All in the Family: Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients Sid and Marty Kroftt
Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients, Sid and Marty Kroftt, brought their creative ‘A-game’ to Children’s programming, and TV fans reaped the rewards!
By Michael Fairman
In the 70’s and 80’s, which many consider the heyday of children’s programming, much of what we watched came from the vivid and creative imaginations of Sid and Marty Krofft. The two brothers, with different talents that complement each other, have persevered for over six decades in the wild world of entertainment.
One look at their body of work and you see titles like: H.R Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Captain Kool and the Kongs, and countless other memorable series. But that’s just the beginning. The Kroffts also found success as producers of the top-rated primetime variety series, The Donny and Marie Show, as well as Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters, and those Brady Bunch Variety hours!
In 1984, the Kroffts worked with the late comedian, Richard Pryor on his own Saturday morning series, Pryor’s Place. The Kroffts even went a bit political in 1987 with D.C. Follies, utilizing larger-than-life puppets of pop culture celebrities, politicians and newsmakers. Even now in 2018, Sid and Marty continue to deliver series and pilots with their signature stamp including: Mutt & Stuff, a remake of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters on Amazon with David Arquette, and even a pilot with Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Balik called Mayim’s WonderLab.
Sid and Marty shared their road to this Lifetime Achievement honor from their very humble beginnings, to their innovative staging and use of puppets, to how they have been able to work together to create the magic enjoyed by millions.
It all began when Sid was a little boy and was thunderstruck by the wonder of marionettes: “I was ten-years-old. I go into this Vaudeville Theater with this couple that lived in our building. There’s a puppet act, and there’s a clown puppet that blew up a balloon. I never saw a marionette before, and the clown got real sad. I started to cry so loud that they threw me out of the theater. I’m sitting out in the street waiting for my dad to pick me up for 2 hours. People were walking by saying ‘Where’s your mom or dad?’ They’re thinking I’m lost. Meanwhile, I’m crying. That puppet affected me so much. Now, a little kid on the street had the first Superman comic book. We used to look at it every day. It was a nickel. We couldn’t afford a nickel for a comic book, but there was an ad for a Hazel Marionette for $3.95. I went to my dad and I said, ‘Can I get that?’ and he was furious. He said, ‘First of all, you’re a boy and you want a dolly? That money would feed your family for weeks!’ There was also an ad in that magazine that if you send away for a box of 100 Christmas cards you could keep a nickel. So, without telling my family, I send away for these Christmas cards. After school, I’m selling Christmas cards on the street, and I’m saving nickels to afford the marionette. I get my marionette. The couple for Christmas then gave me a used victrola that you wind up. I had a record by Beatrice Kay, who at the time was a famous singer. Now, I got in the street with my Christmas cards and my victrola, and I’m a street performer. There’s a hundred people watching this little kid, self taught! Puppeteers are like magicians. They come from family after family and they have their secrets. Then my dad saw this. He said, ‘Oh, my god. He’s making 75 cents a day selling Christmas cards. You’re supporting the family.’ So that’s how that all started!”
After finding his calling, it was only a matter of time, before Sid began to have success, and Marty was not far behind. “My career began when I got to open for Judy Garland,” recalls Sid. “That just got put into second place, because the Lifetime Achievement Award is the big thing. Marty joined me in 1958, and then came opening for Liberace. A few years later, we both came up with an idea to do the biggest puppet show ever done in the world. It was called Les Poupées de Paris. It ended up playing to 9 1/2 million people, and it opened at the Seattle World’s Fair, and that’s what put Sid and Marty Krofft on the map.”
Marty adds, “In the 60’s, Dean Martin wanted us on the Dean Martin Show with the puppets. We had girl puppets, but were fired after 15 shows. Then he hired the Golddiggers. In 1968 we wound up with Six Flags, and Coca-Cola was our sponsor. We created a show called Kaleidoscope and it starred a character called “Luther”. Luther was Pufnstuf. Luther became the symbol of the fair!”
Eventually, the brothers were able to launch their own mini-Disney operation called “Sid and Marty Krofft’s Show Business Factory”. Sid explains, “We employed over 250 people. We had every department you could think, and opened our doors to the Ice Capades, Ringlings, Earth Wind and Fire and the Jackson Five. They all came in to build their stages, and props, etc.”
So, how did the ever popular H.R. Pufnstuff finally make it to television? Sid reveals, “Hanna-Barbera came to us with the idea for the Banana Splits. They wanted us to design those characters, because they only knew about animation. When they walked out of the building Marty looked at me and said ‘They’re going to make millions.’ NBC, who bought that show, came in every day to watch us build these things, because they were nervous that it wasn’t going work. The head of programming aid to Marty, ‘You guys are insane.’ He then said: ‘Why don’t you guys come up with an idea for a television show and bring it to me?’”
Having never watched a drop of Saturday morning TV, Sid and Marty were more than up for the task of translating their lead character, PufnStuff to the small screen: “I didn’t want to be influenced with the shows that were on against us,” reveals Sid. “I thought, ‘Every show is animated.’ I went to the art director and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great? Paint the floor, get a blue sky. If there are clouds, cut them out of plywood, if there’s trees …”
“We accomplished a lot in television,” Marty admits. There were breakthroughs in a number of shows such as: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Those girls they were great. Judy Strangis was in Room 222, and Deidre Hall is still on Days of our Lives! That’s why we can walk down the street and somebody 40-years-old can sing us 3 theme songs from our shows. We mind-f**d these kids in the ‘70s and they never forgot it.” (Laughs) Now, because of You Tube, everything is out there, and on social media, so the kids can see it all.”
Eventually, Sid and Marty found themselves chatting it up with the Osmonds for the next phase of their careers. “After ABC saw Donnie and Marie on The Mike Douglas Show, they said to us, ‘Oh my god, these two kids! They’re like the next Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Put together a concept,’ recalls Sid. “We then went to Provo, Utah to present it to the Osmond family, and they flipped out. We did the pilot and when it aired it went through the roof, and they immediately gave us a series.”
When reflecting back on the millions who watched their programming, Sid shared, “What touches us the most is when we’re at Comic-con. People line up against the walls of the auditorium just to see us, and to hear what we have to say. What’s really amazing to Marty and I is that they’re all adults.”
In their wild ride to fame, it took more than two to build their empire. Marty explains: “Sid is the creative guy, but there were thousands of people that contributed to this thing. This is not us going into a closet and making a painting like Picasso. We always hired young people that didn’t even have a track record, and you know what, we didn’t have one either in television. “
Just what is the secret that has kept these two working side-by-side for decades? We have big differences. We have big arguments. The next day we forget what it is. We don’t hold these resentments,” explains Marty. “You can’t divorce your brother,” shares Sid. “Oh, yes, you can,” jokes Marty. In addition, there are more family members carrying on the tradition: “My daughter’s are important to us,” reveals Marty. “My one daughter, Deanna runs things here for the last ten years, and is a producer. My middle daughter, Kristina is writing a script, and she’s an actress, a good one. The baby, Kendra, is an incredible make-up artist. She’s just as talented. They’re great girls!” Sid adds, “They’re cool. I don’t know how they turned out so well!”
“Having Marty for a partner, that is the biggest success,” says Sid. “Let me tell you about him. He will not take no for an answer. I have seen him at meetings!”
“Well, let me tell you,” interjects Marty. “When Sid hits it, he hits it, and like everybody else, when you miss you miss. But we always went after everything. Anybody that says they hit it all the time is lying”.
When all is said and done, the brothers are quick to name their all-time favorite character they created: “Of course, it’s Pufnstuf. It’s your first child,’ says Sid. “It isn’t Pufnstuf,” asserts Marty. “My favorite character in the world is Sid!”