The simple things.
As time goes on, the struggles of life eventually wear us down and we long for the simpler things of our childhoods. The people, foods, and activities of our youth can fill our hearts with joy in a way few things can and they are greatly missed. One of the things that kids of the 70’s and 80’s enjoyed was some of the wacky kids shows.
For many children of the past, names like Hal Roach, Mel Blanc, William Hanna, Joe Barbera and Walt Disney are as timeless as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. For kids of the 70’s and 80’s, you can add 2 amazing talents in Sid and Marty Krofft. They created shows that few networks backed or liked, but millions still enjoy to this day. Their crazy use of kid friendly subjects and human puppetry is unmatched.
Some networks still show these classic shows on occasion, but in the 1970’s to the 1980’s, one of the most anticipated days of a kids life was the Cartoon Preview specials on the last Saturday night in August before the new school year begun. At the time these were highly rated shows and commercials advertising them flooded the television screen. Child stars of the day would host these specials and they were geared literally towards kids. It was an exciting time to see what new kid shows would shown for the fall lineup.
Today we are going to take a special look at the most craziest and quirky kids shows of the 1970’s.
Bigfoot and Wildboy:
Creator: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, (produced by the Kroffts)
Cast: Ray Young, Joseph Butcher, Monika Ramirez, Ned Romero, Yvonne Regalado, Al Wyatt Jr.
A lost boy in the woods is rescued and raised by a Bigfoot and they fight crime, aliens, and bad guys in a good v.s. evil plot. This is definitely out there but it’s what the 70’s shows were all about. Ah, and what a good parent Bigfoot is.
The Lost Saucer:
Created: Sid & Marty Krofft
Cast: Jim Nabors, Ruth Buzzi, Jarrod Johnson, Alice Playten
Running for only 16 episodes, this series has been greatly forgotten by most. Another one I had never heard of. It was classic Krofft; quirky, thought provoking, kind; with each show having either an environmental or social theme. It was interesting though because they would take the saucer into the past and into the future to try and get back home. Some of the stories were very thought provoking. Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi are interesting to watch in this outside the box performance that stretches their vast talents. An underrated show for sure.
The New Zoo Revue:
Creator: Doug Momary, Barbara Atlas
Cast: Doug Momary, Emily Peden, Sharon Baird, Yanco Inone, Larri Thomas, Chuck Woolery, Fran Ryan
This was one of the most popular shows for pre-schoolers along with Romper Room and the Captain Kangaroo. The show mixed humans with life-size talking animals. It won several educational awards and is thought of as being one of the top preschool shows ever made. It has had a couple of revivals and it still remains a favorite of baby boomers who have turned the show on to their kids and grandkids. And yes, below is game show host Chuck Woolery as Mr. Dingle.
Go on Youtube and check out their outtakes which have been released. Racy, sexual and over the top funny. They definitely had fun. If you are easily offended, I’d probably avoid them.
Creator: Sid and Marty Krofft
Cast: John McIndoe, Caroline Ellis, John Philpott, Wayne Laryea, Martha Raye, Billy Barty, Sharon Baird, Joy Campbell, Van Snowden
Another short lived Krofft show with a large cult following was the Bugaloos. With it’s ABBA style songs and outfits, it remains a cult classic especially abroad. It pretty much was a show about 4 cute British teens in bug costumes who sing and have conflicts with the jealous Benita Bizarre played by the great Martha Raye.
The young cast said that Martha Raye and Billy Barty helped them immensely and were the kindest, most fun people. There was a Bugaloo’s movie in the works at the time because of it’s popularity, but due to Universal going bankrupt, the idea was nixed.
Creator: Sid and Marty Krofft
Cast: Jay Robinson, Billy Barty, Ted Eccles, Susan Lawrence, Jeff MacKay
Another show introduced during the Krofft Supershow was Dr. Shrinker. A great cast along with catchy music, (this is one of my favorite intro songs); created a fun and popular show. The diabolical Dr. Shrinker uses a shrink ray to shrink 3 young adults whose plane has crash landed on an island. The show pretty much is Dr. Shrinker catching the “Shrinkies” and then them escaping. Mainstay Billy Barty plays his evil side kick Igor. He wants to sell the ray to the highest bidder and then give the Shrinkies to the second highest bidder. It was another show that was introduced on the Krofft Supershow that ran for 2 years. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (video below with Deidre Hall & Judy Stungis) were introduced at the same time and it only aired for one season as well. Dr. Shrinker is one of the lesser remembered and known shows but it definitely is loved by the Krofft’s, and their fans.
Sigmund and The Sea Monster:
Creator: Sid & Marty Krofft
Cast: Billy Barty, Johnny Whitaker, Scott Kolden, Mary Wickes, Joe Higgins, Rip Taylor, Fran Ryan, Fred Spencer, Paul Gale, Van Snowden, Sharon Baird, Sparky Marcus, Margaret Hamilton, Walker Edmiston, Sidney Miller
A show that was near and dear to the Krofft’s heart. Sigmund was another classic show that kids of all ages enjoyed. The legend Billy Barty played Sigmund, and even if he wasn’t feeling really well he still did some very physically trying scenes in the Sigmund the sea monsters suit. “Billy was amazing”, said Marty Krofft. “He would do things for us that he wouldn’t do for anyone else”.
This is the story of a friendly sea monster who is kicked out of the sea by his underwater family because he won’t scare people. He is then befriended by two boys who help protect him. Margaret Hamilton also was added to a great cast. She was famous for being the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz! The story lines are sweet, straight forward, and pleasant to watch.
Creator: Sid and Marty Krofft
Cast: Butch Patrick, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billie Hayes, Lennie Weinrib, Joan Gerber, Walker Edmiston
Another very popular show that only ran a year was Lidsville. The theme song was another classic which was the norm for the Krofft’s. It was a story of a boy that fell into a huge hat owned by Merlo the Magician at 6 Flags in Texas. The boy Mark goes into a world of life sized hats called “lids”. Some people again tried to link drugs to the cartoon because at the time a lid was the street name for a bag of marijuana. Sid Krofft again laughed at this and said he had thought about the idea a while back thinking of the personalities that each hat may have and how everyone liked hats. If it was a cowboy hat, he acted like a cowboy and so on.
This was a lot like the Krofft’s other shows where little people would sometimes be in the costumes while someone else dubbed their voices. Charles Nelson Reilly played the villain Hoodoo and was a natural. Billie Hayes played Weenie the genie and Butch Patrick played Mark. In the show Mark never really does get back home and he fights beside the good hats to avoid paying the hat check of HooDoo who was helped by 4 bad hats. The Kroffts especially loved this show. At the time, the music became so popular that many of the songs were put on an album by Johnny Whitaker. Another classic.
The Electric Company:
Creator: Paul Dooley/PBS
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Irene Cara, Judy Graubart, Rita Moreno, Jim Boyd, Skip Hinnant, Bill Cosby (71-73), Lee Chamberlain (71-73), Luis Avalos (72-77), Hattie Winston (73-77), Danny Seagren (74-77)
Sesame Street and the Electric Company are probably the greatest kids shows of all time. The EC was unique and fun and very different because it used sketch comedy to teach kids to read. With an all star cast and guest stars in the likes of Michael Landon, Dean Martin, Carol O’Conner, Woody Allen, Barbara Eden, Joe Namath, Walt Frazier, Lily Tomlin, celebrities flocked to try to be on this show. It was popular and very well done with recurring favorite characters. They tried to re-launch it in the last 10 years and it was awful. They did an amazing 780 shows with an average of 130 shows a year for 6 years. Wow. Some series today have literally 8 shows in a full season.
The EC was groundbreaking and was even endorsed by the U.S. government and many educational organizations. It was always near or at the top of kids show ratings but was cancelled due to it being expensive to run. While the Muppets and Sesame Street could make a bundle in merchandise, the Electric Company was very limited on what it could sell. It helped the careers of many stars as well and remains one of the great kids shows of all time.
The Land Of The Lost:
Creator: Sid and Marty Krofft
Cast: Spencer Milligan (Seasons 1 & 2), Wesley Eure, Kathy Coleman, Phillip Paley, Ron Harper (Season 3)
Name another kids show who had writers from Star Trek writing episodes for it. The Land of the Lost remains one of the great Krofft shows. When Marshall and his 2 kids Will and Holly get caught in a dimensional portal after an earthquake, they go to a strange land where dinosaurs rule. While trying to get home, Grumpy the T-Rex was their biggest worry, but most of the dinosaurs were friendly herbivores. They fight the evil Sleestak’s and befriend Cha-Ka of the Pakuni tribe. Spencer Milligan who played Marshall, left the show at the start of the third season because he wanted more salary and he thought the cast should get a cut of their images and the merchandise that had become popular. The 70’s was not exactly a decade for tv actors to get rich and many times they were not paid much in residuals or merchandise, if at all.
The original cast can often be seen at reunions and fan signings. It remains arguably the most popular show the Krofft’s have ever done. Want to win a bar bet? What future NBA star was an original Sleestak? It was none other than the World Champion Detroit Pistons Bill Laimbeer. When he attended Palos Verdes High School, he was asked to be a Sleestak due to how tall and skinny he was.
Creator: Sid and Marty Krofft
Cast: Jack Wilde, Billie Hayes, Lennie Weinrib, Joan Gerber, Walker Edmiston
You want to know how great this show is? At the time the show was aired, the Beatles would ask for tapings of it sent to them directly by the Krofft’s. Teens and high school kids would write the show by the thousands. They only did 17 episodes and even today it has a huge cult following. TV Guide rated it their 22nd greatest cult tv shows of all time. Add another classic hit theme, and it’s hard to top H.R. Pufnstuf. This is considered their other greatest show along with Land of the Lost.
With the iconic Jack Wild (he played the greatest artful dodger of all time in the 1968 film Oliver which he got an Academy Award Nomination); Witchiepoo played by Billie Hayes (always flying her Vroom Broom) and the amazing adventures of good v.s. evil; this show captured the hearts of kids all over the world. There were rumors that Wild got a million dollars to do this show.
I cheated a little. This was actually created at the very end of 1969, but most of its airplay occurred in the 1970’s. Below they answer the age old question if drugs fueled the name of the show. Who’s your friend when things get rough? H.R. Pufnstuf, because he can’t do a little if he can’t do enough.
The longer I’m around the more I realize what’s popular isn’t always good and what’s good isn’t always popular. Citizen Kane wasn’t widely seen for over 20 years and the public wasn’t that thrilled about it at the time anyway. The Wizard of Oz took 25 years just to break even and that was after network television began to show it. The networks wanted to cancel Hill Street Blues but they were nominated for so many Emmy’s that they kept it on. In some instances though, the networks just don’t back what is popular. That was the case with many of the Krofft’s shows.
Sid and Marty Krofft blazed trails and showed the way to a new type of kids show. Sid; laid back and full on hippy; and high strung and tell it like it is Marty; created entertainment that will live forever. Their search for a kind, gentle, and peaceful world through their television shows, resonates with many even today.
What Sesame Street, the Kroft’s and Mr. Rogers did was they listened to kids; whether young or old. Parts of these creators never grew up and they fed a kid’s passion for adventure, excitement, fantasy, and kindness without dumbing them down with violence and sex flooding the screen. That is something many of today’s parents and tv shows have forgotten. Let kids be kids and cherish their wonder, imagination and innocence for as long as you can. And if you’re lucky, a part of them will never grow up too.