Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Fever! Volume One

No matter where I was on Saturday morning in the early-1970s, be it home with mom, visiting dad or sleeping over at my grandparents', one thing was certain: I was going to be parked in front of the TV with my cereal or pancakes watching a string of cartoons from the moment I got up until whichever adult finally told me enough was enough and sent me outside. This post, believe it or not, isn't going to be about the cartoons (not this time, anyway), but more about that later. Back then, I worshiped Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, The Archies, Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Clue Club, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, Spider-Woman, Hong Kong Phooey and Inch-High Private Eye.

But beyond the afore- mentioned ones, I had two particular favorites above all. One was Josie and the Pussycats. I loved everything about it from the look of the characters to the jaunty theme song. I loved the dynamic of the three diverse singers in the title band, the hunky blond boyfriend Alan, the hijinks of dim-bulb Alexander and his villainous sister Alexandra and the side-glancing cat Sebastian.

I even liked the spotted cat costumes that Josie, Melody and Valerie wore when they took the stage as The Pussycats. (Probably the only thing I didn't like was the word "Pussycats!" LOL!) I may have told this story once here in the last seven years, but in any case... My grandparents used to have me to their home every other weekend and once a month they would take me to SuperX, a local pharmacy and department store, and let me pick out something I wanted. I will NEVER forget my grandfather's face when I selected Josie and the Pussycats paper dolls.  :::crickets, crickets::: I positively treasured them, too.

I was not very happy when the show switched to Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space (!), mainly because I always liked the kicky mini-skirts the gals had always worn and disliked the matched (and comparatively drab) spacesuits they adopted for this redux. Nor was I all that fond of the alien Bleep, who joined the show at this point. Almost everyone was headed to space at this time. Don't believe me? Look up Gilligan's Planet!

The other big fave of mine was Super Friends. As a comic loving youngster, it thrilled me to see some of my familiar heroes playing out in two dimensions. The early incarnation of the show had Superman, Batman & Robin, Aquaman and Wonder Woman aided by teen helpmates Wendy and Marvin and their canine companion Wonder Dog, none of who possessed any special powers.

A revamped version of the show saw Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog out on their keisters, replaced by alien teen siblings Zan and Jayna and their pet space monkey Gleek. The change had been made to increase the action quantity on the series and provide more opportunities for interesting visuals. (Many of you have heard the familiar catchphrases, "Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!" or "Shape of a ________")

Other heroes (and villains) began to guest star as the show wore on, adding to the excitement for a preteen nerd like myself who longed to see characters like Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman and others in action. There were still other heroes invented just for the series, adding Black Vulcan, Samurai, Apache Chief and El Dorado to the mix. Few female superheroes besides Wonder Woman came around, though they dig toss in Rima the Jungle Girl several times, who'd begun as a literary heroine and had a comic book in 1974-1975. (If you're so inclined, you can watch ALL of the delightful intros to the show through the years in one fell swoop right here.)

As seen in the prior photo and in this one, the Super Friends' home base was The Hall of Justice, a stately building in the heart of the city with a fountain out front and a sizable half-dome facade. What made this particularly special for me (and, in fact, for anyone in Cincinnati) was the fact that the building was inspired by our very own Union Terminal, a late-1930s train station with a stunning art deco design.
We, in effect, had The Hall of Justice right here in our fair town! The station had, for all intents and purposes, closed down once air travel became the primary method for traveling cross country and was in danger of being leveled. For a while, it was partially transformed into a shopping mall with an elegant restaurant, but ultimately it was turned into the Cincinnati Museum Center, with a combination of children's museum, natural history museum and an IMAX movie theater, along with some other history-related functions (and even some train travel once more!)

It's interior, loaded with period art deco details, an eye-popping rotunda and featuring a gorgeous mural of pioneering workers (made with tiny squares of vividly-colored linoleum) is an unforgettable sight to behold. I had the good fortune to once be part of a play staged in the building. As it was 1995 and the 50th annivesary of her death, an Anne Frank exhibit was touring the country and stopped there for a period of time. I'd recently done The Diary of Anne Frank for a local group and we were enlisted to re-stage it for one weekend inside an old newsreel theatre to coincide with the exhibit. Performing it inside a building which had transported hordes of G.I.s during WWII, many on their way to free captive Jews, made for a memorable experience (and no, I was not Anne... LOL! I played the dentist Dr. Dussel, who was her cranky, fussy and intolerant roommate in the annex!)
Anyhoo... back to the subject at hand, Saturday morning TV. Today's post will take a gander at a few of the Sid & Marty Krofft live-action, puppet- heavy shows that dotted the Saturday morning landscape during the early-1970s. The one that kicked off their string of shows actually began in 1969, H.R. Pufinstuf, was an elaborately-designed fantasy about a little boy and his magic flute being pursued by an evil witch, but rescued and continually aided by a friendly dragon.

The dragon (a tall, inexplicably southern-accented beast in white cowboy boots!) was named H.R. Pufinstuf. (Naturally, all the marijuana implications that had greeted the old Peter, Paul & Mary record "Puff the Magic Dragon" were equally leveled at this hallucinogenic show as well!) The Kroffts sued McDonald's when the fast food chain introduced several characters (Big Mac and Mayor McCheese, along with some apple trees) that were close in concept to their dragon. The Kroffts were also sued themselves over the theme song which was uncomfortably close to Paul Simon's "Feelin' Groovy," resulting in his obtaining a co-writing credit for it!
The boy, played by The Artful Dodger of 1968's Oliver!, Jack Wild, was forever being sought by his nemesis, but always helped (and sometimes hindered) by all the inhabitants of Living Island, the series' setting. Aside from any drug references, intentional or not, there was also something eyebrow-raising about a boy who often had his hand wrapped around his best friend, a flute (which even had a head on it!) In the pilot, he even gave it a good wringing-out, with water dripping from it!  LOL

I always mention how as a child I was afraid of everything. Few things petrified me more than a) The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and b) The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), but Witchie-Poo from this show was right up there, too! Something about the bizarre eye makeup and the nose and that cackle!

That cackle is what landed the pint-sized performer Billie Hayes the role. Having first done Broadway (in New Faces of 1956 and as a Mammy Yokum replacement in Li'l Abner), her audition for Pufinstuf involved her jumping up on a table and letting loose with the cackle that won her the part (over fellow auditionee Penny Marshall.) Watching now, her enthusiastic antics are a highlight, but seeing it in reruns as a kid freaked me out.

Also causing me to watch through enclosed fingers were her henchmen Seymour Spider and Orson Vulture (seen here) and a few others assorted cretins. Something that went right over my head back then, but makes the show a bit more amusing now, is the way many of the characters and creatures adopt celebrity-inspired voices including Ed Wynn, Judy Garland, W.C. Fields, James Cagney and even Zsa Zsa Gabor!
The colorful, eye- popping, zany world that the show contained served as a template for several others to come, though this would diminish as the '70s wore on due to changing tastes (and reduced budgets!) It's hard to believe, considering how famous and iconic H.R. Pufinstuf is, that there were only 17 episodes ever produced! There were just rerun ad infinitum. This series was filmed unlike most of the other Krofft products, which were shot on videotape (and there was also a 1970 movie version called Pufinstuf.)
The next series from Krofft was The Bugaloos (1970), a fanciful frolic that co-mingled children's programming with pop music.  A quartet of insects buzzed around a place called Tranquility Forest. Much like The Monkees, The Bugaloos were a musical foursome cast from 5,000 hopefuls directly for the TV series, but with the intention to produce records as well. The Monkees were a sensation. The Bugaloos less so...

An album of their songs (13 of them, anyway) was released with the swarm of artists flying to and fro across the cover. Now you know that, even in the psychedelic world of 1970, not too many self- respecting boys were going to be selecting this album and taking it up to the counter for purchase, so it fell to the girls to do most of the buying. Nevertheless, the songs were said to have decent production values considering the source. You can see the kicky intro to the show here.

Phil Collins narrowly missed out on the honor of becoming a Bugaloo (to his later relief!), but the four performers who did make the cut were John McIndoe (as I.Q., a grasshopper), Caroline Ellis (as Joy, a butterfly), Wayne Laryea (as Harmony, a bumblebee) and John Philpott (as Courage, a [male] ladybug.)

The little buggers each had a tiny little place to sleep in the forest, within close proximity to one another. They would flit around using their wings or sometimes, as shown here in a production photo, use long leaves as sort-of makeshift surfboards!

When they weren't flying, they also had a "buggy" of sorts to transport them! Shown with them here is their pal Sparky, a firefly (who was portrayed by omnipresent 1960s & '70s dwarf Billy Barty.)

A Bluebell Flower would ring in the case of imminent danger or with news heard from the grapevine (the grapevine, of course, being quite literally a bunch of purple grapes bearing faces in a variety of expressions and personalities who told what was going on here and there!)

A principle draw, however, to the show was the presence of Martha Raye as The Bugaloos' chief antagonist Benita Bizarre. In what was to soon become something of a staple of Krofft series, this was the first instance of a veteran comedic performer coming on board to wreak havoc for the primary characters.
Raye was always depicted in the same feather- laden getup, but in different colors from orange to green to yellow and purple. Her character lived in a gigantic juke box and was desperate to become the next big sensation in music. She pursued the comparatively successful and talented Bugaloos (albeit with little interest in Joy, the female) in order to have them back up her questionable vocals.

Raye had a chauffeur with a thick German accent named Funky Rat as well as a pair of henchmen amusingly called Woofer and Tweeter.

Always there was a musical interlude with members of the title group performing a number, sometimes in soft-focus, sometimes in squares akin to The Brady Bunch.
Regardless of their appeal, the show's real treat, on whom its success ultimately rested, was the rubber-faced, over- the-top Raye, affectionately known during much of her career as "The Big Mouth." Yes, she was overenthusiastically hammy, but what else would you want on a show like this?

The Bugaloos was well- received enough to warrant an additional season, but somehow the wires were crossed and the all-British foursome returned home to England and plans for not only a second round of shows, but also a proposed movie had to be swatted down! (What? There was no way to fly these people back, even without their little wings??)

Our next gem was one that I could recall seeing as a child when it was still airing, though I was pretty little. The imagery REALLY stuck with me, though.  Lidsville concerned a boy (Butch Patrick of The Munsters) who fiddled around with an amusement park magician's hat and wound up causing it to grow large and then proceeded to fall into it!

He awoke in a bizarre world in which all the inhabitants were certain types of hats (most portrayed by a variety of diminutive actors and actresses including a group called The Hermine Midgets.) These hats usually spoke in a way associated with their hat (an opera style hat would often bellow his lines like a baritone while a cowboy hat would sport a country accent and a pith helmet would sport a British hunter vocal style, etc...) They also lived in small houses that were likewise shaped like hats.
The primary villain in this series was the magician Horatio HooDoo, played in greenface by a flamboyant Charles Nelson Reilly. Reilly also played the magician in the opening credits (sans toupee!) He would fly around in a collapsed, black top hat (called a Hatamaran!) spreading his evil wherever he could and collecting "hat checks" from the citizens of Lidsville.
His castle was filled with an assortment of oddball assistants and chattering knick-knacks. Raunchy Rabbit (!) and Jack of Clubs were on hand to help him in his nasty ways while others including a hat band, a parrot, a skull and a mounted alligator occasionally commented on the action. One can see to a degree how Paul Reubens must have been influenced by this show when he later created Pee Wee's Playhouse.
One of Reilly's primary beefs with young Patrick was that he freed a magic genie (named Weenie!) from his captivity and Reilly wanted the genie back. The androgynous Weenie was played by Billie Hayes, the very same performer who previously enacted Witchie Poo on H.R. Pufinstuf. The makeup scheme was different this time around, but still the white around the eyes remained. Weenie was as strange as Witchie Poo was scary as far as I was concerned.

Reilly had his own set of henchmen called Bad Hats: Mr. Big (who was actually the tiniest!), a gangster, Boris, an executioner (!), Bela, a vampire and Captain Hooknose, a pirate.

On one episode, seen here, Reilly's mother came calling (played by character actress Muriel Landers - surprisingly Reilly didn't doll up to portray his own mom!) This episode, the final one, relied heavily on clips from the prior shows rather than its own plotline as the hats tried to convey to Reilly's mother how evil he was.

Patrick's widow's peak was all grown out (and how!) by the time of this series. He was no Laurence Olivier, even taking into account the corny situations of the premise. Reilly seemed to be having a ball, though, and it was interesting to see him do something other than trade barbs with Brett Somers on Match Game

The theme song for Lidsville is a particular favorite as it is SO corny, bizarre, catchy and psychedelic all at once! It doesn't matter how many times I see it, and I've seen it dozens, I always smile at the dancing that the little hat people do when they appear on screen...

The next Krofft production was 1973's Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Sigmund (played by Billy Barty in a cumbersome and rather flimsy suit) was a sea creature ostracized from the rest of his kind because he refused to scare the bejesus out of humans who visited the shoreline or the waters of the ocean.
Discovered by two young brothers Johnny Whitaker (of Family Affair) and Scott Kolden, the friendly little monster was taken back to their home and shuttered into their sizable clubhouse for safekeeping.
There was an array of comically evil sea monsters who'd decided to rid themselves of Sigmund, including his parents Sweet Mama and Big Daddy and his brothers Blurp and Slurp, with other tentacled relatives and friends coming in and out from time to time.
Whitaker and his little brother lived in a parent- less house (they were away on the longest vacation ever known to man!) under the supervision of their house- keeper Mary Wickes.

Many of the comic situations derived from the fact that Sigmund would be right under Wickes' nose, waving a tentacle or otherwise threatening to be discovered while the kids freaked out. Of course, no adult ever seemed to have any peripheral vision, so everything was safe...

Later, a neighbor was added to the cast in the form of Margaret Hamilton, legendary as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. For the second season, Wickes departed and a new, more militant housekeeper played by Fran Ryan took over. And the ever-flamboyant, confetti-tossing comedian Rip Taylor came on the scene as a Sea Genie. (This was the first Krofft series to be extended into a second season, hence the opportunity for changes.)

Most episodes included a song from the mop- headed Whitaker, known for his incredible vocals.  LOL  In fact, there was an album released to coincide with the show, featuring the number "Friends" which also served as the series' theme song.

I thought Whitaker was pretty cute on Family Affair, but I just couldn't get on board with his grown out, brushed out shock of hair in this series. (And why did he always seem like he needed either a sinus pill or a good nose blowing??) I felt he fared better in 1973's Tom Sawyer. In any case, his acting career was all but over by about 1977. After a rough period of substance abuse, he turned the ship around and was able to work towards helping others through various organizations.

We'll end today's foray into the wild worlds of Sid & Marty Krofft with one of their most famous projects, 1974's Land of the Lost. If Witchie Poo, Weenie or the floundering sea monsters scared me as a child, then the inhabitants of this one downright petrified me! I had to sit on my grandpa's lap or at least nestled into the La-Z-Boy with him in order to endure it.

Lost concerned the adventures of a small family of explorers who got far more than they bargained for on a "routine expedition." Father Spencer Milligan, his son Wesley (Wesley Eure pretentiously billed using only his first name!) and daughter Kathy Coleman were caught in an earthquake while rafting, careened down a waterfall and found themselves caught in a prehistoric setting, complete with rampaging dinosaurs! You can see the screamingly hooty intro here.
The threesome had to take shelter in a cave, situated high off the ground, with makeshift furniture and whatever limited supplies they had brought along, an irresistible concept for a kid-aimed adventure show.

Outside the cave could be found anything from docile dinosaurs to dangerously vicious ones along with a race of primitive people called Pakuni, one of who in particular - Cha-Ka - joined up with the family for many an adventure.

Other creatures of all types were encountered, many of them startling to youngsters, but thrilling for those a tad older who enjoyed the slightly more serious style of storytelling that set this show apart from many of the others being aired.
The ones that positively terrified me were The Sleestaks, tall lizard-like creatures with large, round eyes. They were forever causing problems for the threesome as they tried to figure out a way to get back home. As you can see from most of the pictures here, the concept for this show was a quantum leap from the floppy sea monster costumes and others that the Krofft's had previously put forth.

A success from the start, Lost ran for two seasons and was set for a third when Milligan made the dreaded mistake of thinking he was due more money for the show and for feeling that income from some of the enormous profits being made from tie-in merchandise ought to go to the actors (imagine...!)

He was summarily dispensed from the show and for the third season a swap was done in which his brother came looking for the missing trio and wound up being stuck with the kids in the lost land while Milligan (actually a stand-in with a curly wig!) managed to get out! Ron Harper (who, after starring in Planet of the Apes, knew a thing or two about being displaced into a strange place) played the new adult leader of the show for what would be its third and final season.

At the time, Eure was a teen heartthrob and was simul- taneously appearing on Days of Our Lives as Mike Horton. In 1976, we was reportedly awarded the part of Gopher on The Love Boat, but was unable to work out the logistics with his Days schedule, so the role went to Fred Grandy instead.

Though he was playing a sixteen year-old on Lost, he was actually twenty-three when the show began and, though he had legions of young female fans, he in truth was in a relationship with Richard Chamberlain (!) for the better part of the series' run. Homophobia on the part of studio and network executives led to his being fired from Days in 1981 and further difficulty in obtaining work thereafter. In time, he became a successful author of children's books.

I can't deny that even as a child on grandpa's lap, I felt a little tingly inside whenever I looked at Eure's eyes (and was fascinated by his propensity towards leaving his shirt unbuttoned practically all the way to his waist!) In this frame, even little sis seems to be looking him over! I'll be back again sometime with more Saturday Morning Fever!