H.R. Pufnstufwas a beloved, short-lived children’s series created by TV legends Marty and Sid Krofft. The show followed the adventures of a young boy who ended up getting trapped on a magical island and made friends with a fantastical dragon.
The Show Only Lasted for One Season
Even though the show only lasted a season, it was so successful that it constantly reran. There’s hardly a child of the ’70s who doesn’t have a fond memory of Pufnstuf’s far-out, psychedelic world, so why was there only 17 episodes?
There are a lot of fans who don’t know much about this colorful children’s series, from rumors of drug use to network pressure that forced the Krofft brothers to change their characters.
H.R. Pufnstuf Was Originally an Idea That Spawned at the 1968 World’s Fair
The Kroffts didn’t originally make H.R. Pufnstuf for TV, and the weird little critter actually saw major success before he hit the small screen. The far-out character was created for the 1968 World’s Fair (or HermisFair ’68 as the hippies called it) in San Antonio, Texas.
At the world’s fair, the Kroffts made a show called Kaleidoscope specifically for the Coca-Cola pavilion (corporate sponsorship, so not groovy). It was so popular that their character named Luther became the face of the entire fair. Luther later became the H.R. Pufnstuf we know and love.
NBC Originally Rejected the Show’s Title – But It Wasn’t for the Reason You’d Think
NBC was a fan of the show, but they really, really didn’t like the name H.R. Pufnstuf. It wasn’t actually for the reasons you’d suspect. NBC didn’t care at all about any potential marijuana references (it was the late ’60s, after all). They actually disliked the name because they thought it was too effeminate.
Lennie Weinrib, the voice behind the title character and the show’s main writer, said the network specifically asked, “Why would kids turn off Batman on ABC, and Superman on CBS to watch a powder puff on NBC?”
Apparently, No Marijuana Was Involved in the Making of H.R. Pufnstuf (Really, None)
It’s long been rumored that the Krofft brothers were deeply influenced by marijuana and LSD when they were making H.R. Pufnstuf (hello, the name is straight up “Puffing Stuff” when you say it out loud). Despite these obvious parallels, the brothers deny using drugs – at least during work hours.
In a 2005 interview with USA Today, Marty Krofft said, “No drugs involved. You can’t do drugs when you’re making shows. Maybe after, but not during. We’re bizarre, that’s all.” But what about LSD? How did they come up with all of those psychedelic costumes?
Marty Krofft Didn’t Use LSD as Inspiration Because It Scared Him
In the ’60s and ’70s, it seemed like every good hippie was using LSD. Just look at what happened to The Beatles. This wasn’t the case for Marty Krofft, despite the fact that his show H.R. Pufnstuf was like an acid trip in real life.
Referring to alleged LSD use, Marty admitted that he just was into that whole psychedelic look. In fact, hard drugs kind of scared him. “That was our look,” he admitted. “Those were the colors, everything we did had vivid colors, but there was no acid involved. That [expletive] scared me. I’m no goody two-shoes, but you can’t create this stuff stoned.”
NBC Picked up H.R. Pufnstuf to Capitalize on Jack Wild’s Success
Jack Wild was an unknown child actor in America before he rose to fame for his role as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! Wild’s performance garnered him a Golden Globe Award and numerous praises, including an Academy Award nomination.
Though he was well known in his home country of England, he quickly rose to teen idol status stateside. NBC wanted to cash in, and the network cast him in H.R. Pufnstuff barely a year later. This is why so many songs are centered around Wild’s character Jimmy. He was always meant to be the star of the show.
Jack Wild Sang in a Higher Register on the Show Because He Hit Puberty Late
Jack Wild is an amazing singer and dancer – his work in Oliver! proves it. Wild ended up getting more solo songs than everyone else on the show combined. Part of the reason why the young actor was able to hit such a high register as flawlessly as he did was that he was a late bloomer.
Wild’s voice didn’t properly break until he was 19 years old. Wild started filming H.R. Pufnstuf when he was just 16 years old, and could believably play an 11-year-old purely because of his prepubescent voice. Who said being a later bloomer was a bad thing?
Marty and Sid Krofft Fought the Idea of a Laugh Track
Most live-action children’s shows today have a laugh track. The same could be said about shows from the ’70s. Pufnstuf was no different, but Marty and Sid originally fought the network about having a laugh track. They were against the idea until sitcom vet Si Rose said that he thought children wouldn’t know when to laugh.
Marty later defended the decision. “It’s sad—you gotta tell them when it’s funny. And the laugh track, [Si] was right. It was necessary, as much as we were always looking to have a real laugh track, a real audience. In comedies, if you don’t have them, you’re in big trouble, because if you don’t hear a laugh track, it’s not funny. And that’s the way the audience was programmed to view these shows.”
An H.R. Pufnstuf Remake Has Been Kicking around Since the New Millennium
H.R. Pufnstuf was undoubtedly beloved, despite how short-lived the program actually was. Though the Krofft brothers can rest on their laurels after major film success, Sony Pictures propositioned a Pufnstuf movie remake in 2000.
The plans were scrapped, but new ones quickly arose eight years later. In 2008, the Kroffts announced plans for a prequel and said the script was finished and they were ready to go into production. Though not much has happened since then, the directors were considering one of the hottest young pop stars to take the lead. Who was it? Keep reading.
Justin Bieber Was Considered for the H.R. Pufnstuf Reboot
After creating a Land of the Lost reboot starring Will Ferrell, the Krofft brothers finally began work on an H.R. Pufnstuf reboot. This project was being developed by Universal, and in 2016, rumors swirled that Justin Bieber was a top pick for the character of Jimmy. Marty Krofft confirmed that the pair has talked about hiring Biebs for the project, but feared he’ll have aged out by the time they get a green light. After all, they proposed the idea in 2008 before Biebs was tatted-up and speed racing his sports cars.
In an interview with MovieWeb, Marty Krofft said, “We certainly have talked about him. The other day I said, ‘By the time we make this movie, he will be thirty-seven.’ We don’t know when this is going to be greenlit. But it will be sooner than later.”
Buttons Were Money on Living Island because of Sid Krofft’s Childhood Imagination
In one episode of H.R. Pufnstuf, it’s revealed that buttons are currency on Living Island – not actual money. Jimmy finds this out when he asks H.R. Pufnstuf about why he needs 200 buttons.
Pufnstuf sadly reports back to Ludicrous Lion, “The Treasury is empty. Our buttons have hit bottom.” This idea was created by Sid Krofft when he was a child. He used to charge his friends buttons instead of pennies to watch puppet shows in his backyard. Sid Krofft actually created a lot of the ideas for H.R. Pufnstuf when he was a child.
Judy the Frog Was Based on Judy Garland
In the 1950s, Sid Krofft went on tour with his puppet show and opened for some of the decade’s biggest celebrities including Liberace and Cyd Charisse. One of these celebrities was Judy Garland – for which he always had a soft spot.
While on tour with Judy Garland, Sid actually needed some extra help with his show and asked his brother Marty to come along. The pair has been partners ever since and dedicated a character on H.R. Pufnstuf to the woman who brought their act together. Judy the Frog, Living Island’s resident entertainer, was based on the actress.
NBC Thought Witchiepoo Was Too Violent
Violence on a children’s show is always a fine line – even if the characters are joking. NBC actually made the Kroffts change one of their character’s defining habits because it erred on the side of being too violent.
On the show, much of H.R. Pufnstuf’s time is spent hiding from Witchiepoo, Living Island’s evil witch. Witchiepoo would often hit her minions when they failed to do what she asked. She often hit Orson on the beak with her wand and hit Stupid Bat upside the head. NBC made the Krofft brothers edit this out.
The Krofft Bothers Actually Self-Funded Some of H.R. Pufnstuf
It took a whole lot of money to make H.R. Pufnstuf, but the network didn’t want to shell it out. Each episode had a meager budget of $54,000 (not a small chunk of change in 1969, but not enough nonetheless).
To keep the show trucking along, the Kroffts and some of their colleagues ended up pulling money from their personal bank accounts to fund the series. The series was upwards of $3 million over budget. Thankfully, NBC gave them a 10% increase for the movie and a 5% increase for a second season.
The Show Only Had Three Voice Actors
If there’s one thing Krofft and co. knew how to do, it was stretch their meager budget. They actually had a pretty small cast. There were a lot of voices on H.R. Pufnstuf; however, only three voice actors actually worked on the series.
Lennie Weinrib, who voiced H.R. himself and wrote the episodes, did the bulk of the voices. Joan Gerber and Walker Edmiston did the rest. Weinrib didn’t even change voices from character to character, which could be confusing if you’re just listening and not watching along. Both Orson and Witchiepoo had almost identical voices.
H.R. Pufnstuf Ended Because the Kroffts Couldn’t Afford Season Two
Pufnstuf wasn’t a sustainable show. In fact, the Kroffts blew through most of their money trying to make the 17 episodes that aired. According to the two brothers, Pufnstuf cost about $100,000 to make per episode. The brothers were funding half of this themselves and lost around a million just creating their art. In an interview with Collider, Marty admitted, “We did seventeen episodes so we lost our tail, we lost a million dollars doing it, and that was frightening.”
Thankfully for the brothers, the show was so successful that they got extra cash creating things like rides at Six Flags based on the characters.
H.R. Pufnstuf Was Named for Puff the Magic Dragon
Most of us still don’t believe that the name “H.R. Pufnstuf” has nothing to do with drugs, but Sid swears the name actually came from another popular children’s show. The year H.R. Pufnstuf came out, Puff the Magic Dragon was a really big song. The Krofft brothers decided to play on that success with their character.
The Krofft brothers also wanted Pufnstuf to be powerful. He was the mayor of Living Island, but they didn’t want to call him Mayor Pufnstuf because it wasn’t as catchy. Instead, they chose “Royal Highness,” but instead of using “RH” they used “HR.”
After H.R. Pufnstuf, the Kroffts Built an Amusement Park
Here’s one thing the Kroffts were never famous for – building a failed amusement part. In 1976, the brothers created a six-floor indoor amusement park called “The World of Sid & Marty Krofft.” It was located in downtown Atlanta and as home to the world’s longest escalator.
They also created a ride that was modeled after a pinball machine, but just like Pufnstuf, the park was way too expensive to run. The brothers closed it the same year it was opened. The building remained and is now a part of CNN’s headquarters.
The Kroffts Are Most Famous for Variety Shows, Not Kids’ TV
The Kroffts may have given birth to the idea of H.R. Pufnstuf, but the shows that made them really famous weren’t as far out. In the mid-1970s, variety shows dominated TV, and the Kroffts had their hands in a few of them.
Their most successful show to date is Donny & Marie, which featured the famous Osmond family. This aired for three years and was revived in 1998 as a talk show. In the ’70s, the Krofft brothers also created The Brady Bunch Hour and Pink Lady and Jeff which weren’t as successful.
Nickelodeon Revived H.R. Pufnstuf iIn 2015
H.R. Pufnstuf hit the small screen for the first time in 45 years in 2016. No, we’re not talking about the film idea that was kicking around with Justin Bieber as a potential Jimmy. This was a TV special that originally aired on Nick Jr. (Nickelodeon’s network geared towards the youngest generation).
The Pufnstuf special was part of a 20 episode order of Mutt & Stuff, a Nick Jr. show also created by Sid and Marty Krofft that’s currently in its second season. In the special, HR is Stuff’s uncle. Pufnstuf and the gang visit Stuff’s canine school, and Stuff tries to impress Uncle Pufnstuf but goes overboard.