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Classic TV

‘HR Pufnstuf’: 14 Facts About the Classic Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday Morning Series

Inspiration, lawsuits, movies and what happened to series star Jack Wild

Although it only lasted a single season of 17 episodes, there was something about the Saturday morning live action series HR Pufnstuff — as the following HR Pufnstuf facts will prove — that has allowed this delightful show to still be remembered so many years later.

Created by producers Sid and Marty Krofft (whose names for many years were synonymous with kid’s TV), HR Pufnstuf stars British actor Jack Wild as Jimmy, a teen with a magic talking flute who is lured onto a mystical boat that ends up shipwrecked on Living Island, where virtually everything is alive.

All of this has been manipulated by the evil Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), who is determined to get her hands on that flute (in much the way the Wicked Witch of the West wanted Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz). Protecting Jimmy is the Barney-like dragon named Pufnstuf, the mayor of Living Island, who, along with his fellow citizens, do their best to hold off the attempts of the witch and her cohorts.

To learn much more, enjoy the following HR Pufnstuf facts.

1. H.R. Pufnstuf was created for the HemisFair ’68 World’s Fair

Roberto Gamonet as H.R. Pufnstuf in the 1970 movie Pufnstuf
Roberto Gamonet as H.R. Pufnstuf in the 1970movie PufnstufGetty

Sid and Marty Krofft were a part of the 1968 HemisFair World’s Fair, putting together a show for the Coca-Cola pavilion known as Kaleidoscope. And for it, they introduced as mascot their dragon creation, HR Pufnstuff. Several characters debuting there would find their way into the television show.

2. Sid & Marty Krofft were inspired by The Banana Splits: HR Pufnstuf Facts

When ABC was developing the live-action portion of The Banana Splits for ABC’s Saturday morning, puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft were hired by producers Hanna-Barbera to create the costumes for the characters. That experience inspired them to go off and create their own show, in this case for NBC. The result would, of course, be HR Pufnstuf.

3. Elements of Sid Krofft’s life were incorporated into the show

Thirty-six strings, attached to the two marionettes, are manipulated by their creator, Sid Krofft in the 1950s
Thirty-six strings, attached to the two marionettes, are manipulated by their creator, Sid Krofft in thge 1950sGetty

When he was a kid and would put on puppet shows in the family’s backyard, rather than charge other kids money to get in, Sid Krofft actually charged them “buttons.” Well, flash forward to Living Island and buttons just happen to be the currency there.

4. Jack Wild as Jimmy: HR Pufnstuf Facts

English actor Jack Wild in costume as the Artful Dodger in the film production of the musical 'Oliver!', 1968
English actor Jack Wild in costume as the Artful Dodger in the film production of the musical Oliver!, 1968 Getty

Writer and composer Lionel Bart, who had created a musical stage show of Charles Dickens’ Oliver!, also made a 1968 film version, a rough cut of which he screened for Sid. At the center of the film was British actor Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger, who the producer knew would be perfect as Jimmy.

Born on September 30, 1952 in Royton, Lancashire, England, at the age of eight he got a job helping the local milkman. Then, as he and his brother played football in a park, theatrical agent June Collins (who, as it turns out, was the mother of singer Phil Collins), discovered them and immediately enrolled the brothers at the Barbara Speake Stage School in West London.

Cling (Joy Campbell), Jimmy (Jack Wild) and Mayor H.R. Pufnstuf (Roberto Gamonet) watch forlornly as the witch-in-residence of their island flies away with Jimmy's magical talking flute.
Cling (Joy Campbell), Jimmy (Jack Wild) and Mayor H.R. Pufnstuf (Roberto Gamonet) watch forlornly as the witch-in-residence of their island flies away with Jimmy’s magical talking flute.Getty

Trying to help out their family financially, the duo sought and found work in the 1964 West End theatre production of Bart’s Oliver!, with Arthur assuming the lead role and Jack as a member of Fagin’s gang, Charley Bates. As noted, he would play the Artful Dodger in the movie version. Two years later, he left the stage show and joined the film serial Danny the Dragon for the Children’s Film Foundation, from which he began appearing in various British TV shows.

It was while at the premiere of Oliver! in 1968 that Jack was approached by the Kroffts, who offered him the role of Jimmy in HR Pufnstuf for the show’s sole season of first-run episodes and a feature film version that was shot while they were in production.

5. For Marty Krofft, Jack Wild Presented Some Problems

Jack Wild, September, 1968
Jack Wild, September, 1968 Getty

Because Jack Wild was so young at the time (17) and had come to America from England, Marty Krofft thought it would be a good idea if he assumed guardianship of the teenager. He would later acknowledge that this wasn’t the best idea, given how much time he needed to devote to his two young daughters.

6. Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo: HR Pufnstuf Facts

Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo
Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo, 1969©NBCUniversal/IMDb

When it came to casting the villainess of the show, the choices came down to Penny Marshall, later to become Oscar Madison’s secretary Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple and then, of course, Laverne DeFazio on Laverne & Shirley; and Billie Hayes, who scored the role when she hopped on a desk while letting out a “maniacal cackle.”

Born Billie Armstrong Brosch on August 5, 1924 in Du Quoin, Illinois, Hayes worked in television, film and the stage. Beyond Witchiepoo, she was best known as Li’l Abner’s Mammy Yokum. in the 1956 Broadway musical as well as the film adaptation three years later.

Billie Hayes and Sid Krofft, 2002
Billie Hayes and Sid Krofft, 2002 Albert L. Ortega/WireImage

At the age of 9, she began performing as a tap dancer in local theaters, and in high school had become a part of the orchestra of Vince Genovese, before touring the midwest with her own dancing and singing routine. Moving to New York, she auditioned for stage work and found herself cast in a trio of roadshow operettas. There would also be television guest appearances, and a great deal of voice work on animated series.

Not only did Hayes play Witchiepoo on HR Pufnstuf, but she did so on Lidsville (where she had a regular role as Weenie the Genie) and 1976’s The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (joined. by Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz).

Retiring from acting in 2016, she passed away of natural causes on April 29, 2021 at age 96.

7. Most of the Characters Featured Two Actors

HR Pufnstuf characters
HR Pufnstuf characters, 1969©NBCUniversal/courtesy IMDb

Because of the nature of the characters being in costumes, there were generally two performers involved with each one of them — one to wear the suit and the other to provide the dialogue.

HR PUFNSTUF: Performed by Roberto Gamonet, who was born on July 28, 1923 in Honduras. Playing the lovable dragon was apparently his only role. The actor died on October 16, 1982 at the age of 59.

Voicing the character was veteran voiceover artist Lennie Weinrib (born April 29, 1935), who would bring hundreds of animated to characters to life over the years, including Scrappy-Doo and Superman, the latter on an animated sequence for Sesame Street and an episode of The Brady Kids. He died on June 26, 2006 at age 71.

FREDDY THE FLUTE: This magical instrument — which had facial expressions thanks to animation — was voiced by Joan Gerber (1935 to 2011), whose credits include the TV Special Thanksgiving in the Land of Oz, voicing Ozma, the Queen of Oz; and many dozens of others between 1959’s Matty’s Funday Funnies and 2003’s Duck Dodgers.

CLING AND CLANG: A pair of non-speaking police officers performed respectively by Joy Campbell and Angelo Rossitto.

ORSON VULTURE: A hench-bird of Witchiepoo’s that was performed by Joy Campbell with Lennie Weinrib providing the voice.

SEYMOUR SPIDER: Another worker for the head witch, performed by Angelo Rossitto and voiced by Walker Edmiston.

STUPID BAT: The name says it all, mostly serving as a messenger that constantly screws things up. He’s performed by Sharon Baird and voiced by Lennie Weinrib.

8. There Were Other Character Inspirations: HR Pufnstuf Facts

Judy Garland, 1952
Judy Garland, 1952Getty

At one point, Sid and Marty went on tour with singer Judy Garland, showcasing their puppets to the audience. One of those developed was Judy the Frog, based on The Wizard of Oz star, which would be incorporated into HR Pufnstuf as a supporting player (performed by Sharon Baird and voiced by Joan Gerber). There was also one named Ludicrous Lion (Johnny Silver as performer and, doing a W.C. Fields impersonation, Walker Edmiston as the voice), who had come from a 1957 television pilot they’d produced titled Here’s Irving.

9. HR Pufnstuf Guest Appearances

Like Witchiepoo, HR Pufnstuf himself managed to make the rounds following the conclusion of production on the show’s 17 episodes. He’d be seen on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Lidsville and The Krofft Superstar Hour.

10. Legalese: HR Pufnstuf Facts

The show launched one lawsuit and was the subject of another. In terms of the former, the Kroffts weren’t too comfortable when McDonald’s launched their “McDonald’s Land” characters, who were clearly inspired by HR Pufnstuff. We’re talking things like The Hamburglar, Grimace, Fry Kids, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Bird and so on. The courts agreed, with the Kroffts proving victorious.

And then there was the issue of the theme song. Written by Les Szarvas, music icon Paul Simon eventually got co-writing credit on it after he successfully sued over the fact that the theme was too close to his song “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy).”

11. Pufnstuff: The Movie

While HR Pufnstuf was in production, and enjoying solid ratings on Saturday mornings, Universal Pictures along with series sponsor Kellogg’s Cereal decided that they wanted to produce a feature film version, which the Kroffts were more than happy to provide.

Filming started in January 1970 and in essence it became a 98-minute episode of the show, retelling the basic story of Jimmy coming to Living Island and Witchiepoo determined to get Freddy the Flute from him. New cast members include Cass Elliot from the Mamas and Papas as Witch Hazel, a rival of Withiepoo’s; and Martha Raye as Boss Witch.

The film grossed $296,700 in 1970, which, adjusted for inflation, would be the equivalent of $2.4 million today. A low budget affair, the movie was very profitable.

12. Soundtrack Album: HR Pufnstuf Facts

Pufnstuf soundtrack album, 1970
Pufnstuf soundtrack album, 1970©Capitol Records

The Pufnstuf film had a soundtrack album, featuring the following 14 tracks: “If I Could” (Jack Wild), “Fire in the Castle,” “Living Island” (Jack Wild/Cast), “Witchiepoo’s Lament,” “Angel Raid,” “A Friend in You” (Jack Wild), “How Lucky I Am,” “Pufnstuf” (Jack Wild/Cast), “Charge,” “Different” (Mama Cass Elliot), “Zap the World” (Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye), “Leaving Living Island,” “Rescue Racer to the Rescue” and “Finale: A) “If I could Be”, B) “Living Island” (Jack Wild).

13. The Life of Jack Wild

Jack Wild in October 1981
Jack Wild in October 1981 Fin Costello/Redferns

Following the conclusion of HR Pufnstuf, Jack Wild made some TV guest appearances and had a few film roles, but not a lot of them. His final one was in the 2005 film Moussaka & Chips.

As was the tendency at the time, teen heartthrobs were generally given recording contracts, and he was no different, making the records The Jack Wild Album (1970), Everything’s Coming Up Roses (1971) and A Beautiful World (1972).

His career didn’t go very far, unfortunately, because by the 1980s he had become a full-blown alcoholic, which took away work opportunities and ended his marriage to Gaynor Jones, who he’d wed in 1976.

In 2001, he was diagnosed with oral cancer, his tongue and voice box needing to be removed three years later, leaving him incapable of speaking. The disease would claim his life on March 1, 2006 at only 53 years of age.

14. The Worlds of Sid and Marty Krofft: HR Pufnstuf Facts

Beyond H.R. Pufnstuf, Sid and Marty Krofft’s shows include The Bugaloos (1970), Lidsville (1971), Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973), Land of the Lost (1974), Far Out Space Nuts (1975), The Lost Saucer (1975), Donny & Marie (1976 top 1979) and The Brady Bunch Hour (1977).

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