Marty Krofft, like his brother Sid, possesses a unique vision that has brought about some of the most memorable children's TV programming ever produced. The Kroffts' worldbest captured in a remarkable string of puppet-filled programs between the late '60s and early '80sis inhabited by young sea monsters unhappy with the thought of scaring people (Sigmund & The Sea Monster), a single-parent family trapped in a world of dinosaurs and monkey-men (Land Of The Lost), and giant talking hats helping a boy escape the clutches of Charles Nelson Reilly (Lidsville), as well as singing, dancing, and comedy (Donny And Marie, 1980's short-lived Pink Lady). The hyper-surreal H.R. Pufnstuf, which ran from 1969 to 1971, may just be the duo's brightest moment. Marty Krofft is still on the move: Shortly after returning from a trip to New Orleans, he spoke to The Onion about the future of Sid & Marty Krofft, their ongoing passion for puppets, and the inspiration behind Lidsville.
The Onion: Were you in New Orleans for business or pleasure?
Marty Krofft: Yeah, business and pleasure.
O: That's the great thing about New Orleans: You can always mesh the two.
MK: We had a club there a long time ago. We had one of our puppet shows on Bourbon Street in the late '60s.
O: Was this before you were doing television?
MK: Ah, it was before... Well, we were doing television, but we didn't have our own shows. It was about the time we were doing the Dean Martin series [The Dean Martin Show]; we had the showgirls on Dean Martin, which were the puppets. So we did a show called Les Poupees De Paris, which was our adults-only puppet show in Toledo. That's what kind of got us on the map. They didn't really like us in New Orleans, because it was all strip joints and us. They were happy to get rid of us.
O: You can make puppets sort of saucy, but after a certain point, you can't...
MK: Compete? Well, I don't know. Naughty pine. [Laughs.]
O: Are you looking for other possible avenues down there?
MK: New Orleans? Yeah, it's a connecting place. People we're doing business with. People we're about to do business with. I just finished doing a pilot for the Fox News Channel in New York with the puppets a couple weeks ago. It's a continuation of stuff that's going on.
O: What other projects do you have going on right now?
MK: Well, we're in major development to do a big motion picture of Land Of The Lost with Disney. We've been two and a half years with this already. Hopefully it will be made while I'm alive.
O: Land Of The Lost probably has the best longevity of the TV shows.
MK: Well, yeah. That had the most shows of anything we did in the kids area, because usually the program director would either quit or get fired. So the next people in are loyal to themselves and the new stuff. With H.R. Pufnstuf, we couldn't afford to do another season. We lost close to a million dollars doing the first season. They only wanted to give us a dollar forty more to do it, so we said, "Uh-uh. No, thank you." Fortunately, we got the year, and that thing you can't kill with a baseball bat. We're going to do a movie of that also, or a television series, whichever comes first. We're working on them both right now.
O: Is it going to be puppet-based, or are you thinking about branching out into new technologies?
MK: We believe that there is, you know, the new tech and the soft-tech, which is us. I think we'll use some of both, but we're not going to lose the warmth of what we do with our characters. We now have the luxury of using the technology to enhance what we're doing, and there are some very interesting people talking to us about doing Pufnstuf. I really don't want to use their names, because that wouldn't be fair. I don't want them to get pissed off if they read their names before they're committed.
O: Pufnstuf is an icon unto itself. Your shows all have this strong iconic value.
MK: Well, we also have a lot of interest in doing Sigmund & The Sea Monster as a movie with all kinds of different comedic people. You're right that the stuff, the way we did it, for some reason stayed alive.
O: I once heard there was a fire on the set of Sigmund & The Sea Monster. People didn't even have time to take off their costumes; they were waddling out in full costume. How did that happen?
MK: One of the caves caught on fire, and the whole studio went down. Luckily, nobody died.
MK: Yeah. Rip Taylor was on the set in costume, and he went back to the hotel in his costume. It looked like a guy from Mars, but on Sunset Boulevard, he looked like he fit right in. He went back to his hotel, and nobody even looked.
O: Was that a big setback for you?
MK: Actually, it was a small-term setback, because we moved to another studio and made the air date.
O: I guess it helps that people were wearing the costumes at the time, so you didn't lose those.
MK: It was an explosion that took place. All the material used in the cave was made by a company that put this material into airplanes for insulation, and the stuff is explosive. Since then they've sucked it out of all the airplanes, I think.
O: How did you [and brother Sid] become puppeteers?
MK: Well, our family, we're puppeteers, so we kind of inherited that. We did puppet shows as kids. My brother was the opening act for Judy Garland, and Sinatra, and Liberace, and the Andrews Sisters. That was our entry into the puppets. That's the thing we still stay with. In fact, I don't know if you know D.C. Follies [a satirical half-hour comedy the Kroffts produced from 1987 to 1989], but we're going to take D.C. Follies and create a new show for the Kennedy Center this year. We're going to go in the summer, and play 10 to 12 weeks in the Kennedy Center. We're planning that right as we speak. Those puppets also may be on Fox News. The puppets are making a resurgence.
O: What do you think of other children's programming right now, like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?
MK: Well, you know, it's hard to argue with success. I think Power Rangers is a perfect example of violence for kids. Kids kicking other kids. Little kids who don't understand karate and all those martial arts. I'm the wrong person to ask about this. I'm into characters. I'm into making great characters and having some good stories. And hey, with this Power Rangers phenomenon, I guess if it's down to the money, I wish I owned it.
O: Do you usually come up with the characters on your own?
MK: We have creative people; we have artists. My brother and myself... My brother is very creative. The characters come up a lot of ways. It's like an evolution of designing them, and you keep on designing them until you get something you want.
O: You carried on [the character] Witchiepoo from series to series.
MK: Well, no, we carried the person on. What are you talking about, we carried the character on?
O: She made one appearance in Lidsville, didn't she?
MK: Witchiepoo might have had one appearance in Lidsville, but the gal who played Witchiepoo was in Lidsville. She played Weenie The Genie. Billie Hayes.
O: Is your cast an ensemble you...
MK: Pulled from? No. We found Witchiepoo. We found Jack Wild, who was in Oliver! We found all the people. This was all tough casting. We even found Tom Hanks, but we never hired him. Michael J. Fox came in for casting on Land Of The Lost.
O: The first or the second?
MK: The first. We thought he wasn't right. You don't always guess right.
O: You were pretty instrumental in the '70s resurgence of variety shows. You did The Brady Bunch Hour...
MK: Donny And Marie and Barbara Mandrell [& The Mandrell Sisters], and Pink Lady. That's in the Time Capsule.
O: Will you be busting open the Time Capsule in video releases any time soon?
O: I've seen Pufnstuf Live At The Hollywood Bowl [recently reissued on video by Rhino, along with several episodes of the Krofft-produced Richard Pryor children's show Pryor's Place].
MK: That was a live show we did that I decided to tape at the last minute. That's really in the Time Capsule also, that show. We sold it in Australia. We sold 20,000 copies, which I couldn't believe.
O: Did you know you had a following in Australia?
MK: I didn't know. I was hoping we had a following. We sold about 160,000 videos of Pufnstuf, which is incredible for the size of the market versus the size of it here.
O: Do you think there's a place for variety shows in this day and age?
MK: I think so. Look, Paul Reubens is going to do another one. He's going to create a new character. Everyone thinks variety is dead, but no one gives it a chance. We're still thinking about it. It's really up to the buyers. If I had a network, I would have one on right now. But we're going to keep it moving.
O: Who do you see as being a strong enough talent to carry a variety show today?
MK: I don't know. That's a good question. They could be talented singers, they could be talented comedians, but are they right for a... Chris Rock would make a great variety-show host, but he wouldn't do network because he'd have to be controlled, so that doesn't work. Definitely, what's his name, Jim Carrey. He would make a great variety-show host. There are singers out there who have great personalities. Shania Twain would do good. There are people out there. And we're talking to a lot of people. Not a lot. We're talking to some.
O: What else are you going to be re-releasing on video?
MK: Well, we've got a deal we're trying to figure out with Fox Kids with the new [episodes of] Bugaloos. We're thinking about doing 26 new episodes of Pufnstuf. We've got a couple of new things we're working on.
O: Will a lot of the classic shows be released on videotape?
MK: That's what we're working on. We don't have a deal in the U.S. on that. We don't have a deal in any other country except Australia. What we're looking to do is release the library, to have one of the distributorssomebody real gooddo it. And we're talking to several people to see who would be interested in our library. I gotta believe that we could sell a couple million copies here. So, who do you think?
O: As far as distributors?
O: Rhino has always done well.
MK: I've been waiting for them to make me an offer, but they're kind of small.
O: Yeah, but they're devoted.
MK: So you like Rhino.
O: Yeah. They do a good job with their marketing, a good job with their packaging. They care a lot about their material. [Changes the subject.] Recently, Fox rebroadcast a portion of Lidsville on Millennium.
MK: Right, right. We gave it to them.
O: What did you think about that?
MK: It had Charles Nelson Reilly in it [both Lidsville and that episode of Millennium]. That's why they wanted it. He hated doing [Lidsville]. He hated putting the make-up on every day.
O: Was he difficult to work with?
MK: Ah, he's a pro. He was not difficult to work with. Few of the people who did the shows had to put make-up on. I think they didn't think it was worth it. They were kind of negative. But they all did a good job. Witchiepoo loved doing it. That's why she was a major hit. Everything's in the attitude, for all of us.
O: A lot of people are fans of the shows, but they're amazed because there's such a surreal quality to them. What was the creative process behind that?
O: I guess behind something like Lidsville. Because you don't think of talking hats...
MK: I'll give you Sigmund & The Sea Monster. My brother went to La Jolla. Sat on a rock. Saw a piece of seaweed in the ocean, and went out and swam for it. He brought it back in his convertible to L.A. and said, "This is Sigmund." With Lidsville... My brother's into hats. My brother thought it would be a great thing to do a show of hats. We created all these hats, and we spun a show around it.
O: Do you think the psychedelic nature of the times made it easier to have ideas like that run?
MK: I don't know. I've gotta believe... I think kids are going to pick from what they have available to them. You're saying, "Are the concepts different today from what they were then?" [Studios] wanted to just fart these things out for a dollar forty. We were spending $300,000 an episode then, and making decent pictures for kids. You might hate the show, but it was quality. We spent the money, and that's the reason we're not rich today. Everything went back to the shows. I think everybody stayed loyal to it. We decided to have an auction of about 200 pieces of our memorabilia and artwork and puppets, because we want to share them with the fans. There's more interest in this than I ever believed there would be.
O: How can people participate in the auction?
MK: We're working on it as we speak. I haven't decided who's going to do it. There are a few auction houses bidding on it. I don't even know if we're doing it in L.A. or New York. One company definitely wants to do it in New York, because people come from Europe to see the puppets. It's kind of an amazing collection.