Marty Krofft, co-creator of the surreal children’s show HR Pufnstuf – obituary

Marty Krofft, right, and his brother Sid, in the mid-1960s with puppets from their musical puppet show Les Poupées de Paris
Marty Krofft, right, and his brother Sid, in the mid-1960s with puppets from their musical puppet show Les Poupées de Paris - Alamy

Marty Krofft, who has died aged 86, was, with his brother Sid, the producer behind such US children’s cult TV favourites as HR Pufnstuf and The Bugaloos, shows consisting of a mixture of live action and giant puppets, broadcast in Britain on ITV in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

HR Pufnstuf (1969), the best-known, was a psychedelic fantasy featuring the 16-year-old British actor Jack Wild, fresh from playing the Artful Dodger in the film version of Oliver!, as a young boy befriended by a six-foot dragon as he battles the evil broomstick-borne crone Witchiepoo, who wants to steal his magic talking flute.

The series, featuring gales of canned laughter and a horribly addictive theme tune, soon had six-year-olds perfecting Witchiepoo’s insane cackle. It spawned a feature film and in 2007 came 27th in a poll of all-time TV cult favourites.

But, in a memoir published after his death from cancer in 2006, Jack Wild recalled that the time he spent living with Marty Krofft and his family in Los Angeles marked the beginning of a downward spiral into alcoholism from which he never fully recovered: “I was invited out to expensive restaurants and wild parties where the tables would be laden with bowls of drugs... At the time, alcohol seemed the lesser of the two evils.”

Marty himself later admitted that his guardianship of Wild had been a mistake, but rejected the idea that he had ever been part of the drugs scene: “If we did the drugs everybody thought we did, we’d be dead today,” he said, adding, “You cannot work stoned.”

During the Kroffts’ heyday in the 1970s they produced more than a dozen shows for children’s and primetime television, transporting children to a magic world of hats in Lidsville and to the world of dinosaurs in Land of the Lost. Later they produced Pryor’s Place (1984), featuring the notorious foul-mouthed comedian Richard Pryor toning down his act by several hundred per cent.

Jack Wild in HR Pufnstuf
Jack Wild in HR Pufnstuf - Everett/Alamy

Their prime time hits include The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-77), a variety show featuring the original cast members of the eponymous sitcom, and The Donny & Marie Show (1975-79) hosted by the brother-sister singing duo of Donny and Marie Osmond.

One of four brothers, Marty Krofft was born in Montreal on April 9 1937, eight years after Sid, and brought up in New York. For many years the Kroffts claimed to have been born into a family of puppeteers, but in 2008 they admitted that their father was a clock salesman.

It was Sid who became a puppeteer, performing with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus and touring the world as an opening act for stars such as Liberace and Judy Garland. While Sid was abroad, Marty began using his puppets to earn money by staging performances in New York. By the 1950s the brothers were working together.

In 1957 they developed Les Poupées de Paris, an adult-only extravaganza dubbed a “dirty puppet show” by Time magazine. It involved 12 puppeteers working 240 mostly topless female marionettes and attracted audiences of an estimated 9.5 million in its first decade on tour.

Raquel Welch on the 1974 TV special Really, Raquel, with a puppet made by Marty and Sid Krofft
Raquel Welch on the 1974 TV special Really, Raquel, with a puppet made by Marty and Sid Krofft - CBS

It led to the Kroffts being commissioned to create puppet shows for the Six Flags amusement parks around the US and to a regular slot on The Dean Martin Show.

In 1968 they were asked to design furry animal costumes for NBC’s The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, a gig which led to the brothers creating HR Pufnstuf.

In 2018 the Kroffts were awarded a Daytime Emmy for lifetime achievement, followed in 2020 by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1965 Marty Krofft married Christa Speck, a former Playboy playmate of the year. She died in 2013 and he is survived by their three daughters and his brother Sid.

Marty Krofft, born April 9 1937, died November 25 2023

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