“Who are you? HR Shovnstuf?”
For most of my generation, myself included, this line from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is the only reference to not only the work of HR Pufnstuf, but the entire legacy that is Sid and Marty Kroft. After just one episode, I’m here to tell you that’s a travesty that needs to be rectified.
Sid and Marty Kroft created the currently better known show, The Banana Splits. A combination of live action, puppets, music, and insanity. With one banana, two bananas of success they created a bunch and many more shows. Not only HR Pufnstuf, but also Sigmund and the Sea Monster, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and their biggest hit – Land of the Lost.
HR Pufnstuf lasted a mere 17 episodes way back in the fall of 1969. The show was so popular it stayed in circulation in various forms and bundles for 15 years. Yet in those days of a couple channels playing cartoons after school and Saturdays, most of us missed out on these syndicated versions. It popped up on TV Land a few times, but for the most part us children of the 80’s have no touchstone to draw us into not only Pufnstuf but the entire Kroft collection. That is no touchstone unless you were a huge nerd in the mid 90’s. Getting into alternative music, late night coffee at Denny’s, and Cartoon Network’s midnight output. Because if you fell into that world a little CD covered the HR Pufnstuf theme, along with some more. Discovering psychadelic television while experimenting with your own HR (hand rolled) came together in Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits.
The HR Pufnstuf theme is covered by the Murmurs. The track hits right in between “Hong Kong Phooey” by Sublime, and “Happy Happy Joy Joy” by Wax. This is the in between Friends and Seinfeld coveted Thursday night spot. The door to a new dimension was opened.
HR Pufnstuf tells the story of young Jimmy. He has a magic flute named Freddy and the evil Witchiepoo tries to steal the flute by sinking Jimmy’s boat. Instead the two of them end up on the Living Island, where everything is alive. HR Pufnstuf is the Mayor of the island and Jimmy’s guide through this new land.
Jimmy (Jack Wild) sings a song on each episode. You might recognize him as the Artful Dodger from Oliver! Or you might think his facial features are very similar to Arya Stark. Either one works. A recollection needs not a name, as long as you can consider yourself at home.
My knowledge of this show was so thin, I didn’t realize I was already familiar with the works of one Witchiepoo. In the classic Paul Lynde Halloween Special, he is harassed by two witches – one being the original Wicked Witch of the West, and the other being Witchiepoo. Until I ended up on the Living Island I thought Witchiepoo was created for that show, and not a tribute to this live action cartoon classic.
One of the first things any new fan will encounter is the horrible slanderous accusations that this show was influenced by and/or glorifies the use of the marijuana. I am here to tell you unequivocally… that’s absolutely true. There is no way on God’s green living Earth that in 1969 something wasn’t added to the creative meetings for this show. I watched this stone cold sober and through the TV developed an intense craving for brownies.
That is not a knock against the show at all. Every bit of it – writing, puppets, sets, all of it – is just a step below Jim Henson. An immersive and creative world that always feels bigger than the screen allows. Fifty years later there’s nothing that looks quite like it, but the influence is obvious. Any Saturday morning kids’ show host from 1969 on borrowed from this show. Sets, talking oddities, and more. This is a treasure that shouldn’t be cult. It should be expected knowledge. Of course you watched HR Pufnstuf, every kid did. One episode made me a convert.
And it’s not currently available anywhere! A damn shame and the Kroft empire needs to sign a deal with someone to get this out there. TV Land Saturday Morning block. A dedicated YouTube channel at least. Something. The Banana Splits just got that weird horror movie I have to track down, so someone is making deals on these properties.
I know my new found fandom and my pleas on one blog in the vast internet will most likely fall on deaf ears. I have to try though. Try to get more fans, more friends, on to the Living Island. I have to try. “Can’t do a little, because I can’t do enough.”