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PUPPET—Pufnstuf Puppeteers Have Comeback Plans in Mind

When H.R. Pufnstuf hit the airwaves in 1968, puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft knew they were on to something. “We put everything we had into it and it paid off,” said Marty, of the Saturday morning show featuring a six-foot dragon and teen-age English actor Jack Wild. Although there were only 17 episodes, the half-hour live-action show was an instant hit with youngsters that catapulted the Krofft brothers to Hollywood glory with a long string of children’s shows in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Today, the brothers who declined to divulge their ages and their Sherman Oaks-based production company are on the comeback trail. They’re planning a remake of their ’70s-era show “The Bugaloos;” a film, now in development, of their “Land of the Lost” show; and a television pilot of “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” for the WB Network. The Kroffts say they hope to ride the current wave of nostalgia for 1970s television with updated versions of their old shows. “I guess we did something right. You can’t kill these shows with a baseball bat,” said Marty who, along with his brother Sid, is producing “Electra Woman,” based on their 1976 ABC show by the same name. Sid, who handles the creative chores while Marty takes care of the finances, says the time is right to bring back the old shows. “The ’70s have become so popular, I guess our timing couldn’t be more perfect,” Sid said. But times have changed and production costs have gone through the roof, the brothers say, as they prepare to shoot their new pilot. “We did Pufnstuf for $54,000 an episode. Now an 18-minute pilot costs $1.5 million,” Sid said. “It’s crazy.” Jersey Films and Universal Studios have acquired the feature film rights to “The Bugaloos” with Kerry Brown and Russell Scott writing the screenplay. “We are quite excited to be in business with the Kroffts. They have created work that influenced an entire generation of people that are working in film and television today,” said Stacy Sher, a producer with Jersey Films. The Bugaloos, which originally aired from 1970 to 1972, is about four teen-age insects who form a rock group and often run afoul of local nasty Benita Bizarre, then played by Martha Raye. The Kroffts, in recent years, have continued to create puppet shows for theme parks around the country and for music videos. They also created a collection of giant puppets for ‘N Sync’s 2000 U.S. tour. More than 60 years ago, their father Peter Krofft, a master puppeteer in his own right, recruited his two young sons for a traveling puppet show. As the brothers grew up, they continued the family tradition by presenting puppet shows throughout the country. “We knew all the theater tricks. People used to say, ‘You gotta go see the Krofft show. They always get a standing ovation!'” Sid said. “But that’s because at the end we’d always have the American flag dropping with a lot of balloons and people would stand up and cheer. We did the same thing for ‘Donny and Marie.'” Eventually, Hanna-Barbera Productions asked them to work on the Banana Splits (humans dressed as an all-animal rock group that hosted a live action TV show in 1967). But even after the Splits became history, the Kroffts came up with the notion for H.R. Pufnstuf, featuring 16-year-old Wild as a boy who is shipwrecked on a magical island of witches, dragons and talking houses. The show, featuring high-end effects and expensive sets, was an instant hit, dominating the Saturday morning ratings in 1968 and 1969. “The Beatles were crazy about Pufnstuf,” Marty said. “Their manager, Brian Epstein, called us and said they wanted us to send them a copy as soon as we were finished so the Beatles could watch it.” But the end of “Pufnstuf” was not pleasant. “We lost our shirt,” Marty said. “We didn’t know what we were doing, so we were spending a ton of money when we shouldn’t have.” In 1970, the Kroffts followed up with “Lidsville” and “The Bugaloos,” and a slew of other programs. Never happy to stay on the sidelines, the brothers continued to operate the puppets themselves, often on their hands and knees below camera range. “We never got into those costumes though. They’re torture chambers under those hot lights,” Sid said. The Kroffts ventured into prime time with “The Donny and Marie Show” in 1976, “The Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters Show” in 1982 and 1988’s political satire, “D.C. Follies.” Mike Clements, vice president of production for the WB’s Michigan J. Productions, said the Kroffts are well respected for their imagination and work in children’s television. Melanie Krinsky, the brothers’ banker for the past 10 years, said she feels their honesty and business acumen is at the root of their success. “They’ve taken out many loans with us and they’ve always repaid them on time, but most important is that they’re extremely honest. They know how to run a business,” said, Krinsky, executive vice president for Mercantile National Bank in Century City. Meanwhile, Sid Krofft says he’s pleased with their shows’ popularity more than 20 years after their heyday. “Pufnstuf was a unique show and it held up. It says to me that people just want to be entertained,” he said.

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