H.R. Pufnstuf: The Druggiest Kids' Show Ever
Left: Jack and H.R. Pufnstuf. Right: A welcome sign displayed on the show, with an interesting spelling of "Hi." Source: IMDB
H.R. Pufnstuff, the 1969 children's show created by Sid and Marty Krofft, was a drug-fueled fantasy -- right? Evidence for the drugginess of the show begins with the titular character, a dragon whose last name sounds like "puffin' stuff" and whose initials might stand for "Hand-rolled." Hand-rolled Puffin' Stuff? Ok, that's pretty druggy. In the world of H.R. Pufnstuf, inanimate objects speak, like a scene out of an LSD trip (so we are told). The show is set on Living Island, where H.R. Pufnstuf is the mayor -- which, according to some sources, was a slang term for marijuana at the time. Though Pufnstuf is supposed to be a dragon, pot enthusiasts have noted that his appearance, green with a shock of red hair, resembles a marijuana bud. In one notorious episode, the human character Jack faces off against evil mushrooms, one of whom is smoking.
The theme song seems to refer to, let's say, indulgence as well:
Who’s your friend when things get rough?
Can’t do a little, ‘cause he can’t do enough
H.R. Pufnstuf, the children's show dragon, was born when Sid and Marty Krofft created "Kaleidoscope," a show for the Coca-Cola pavilion at the World’s Fair in San Antonio in 1968, the fair that the hippies called the HemisFair. The character named Luther was so popular that he became the “face” of the fair. Luther would become the dragon/mayor Pufnstuf in their show H.R. Pufnstuf, which ran for one season in 1969.
Where Did The Dragon's Name Come From?
The brothers have also told a different origin story for the name of the show and the character. The dragon’s last name was inspired by another dragon, Puff, the subject of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” the song which was popular during that time. They needed something to precede Pufnstuf, and since he was the mayor, they considered calling him “Mayor,” because they wanted a name that evoked a sense of his power, but they did not like the way “Mayor Pufnstuf” sounded. While some thought H.R. stood for hand rolled, the initials came from the title “royal highness,” but backwards.
Incidentally, NBC did not like Pufnstuf’s name, but not because of a potential drug reference. Instead, they found the name to be too effeminate.
A Trip To The Living Island
In the show, Jimmy, a real boy played by Jack Wild, the young actor who had played the Artful Dodger in the film Oliver!, a performance that won him a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination, is shipwrecked on Living Island during a storm. On Living Island the mayor, Pufnstuf presides over other denizens of the forest, including Judy Frog, an owl, and of course, talking trees. In fact, everything on the island is alive and there are 86 characters, including quite a variety of trees: hippie trees, social trees, old-men trees, and even Indian trees. And yes, a lollipop who owns a candy store. Of course, the show has a villain, Witchiepoo, who wants Jimmy’s talking golden flute, named Freddy. With its bright colors, seeming drug-related double entendres, and talking objects, there has been much speculation about the druggy nature of the show, including the origins of the title. The Krofft brothers have been a bit vague at times about the title, though they have said in no uncertain terms that they did no drugs while working on the show. Marty Krofft did claim in 2004 that H.R. Pufnstuf’s name was a bit of a joke to see if the NBC executives would notice.
The Stuff Of Imagination
Marty Krofft denied drug use even though the show was kind of like an acid trip. Krofft was scared of hard drugs and has said “you can’t create this stuff stoned.” Additionally, many of the ideas in the show were products of Sid Krofft’s childhood imagination. In fact, the use of buttons as currency arose from something he did as a child. When Sid put on puppet shows in his backyard, he would charge his audience members buttons rather than money.
Starting Out As Puppeteers
The Krofft brothers began their careers as puppeteers. Sid, who had been creating shows since he was a kid, joined Ringling Bros at 16 as a puppeteer; his interest was sparked by Vaudeville. He then teamed up with his brother Marty while Marty toured with Judy Garland as an opening act; Marty needed help on the tour and asked if he could bring his brother along. This experience began their working partnership and provided the inspiration for Judy the Frog, who was based on Judy Garland. The two created costumes for The Banana Splits Adventure Hour prior to starting their own show.
It Was Just Too Expensive
The Kroffts paid for a significant portion of H.R. Pufnstuf out of their own pocket and reportedly lost a million dollars doing it. So, despite the fact that NBC was prepared to do a second season, and even slightly increased the budget, the Kroffts couldn’t afford it. So after 17 episodes, the show was over. The following year, however, Universal released the major film, Pufnstuf which retained most of the major characters from the television show.
The Krofft's Later Adventures
After the show ended, they created things based on the characters, such as rides at Six Flags, which allowed them to recover some of their lost money. They also built an amusement park called “The World of Sid and Marty Krofft” in downtown Atlanta. It was too expensive to run, just like H.R. Pufnstuf and shut down in less than a year. The brothers also went on to create successful variety shows though, including Donny and Marie. They also created several other shows, including Land of the Lost and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Return Of The Dragon
In 2015, Nickelodeon revived H.R. Pufnstuf as a special on Nick Jr as part of a 20 episode order of Mutt & Stuff, a show that was also created by the Kroffts, in which H.R. is Stuff’s uncle.
Cultural References And A Parody
There have been a number of references to the show in popular culture. In one case, the Kroffts sued McDonalds for “borrowing” ideas from Pufnstuf for their McDonaldland characters, including Mayor McCheese. In 1977, they won a reported seven-figure settlement. Other references were not as contentious. There were two references on episodes of The Simpsons: the Hufnstuf on Ice show and a muffin shop in Shelbyville called MuffinStuf. H.R. Pufnstuf has also appeared on other shows including CHiPs and George Lopez. The show was also parodied on Mr. Show with the sketch “The Altered State of Drugachusetts,” which featured a boy carrying a talking bong rather than a talking flute. Despite the druggy nature of the show, which lent itself to parody, Marty Krofft has said:
“The shows were very bright and spacey looking. They may have lent themselves to that culture at the time, but we didn't ascribe that meaning to them, and I can't speak to what adults were doing when they were watching the shows. We just set out to make a quality children's program.”
Tags: Childrens Television | Drugs | H.R. Pufnstuf | Sid And Marty Krofft
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