really my brother, and I helped him at that point. When Sid and I became partners, we created Les Poupées de Paris, which was an adults-only puppet show with nude puppets and big elaborate numbers. We had stars recording the voices, from Mae West to Sinatra, and we performed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
The director and producer of The Dean Martin Show, which hadn’t been on NBC yet, were at the Fair and asked if we’d costar on that show with our puppets. We were on the first season.
And then, in 1967 Hanna-Barbera came to us, and they didn’t know how to do the live-action part of The Banana Splits so we built and created The Banana Splits with them. … One day, the head of NBC programming said, “Hey, why don’t you create your own show?” So we took a character from our World’s Fair show, and he wound up becoming H.R. Pufnstuf, and that was the beginning of how it all happened. … By 1975 we had four shows on the air.

What kinds of memorabilia have you and Sid kept?
We have, first of all, 400-500 puppets; we have 100 from Les Poupées de Paris that we’ve got. We’ve got a telegram from Michael Eisner saying, “I’m ordering 17 shows of Lidsville for ABC.” And we saved that. … I’m sitting in my office at CBS looking at my lunchboxes. I can’t think about all the stuff we have, but we’ve got 5,000 square feet in a warehouse, and it’s like a museum. Maybe one day we’ll open a museum.

Are you surprised by the longevity of your creations like Sigmund or H.R. Pufnstuf or the Sleestaks?
You know what? You don’t know it while you’re doing it. It’s like, who knew that all this stuff was gonna be unbelievably popular still, and it’s all classic and memorabilia? We threw out a lot of stuff from our warehouses not knowing!

Tell us about your lunchbox collection …
I have about eight of them. They originally sold for $10, and I’m sure they’re worth a lot more today. They’re brand-new, and we kept them. And I also have a Pufnstuf doll and a Witchiepoo doll from 1970. So I have a lot of that sort of fun stuff in the office.

Do any of the characters you’ve created hold a special place in your heart?
On H.R. Pufnstuf, I always loved Stupid Bat. And I loved Freddy the Flute. Freddy the Flute got stolen once, and then they brought it back to KTLA where we were shooting Donny & Marie. We put out a reward, but they dropped it off at the guard gate and ran, so I don’t even know who it was.

You and Sid are still creating. How do Mutt & Stuff or your reboot of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters differ from your earlier work?
With Sigmund we tried to stay close … you gotta be careful when you do a reboot. You can piss off a lot of fans, and we got millions of them, so we didn’t want to do that.
We created Mutt & Stuff from scratch, and we have 73 episodes of it, starring Calvin Millan — the son of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. That show is successful, and we just did the two one-hour specials, and it’s gonna tie in to a Mutt & Stuff touring show that we’re gonna do early next year.

At the ages of 81 and 88, you and Sid aren’t slowing down. So, what’s next?
Well, if you want to give God a good laugh, tell him what your plans are. [Laughs]

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