Once Upon a Summertime, Just a Dream From Yesterday: A Conversation with Marty Kroftt

TV producers Sid and Marty Kroft with creations H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund the Sea Monster and Stuff on the set of “Mutt and Stuff.” Together, the Krofft Brothers have created some of the most important and beloved children’s programs ever produced for television.

At a very early age, growing up in the mid 1970s, my attention was consumed by the pop culture around me. Everything and everybody, from every point of media, looked larger than life and like real-life superheroes. From the Village People to Evel Knievel, Star Wars to the Muppets, it was a magical time to be a kid. Leading the pack of pop culture architects were two brothers from Montreal whose colorful characters dominated Saturday morning, and whose ideas fascinated the minds of viewers young and old – Sid and Marty Krofft.

Mixing fantasy, adventure, music and magic in their shows, the Krofft brothers created some of the most beloved and creative kids’ shows of the era. Among their creations are The Banana Splits, H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Sigmund the Sea Monster, Land of the Lost, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Dr. Shrinker, Wonder Bug, The Lost Saucer, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, The Far Out Space Nuts and Lidsville. They also put together the unforgettable fictional rock band Kaptain Kool and the Kongs and brought the Bay City Rollers to Saturday morning with The Bay City Rollers Saturday Super Show.

Beyond their psychedelic kids’ shows, Sid and Marty also got into the variety show fad that dominated the airwaves during the era and had a monster prime time hit with The Donny and Marie Show. They were also the culprits behind The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and Pink Lady and Jeff, which have gone down in television history as not being critical favorites, despite having cult followings.

Sid and Marty Krofft have become regarded as amongst the innovators of 1970’s television for their imaginative, colorful and high energy programs, cultivating a cult fan base which continues today.

Today Sid and Marty Krofft’s productions have a massive following of adult fans who grew up on their work. They had a huge influence on my imagination when I was a kid, and I still love their shows as an adult. When I got the opportunity to talk to Marty Krofft about his career and his projects both past and future, I was like a kid in a candy shop, jumping from show to show, greedily diving into the candy-coloured pop culture of my childhood.

Sam: Sir, I want to thank you so much for giving me some time to talk with you. Like most people I could go on and on about how you and Sid created some of the most vivid media memories of my childhood. I consider you and your brother to be two major architects of pop culture. You and Sid are very important to me, and I want to start by just thanking you so much for the shows and imagination that you brought to television.

Marty: Well, you’re welcome, and you’re allowed to call me Marty.

Sam: Okay, Marty. The other thing I want to tell you is that I have so many different things I want to talk to you about that I fear this might turn into an incoherent conversation. I’ll try to keep it all together. 

Marty: Just go for it. Okay.

Sam: Well, all right. You and Sid had a bit of a gap between your ages. About eight or nine years.

Marty: Right, right.

Sam: At what age were the two of you when you started creating stories together? You both started in puppetry, but when did you start creating this wonderful universe of characters? Was that something you started when you were kids?

Marty: My brother was older than me and he worked with Ringling Brothers in Europe as a puppeteer. The puppets he worked with were very creative and beautiful. They were all made by the best people, and he got the best tailors to do the clothes. He did things that nobody else did with puppets. When we started working together, we did television long before we started doing our own series. One of the big shows we did was The Dean Martin Show, where we shared the spotlight with other stars. Hanna-Barbera came to us to do The Banana Splits, and they didn’t know how to do the characters, so we got involved heavily in that series. The heads of NBC, along with Kelloggs, and Coca-Cola, who were the sponsors, came to us and said, “Hey, why don’t you do your own show?” That led to Pufnstuf and, well, that’s how it all started.

The Krofft Brothers launched their television career in 1968 when they created The Banana Splits for Hanna-Barbera,

Sam: Years ago, I interviewed a wonderful guy named Felix Silla who told me about working with you and Sid very early on in your puppet show at the World Fair. Felix was a little person, and I think he did Lidsville with you as well. 

Marty: He was also on Pufnstuf. He was a great little guy. In our World’s Fair puppet show he played the Frankenstein Monster, and the audience thought he was a puppet, but he’d jump off the stage and go into the audience to scare the hell out of them.

Sam: Well, you weren’t afraid to put a fear factor into your shows. I remember as a kid watching Pufnstuf; it kind of scared me that Jimmy couldn’t get off Living Island and go home. That was a common theme on your shows, like in Land of the Lost, The Lost Saucer, Dr. Shrinker and Lidsville. You played a lot with the idea of people trying to return to a place and not be able to get there.

Marty: And none of them ever do get back. Yeah.

In 1968 SId and Marty created the world of H.R. Pufnstuf, which became the flagship character for their company. Starring Jack Wild as Jimmie, and Billie Hayes as Witchipoo, Pufnstuf only had seventeen episodes and a full length theatrical film made, but remains an icon of 1970’s pop culture.

Sam: Another thing that was special about the shows was that you really went heavy into fun, colorful and imaginative adventures, but you really weren’t interested in education or moral messages, which seemed to be a mandate that bogged down a lot of kids’ shows in the 70s and 80s.

Marty: We put moral messages into several of our shows, but we didn’t want to play educator.  We also never did a show about a toy.

Sam: When you go through your roster of shows, you had a lot of people who were just starting their careers, but you also put people back on television whom we hadn’t seen in a while, such as Jim Nabors in The Lost Saucer, and Bob Denver in Far Out Space Nuts.  

Marty: Yes. We brought some back. We also brought back people behind the scenes. When we started developing our shows, Star Trek had just been cancelled, and we hired six of their writers for Land of the Lost.

Sam: I’m an obvious fan of a lot of your shows, but I’ll admit my absolute favorite show you and Sid ever produced was Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. That was just my speed and everything I loved. It’s still everything I love.

Marty: That’s also one of my favorite ones, and we’re gonna do it again but this time animated. We haven’t done animation yet, but that’s a good one to try out. We’re in the process of making a deal with a big company, so I can’t talk about it.

Deidra Hall and Judy Strangis as Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Sam: That’s amazing. If you do animation, is there any chance you could get Deidre Hall and Judy Strangis to voice them?

Marty: Well, that’s always an option. We’ll probably bring them back in some way.

Sam: Have you ever thought about creating a bigger universe, like the Marvel Universe, where you bring all these shows under one umbrella? Something where Pufnstuf and Land of the Lost and Electra Woman and all the rest of your characters are all in the same universe and they could crossover?

Marty: Ultimately that’s something we’ve been working on. You’ve hit it right on the head. We don’t have our own network, so we’ve got to sell this to someone, but that’s what we want.

Sam: I’d love to see the Far Out Space Nuts team up with The Lost Saucer.

Marty: It’s tricky to do a show like that, but if we do, we’d better do it right. We’ve been working on that for a couple of years.

Sam: Besides Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, what are some of the other shows you really were fond of? Did you like some better than others?

Marty: Every series can’t always be the same. You never have the same feelings for all of them. But shows like Dr. Shrinker, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, Wonderbug, The Lost Saucer and, of course, Land of the Lost, Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos and Sigmund. That’s a lot, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. What I liked best were the casts. We had great people on our shows. We never had any trouble with the talent. It was always positive.

Sam: Another strong element to your shows were the amazing theme songs. The themes from Sigmund, Bugaloos and Pufnstuf are iconic musical treasures.

John Philpott as Courage, Wayne Laryea as Harmony, John McIndoe as IQ and Caroline Ellis as Joy in “The Bugaloos.” Created in 1970, “The Bugaloos” mixed music and fantasy by turning human like insects into a British pop band.

Marty: I can go down any street in New York and stop ten people in the street and ask them if they can sing a theme song from any of our shows and at least five people can. The first minute of the show is important. That’s when the viewer doesn’t switch the channel. We need to grab them right away.

Sam: One thing that is astonishing is most of your shows only produced sixteen to eighteen episodes. Some shows, like Bigfoot and Wild Boy, had even fewer. Despite so few episodes made, these shows stuck with the fans, and continue to be remembered and repeated on television for years. That’s almost unheard of for any other type of show in which so few episodes were produced. 

Marty: That’s wild, isn’t it? Our shows are never forgotten.

Sam: In the 1970s there was such a focus on Saturday morning cartoons, that watching something live action was unique, and it stood out. Eventually other companies, most notably Filmation Studios, started doing live action adventures as well. But by the 1980s it was back to animation. Why don’t you think that the live action trend continued in the 80s?

Marty: I never was able to answer that. Maybe it was this: new programming people were always coming in with their own ideas. They didn’t care what happened before. They were worried about what would happen to their jobs. So maybe these new guys came, and they turned it around to animation again. And it also cost less money.

Sam: Was there ever an idea that you and Sid came up with that was so wild that the networks didn’t want to touch it?

Marty: Oh, yeah. Most of our developments got on the air, but there were a few that didn’t. You never knew why it didn’t get on the air. But here’s the thing. We haven’t done that many shows. We’ve done twenty pilots in our whole career, and we got eighteen on the air, and sixteen were successful. Even Shoeless Joe didn’t have that batting average.

Sam: Of course, you didn’t just dominate Saturday morning, but you and Sid also developed some of the most memorable variety shows of the era. When I was growing up, my mother loved the variety shows and Donny and Marie were a staple on our television. 

Marty: We did The Brady Bunch Variety Hour too, you know.

Sid and Marty Krofft had a monster hit with “The Donny and Marie Show,” and developed a cult favorite with “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.”

Sam: The Brady Bunch Variety Hour has become famous for its kitsch value, but I’ll admit that I love it. One of my first interviews was with Geri Reischl, the Jan replacement, and she’s just a doll. Once again, the show had so many great guests – Paul Williams, Tina Turner, Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors and Melanie. So many of my favorites. It’s such a fun show. How were you able to get the rights to do that show without dealing with Sherwood Schwartz?

Marty: Yeah, we didn’t really do much with Sherwood. Paramount owned The Brady Bunch, and Michael Eisner wanted to put the show on. They wanted to get us off Donny and Marie and Eisner said, “Marty, come over to Paramount and let’s do The Brady Bunch again.” I said okay and that’s how that happened. I think we honored Sherwood, because he had a great idea, and we didn’t want to make him unhappy. He was a nice person, and very talented.

Sam: This might be a strange question, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to know. You had ice skaters on Donny and Marie, and synchronized swimmers on The Brady Bunch. What inspired that?

Marty: ABC came to us and said they wanted to do something for Donny and Marie that was different. We said, “No dancers. We’re going to have sixteen ice skaters, and when Donny and Marie come out to do their monologue, they can’t skate.” So that was immediate comedy. Right? ABC liked that and we got that series. Then with The Brady Bunch, what were we gonna do now? We did the same sort of thing, but we put together twelve synchronized swimmers that were put into a fountain that was converted into a swimming pool. So, we always had something a little wild.

Sam: Since we are talking about the variety shows that you produced, I hope you don’t mind if I ask about Pink Lady and Jeff. I kind of told myself I wouldn’t, but I’d love to hear about it.

Marty: Oh, that never happened.

Sam: I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the episodes on YouTube.

“Pink Lady and Jeff” lasted six episodes in 1980. Critics were not kind to it.

Marty: Yeah. It was a show I brought to NBC. If I could, I’d give Sid complete credit for that whole thing. Fred Silverman from NBC came to me and said, “Hey, I want these two Japanese girls who are the biggest music stars in Japan.” I said, “Do they speak English?” He said “Yes.” Well, they didn’t speak English. When they came to L.A., we had to do a lot of work to make that happen, and then we put Jeff Altman in there. At that time nobody in America wanted foreigners to have a show. They also put us opposite of Dukes of Hazzard, so we had no chance. But Pink Lady and Jeff was in a time capsule, and Saturday Night Live even did sketches about it for more than two years afterwards.

Sam: You took what you had and took some really big risks for the time. You can’t say you didn’t try to do something completely new with Pink Lady and Jeff, whether it worked or not.

Marty: Absolutely. We always took risks.

Sam: The variety shows were such a popular genre in the 70s. Why do you think that was the era for that type of show, and why did that genre die out? 

Marty: There were variety shows on before the 70s, but the 70s were a good time for them.   Music videos killed variety shows in the 80s. There was no longer any need for them, but it was the best way to see these acts in the 70s.

Sam: You had the most iconic stars on your shows whether it was the Saturday morning stuff, or the prime-time variety shows. You managed to get most of the biggest icons of the era, or you made them into the biggest icons.

Marty: Oh yeah. We always had talent. Look, I even got Richard Pryor to do a kids’ show. 

Sam: You sure did. That seems risky putting him on a kids’ show.

Marty: It was. We also worked with the Jacksons. I was with Michael right up until the end. He wanted to buy our company, although I don’t know how he planned to pay for it.

Sam: Michael was obviously a fan of your work.

Marty: Right? Oh, yeah. Michael was also big talent. The biggest.

Sam: You developed shows for all the major networks at the time – ABC, CBS and NBC. Your shows overlapped during the same years on the different networks. Did the networks ever fight over you guys?

The Krofft Brothers brought TV favorite Johnny Whittiker back to television in 1973 in “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.”

Marty: Well, there was never a fight, but there was some jealousy. They were the only three networks and every kid in America who was watching Saturday morning would see at least one episode of our shows, and probably a lot more, on any network. That’s why we have dedicated fans today.

Sam: In the past few years you moved into the podcast world with Mondays with Marty. What made you decide to sit down and chronicle all of this in podcast form?

Marty: I think that fans want to know more about Sid and Marty Krofft, what their shows are about and what they’re about. That was something that I wanted to do, so I’m doing that. I do it in small chunks. I do it five minutes, four minutes, six minutes. I’ve had a good response.

Sam: With new projects in development, the podcast, and new animation on its way, the Krofft Brothers brand is still riding strong.

Marty: We’re still in the action. I show up to work every day. I raise the flag at 7:30 in the morning, and I lower it in the afternoon. We’re very active. We’ve got some great people working with us. My daughter Deanna runs a production company that she’s been with since she was sixteen. She’s excellent. Yeah, and another generation of Kroffts are coming.

Sam: That’s amazing. It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to keep it all in the family.

Marty: Right? So far.

With yet to be announced projects, an Electra Woman and Dyna Girl animated revival, new potential media partnerships and now the podcast, the world of the Krofft Brothers continues to move into the new millennium. However, time has proven that the beloved characters that Sid and Marty created have a lasting power that continue to live in the hearts of the now grown-up kids who grew up with them, and the modern kids who are discovering them for the first time today. Sid and Marty are truly two of the greatest at what they did and continue to inspire and entertain audiences today.


About the author

Since 2013, Sam Tweedle has been writing as an arts and culture journalist for kawarthaNOW, with special attention to Peterborough's theatrical community. However, his career as an arts writer goes back further via his website Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict where Sam has interviewed some of the entertainment world's most notable and beloved entertainers. Sam's pop culture writing has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, The National Post, CNN.com, Filmfax Magazine and The New Yorker. You can follow Sam on Instagram at sam_tweedle_z where he posts about his four greatest loves: cats, comic books, movies, and records. Sam no longer uses Twitter because, as far as he's concerned, it's no longer a thing.