Marty Krofft tells a delighted Dragon Con audience of success, failure
His Atlanta venture, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, lasted 6 months.
(Left to right) Children's television mogul Marty Krofft chats with H.R. Pufnstuf at The Center for Puppetry Arts. Krofft was in town to speak to audiences at Dragon Con. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.email@example.com)
Among older Atlantans, the brothers are even better known for their equally loopy indoor amusement park, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, which, in 1976, occupied four floors of the Omni International.
The park, featuring a ride in a human-sized pinball machine, opened to great fanfare and closed ignominiously six months later, vacating space that would later be occupied by CNN.
On Friday morning Krofft paid a visit to Atlanta’s premier pop culture convention, Dragon Con. He sat onstage in a huge ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, and received a standing ovation from hundreds of jubilant Dragon Con fans, before he even said a word.
He told them he hadn’t been back to Atlanta since the 1976 failure. “It was hard to come back,” said Krofft, 87. ”But I felt a lot of love.”
Love was in the air. When Krofft took questions from the audience, Shell Ramirez stood up several rows from the front to say tearfully, “I just want to say thank you; you inspired me.”
Ramirez, who attended the short-lived Krofft amusement park at age four, was dressed in full Witchiepoo attire, including the long crooked nose. (Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo was the evil nemesis of kindly H.R. Pufnstuf.) She told how Krofft’s shows ignited her drive to work with children and to eventually create a children’s community theater.
Fans like Ramirez swelled the long line to see Krofft speak. The anticipation would give the impression that H.R. Pufnstuf and his friends are all front of mind. But though Will Ferrell did star in a remake of “Land of the Lost” in 2009, most of Sid and Marty Krofft’s characters and creations have kept a low profile for the last 20 years.
That’s about to change. Krofft is digitizing all his Saturday morning shows, plus the Pufnstuf movie and other properties, and will begin streaming them in January.
Even in the absence of new material from Krofft, many Generation Xers have a warm spot for his strange, furry, multicolored creatures.
Why? The dramas and comedies have a certain insane, psychedelic edge, which makes them memorable. “They’re bonkers,” said Jenny Klein, who traveled to Atlanta with her husband, Rob, who is Krofft’s vice president of creative development.
The Kroffts weren’t afraid of the weird. They grabbed early attention at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 with an adults-only Folies Bergere-themed puppet show that featured some topless wooden performers. (Billy Graham denounced the show.)
“Les Poupees de Paris” came to the attention of Dean Martin who subsequently collaborated with the Kroffts on his television variety show. Other similar variety show mash-ups followed, with Donny and Marie Osmond, Raquel Welch and, astonishingly, a kids’ variety show with Richard Pryor.
Krofft reminisced about his move into children’s programming during a Thursday tour of the Center for Puppetry Arts. (”They don’t have anything like this in L.A.,” he marveled, at the remarkable museum of puppets from around the world.)
Looking at a display of Jim Henson’s work, Krofft mentioned how he and Henson would trade performers and fabricators. He gestured to an eight-foot Big Bird puppet on display and said “My guy built Big Bird. Don Sahlin, before he was with Henson, he was with me.”
Considering their crazy creations, Ramirez suggested that the makers of H.R. Pufnstuf might have been puffing stuff of their own, though the brothers have denied this.
Asked by an audience member the source of their creative experiments, Krofft said, “you have a good nightmare, and then you figure it out.”
A better explanation might be indefatigable vigor. Krofft’s back is bent with age and he navigated the puppetry center with the aid of a wheeled walker, but these impediments didn’t slow him down. After a 2:45 a.m. wake-up call Thursday morning in Los Angeles, Krofft was still going strong Thursday evening at an 8:30 p.m. supper.
Unlike his brother, Sid, who is 94, Marty still goes in to work every morning. Retiring is a bad idea he said. “You start watching daytime television and you’ll be dead in a month,” he said.
He also left the audience with a piece of advice about sticking to your guns
“If you have an idea,” he said, “never give up. If you give up on Tuesday, there’s no Wednesday, and Wednesday may be the day.”
Marty Krofft, co-founder of Sid and Marty Krofft Pictures, had three Dragon Con appearances planned for Friday, two for Saturday and two for Sunday, plus an appearance as a marshal in Saturday’s Dragon Con parade. For information: dragoncon.org