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Marty Krofft Remembered

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Back in grad school, I often wrote about what it was like growing up in the seventies and eighties.

For instance, we didn’t have fancy mini-vans, we had station wagons. And often, we sat in the front seat without a seatbelt.

We drank water from the hose on hot days.

We ate raw cookie dough.

No one worried about us as we watched news stories about Vietnam, Jonestown, and The Blind School Fire episode of Little House on the Prairie.

Nothing weird about any of that, but what was weird were Sid and Marty Krofft TV shows on Saturday mornings.

So many of my generation woke up early on Saturday morning, poured a bowl of Lucky Charms (or insert any other sugary cereal here), sat on the shag carpet, then turned on the TV. You had Schoolhouse Rock of course, your Looney Tunes cartoons, Scooby Doo, and then…well then you had the world of Sid and Marty Krofft.

As Will Ferrell once said, the Krofft brothers showed “strange worlds and vivid colors existed without dropping acid.”

It was true.

The Canadian-born Krofft brothers started their odd journey creating costumes for The Banana Splits Show in 1969, and then NBC asked if they wanted to create their own show. So they created JR Punfinstuf, the dragon mayor of Living Island, a magical place where clocks talked, trees walked and pieces of cheese acted as security guards. Add to this menagerie Jimmy (Jack Wild, fresh off his success from playing The Artful Dodger in the movie musical Oliver!) and his talking golden flute Freddy, and they fit in perfectly. For conflict, Witchypoo (Billie Hayes) would try to steal Freddie the flute. She never succeeded.

The Krofft brothers continued their reign with The Bugaloos (British teenage insects flying around singing while Martha Raye’s Benita Bizzare chased them down), Lidsville (a green Charles Nelson Reilly goes after Butch Patrick in a world made of hats), Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (a small sea monster winds up making friends with two human boys) and we cannot forget Land of the Lost, where Rick, Marshall and Holly went on a camping trip and found themselves in a world of dinosaurs, lizard men, and a furry little guy named Cha-Ka who referred to himself in the third person.

The Kroffts branched out in 1976 to variety shows with Donny and Marie Osmond. Donny and Marie would sing songs weekly, and then the Krofft Ice Angels would come out and do an ice skating routine. I watched Donny and Marie every week. I used to think they were Catholic because they had so many brothers and sisters, but my grandparents then explained Mormonism to me.

In 1976 the Krofft brothers came up with the idea of a theme park incorporating all their characters. The World of Sid and Marty Krofft opened in May 1976 in Atlanta. It closed six months later. It was overpriced and near a bad neighborhood; unlike Disneyland, which had entertainment that could last several days, WOSAMK only lasted a few hours. They then worked on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour in 1977, then Pink Lady and Jeff in 1980. Let’s say this: TV Guide named both these shows in their “Worst TV Shows of All Time” list. The former became popular again when Lorelai and Rory Gilmore watched it on Gilmore Girls.

What I admired about the Kroffts is the fact they never stopped creating. They knew their world was odd, but that was the beauty of it. The oddness was what children loved. Who wouldn’t want to go to a magical island with talking trees? Or become friends with a sea monster?

The brothers were given a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award in 2018 and they received their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2020.

Marty Krofft died of kidney failure this weekend at 86 (Nov 25).

He’s survived by his three daughters, five grandchildren, one great-grandchild and his brothers Harry and Sid.