Sid and Marty Krofft created memorable, magical Saturday morning live-action television shows including “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “Land of the Lost” and “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” but their success extends far beyond sea monsters, magic flutes and Vroom Brooms. They’ve entertained millions, employed thousands and inspired many of today’s content creators — they’re still in production today with “Mutt & Stuff,” which airs on Nickelodeon. Recently, a revival of “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” appeared on Amazon. Now, the dynamic duo is being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 45th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards.
“It’s not easy to be in the business with your relatives,” says Marty Krofft. “But we’ve lasted longer than most marriages in the world.”
“You just make it work,” says Sid Krofft. “We’ve been together professionally for 60 years. We argue, but that’s just part of being Sid and Marty Krofft. We could be a sitcom.”
Their showbiz longevity can be attributed to their having the perfect alchemy of business acumen, creativity and knowing when to stay and fight.
“The biggest thing for me is that I never, ever give up,” says Marty. “I am relentless about getting to the goal line.”
Sid’s sense of wonder was sparked in the late 1930s by attending a vaudeville show, spying an ad for a Hazelle Marionette in a Superman comic book, and watching “The Wizard of Oz” in a movie theater. These experiences fostered his interest in puppetry, fantasy and show business.
While Sid was traveling with the circus, Marty began to familiarize himself with puppets that his brother had left behind.
“I took the puppets and went out with the act,” Marty says. “I played the Catskill Mountains and I went back to Canada.”
The Kroffts were born in Canada before their family moved to Providence, R.I., and then, in 1946, New York.
After the circus, Sid invited his brother to join his show. Later, he started touring as the opening act for Judy Garland.
“She didn’t want a comedian ahead of her because they can bomb out,” explains Marty. “It’s all about warming up the audience, which Sid would do. You could count on his act being there.”
A brief meeting with Walt Disney in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel resulted in advice that the Kroffts took to heart for years to come in their careers.
“Walt said, ‘I’ve heard about you guys,’” Sid recalls. “ ‘Can I give you some advice? Always put your name above everything that you create because someday it’ll be worth something.’”
Soon after, Hanna-Barbera hired the Krofft brothers to help them develop the Banana Splits, live-action characters who headlined a series featuring both live-action and animated shows. This led to NBC approaching the Kroffts about creating their own series for its Saturday morning slate.
|The live-action “H.R. Pufnstuf” became a staple of early 1970s Saturday morning television.|
Their first endeavor was “H.R. Pufnstuf,” which told the tale of young Jimmy (Jack Wild of “Oliver!” fame), who found himself marooned on the Living Island where magical friends helped protect him and Freddy the Flute (voiced by Joan Gerber) from menacing Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes).
The success of “H.R. Pufnstuf” led to additional Krofft shows including “The Lost Saucer” and “Far Out Space Nuts.”
In early 1970, an advertising agency contacted the Kroffts about incorporating their characters into an ad campaign for McDonald’s. After sharing much of their expertise, the brothers were told the campaign for the hamburger fast food chain was kaput. However, the following year, commercials for McDonaldland started airing featuring Mayor McCheese, who bears a striking resemblance to H.R. Pufnstuf (who is the mayor of the Living Island), and other characters and themes that had the Krofft imprint on them. The Kroffts sued McDonald’s for infringement and were ultimately awarded more than $1 million in damages. A framed copy of the check still hangs in the Krofft production office.
“It wasn’t the money,” says Marty. “It was that the flea beat the elephant.”
Less successful was their endeavor in the amusement park world. In 1976, the World of Sid and Marty Krofft, an indoor theme park in the Omni Intl. complex, opened in Atlanta. Six months later, due to poor attendance, it closed.
“It was the eighth wonder of the world,” recalls Marty. “It had pinball rides, an escalator going up nine stories and a crystal carousel that rode on a cushion of air — but it never worked. Usually, when you have a failure you never have to see it again, but I look at it every day — it’s the home of CNN.”
In the 1970s, the Kroffts produced the first two years of “Donny and Marie.” Later, then-ABC senior programming executive Michael Eisner approached the Kroffts about helming another show, and “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” was born.
“We got a 50 share on the first night,” Marty Krofft recalls. “Michael was a mentor as was [programming executive] Fred Silverman. I was spoiled. Those guys could make decisions.”
Saturday morning programming began to evolve in the 1980s, and the Kroffts evolved along with it, bringing “Pryor’s Place” to CBS in 1984 and the syndicated politically themed series “D.C. Follies” in 1988 to nighttime.
The Kroffts have stayed in business even when they didn’t have a show in production.
“There’s always something to be found and [my father] can find it,” says Deanna Krofft Pope, Marty’s daughter and a producer and COO of Sid & Marty Krofft Prods. “If we didn’t have a show in production, there was always a clip [to be licensed].”
In 2002, H.R. Pufnstuf appeared in an episode of “The George Lopez Show,” which introduced the character to a whole new generation.
Many of the Kroffts’ shows have been re-created and relaunched, including “Land of the Lost” as both a TV series in 1991 and a feature film in 2009.
“The reboots are tricky,” says Marty. “If you piss off the fans, you lose them. We try to keep the integrity of the shows by moving them to the present.”
Both men are excited about the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Daytime Emmy ceremony. “It gives me a chance to thank all of the people who’ve worked for us. They’re all a part of this,” says Marty, but neither see it as a stopping point.
Currently, the Kroffts are producing “Mutt & Stuff,” a Nickelodeon series hosted by Cesar Millan’s son Calvin and which teaches kids about pets, friendship and loyalty. There are also plans to revive “Les Poupées de Paris” with David Arquette.
“We also have this new girl — Rachel Eggleston — she’s a star and she’s only [a tween],” Marty Krofft says of “Mutt & Stuff.”
“We’re good with talent. We know the winners from the losers.”
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