Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Pufnstuf Piece

When I was four, my family took a trip to HemisFair ' 68 in San Antonio. My only memories are of a show we saw. About all I remember is it being very dark in the theatre, and a witch character flying out over the audience. Scary.

That show was "Kaleidoscope", created by Sid and Marty Krofft, and it was the genesis for their show "H.R. Pufnstuf". The dragon character named "Luther" turned into Pufnstuf himself, and I suppose the witch I remember was the forerunner to Witchiepoo. I'm not sure if I made the "Kaleidoscope" connection at the time, but I loved "H.R. Pufnstuf" immediately and rabidly when it debuted in late '69. Had the 45 record, had a toy Freddy the Flute, had a Pufnstuf puppet, had (still have) the lunchbox, had the comic books. Idolized Jack Wild.

But I have to say I was disappointed when I got the complete series (yes, all 17 episodes!) on DVD and watched it. There are ways in which it's wonderful, but also ways in which it's a big mess. I kinda felt like there was just too much Lennie Weinrib. Nothing against the man, but between all the writing and all the voices he seemed stretched a bit thin.

A couple of nights ago I watched the movie Pufnstuf. I vividly remember seeing it in the movie theater in 1970, and being hugely disappointed that Pufnstuf's voice was different! How could they do that? Rewatching it now, I'm struck by how much Allan Melvin actually does sound like Lennie Weinrib, but my 6 year old ears were much less forgiving.

However, it must be said that the Charles Fox/Norman Gimbel score is terrific! These are the guys who would go on to write "Killing Me Softly with His Song", and innumerable TV theme songs. The score is by far the movie's strongest element, and is often quite lovely and even poignant.

I've always thought you could make a very interesting documentary contrasting the careers of Sid and Marty Krofft with that of Jim Henson. Both were doing essentially the same "thing", and hit the big time within two months of each other (the Kroffts with "Pufnstuf" and Henson with "Sesame Street"). What sent Henson's career on an upward trajectory, while the Kroffts were relegated to Saturday morning? The cold and cruel answer is, of course, "quality". The Krofft shows definitely have a kitschy, nostalgic appeal, but it's tough to really get involved with a character like Pufnstuf when he's played by one guy in a suit, vaguely approximating lip sync, while another guy is providing the voice somewhere. Henson was operating on an entirely different plane. But there's still a soft spot in my heart for Puf.

No comments:

Post a Comment