H.R. Pufnstuf 1.12 – Flute, Book and Candle

The first thing that crossed my mind about what I might say about this episode is that the film print is a complete disaster. Every other episode in this set has been cleaned up and remastered and looks completely wonderful – every episode so far, that is – but this is a horrible, scratchy print with multiple skips and dropouts. What a shame, because it’s a good and funny episode.

But the most remarkable thing about it came when Jimmy disguised himself as a beggar asking for alms and Marie said, “Huh, he looks like the Artful Dodger!” I almost had to pause the episode for a few minutes to stare at her in bewilderment before I said “That IS the Artful Dodger!”

Casting Jack Wild in H.R. Pufnstuf had been a huge coup for Sid and Marty Krofft. He had been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film Oliver!, which was his first major role. Working in California for the Kroffts got him several other movie parts and a recording contract for Capitol Records. He also started drinking around the time he was making this show, at age 17, and he had squandered pretty much everything away, including any goodwill he might have had, within four years, at which point he was a full-blown alcoholic.

His records were never hits outside the bubblegum crowd (his cover of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” must be heard to be believed), and the Kroffts threw him a rope to guest star as himself in one episode of Sigmund & the Sea Monsters after nobody else in Hollywood wanted anything to do with him. The episode, as I recall it, was kind of pathetic, suggesting that in the alternate reality of Sigmund, Jack Wild really was a huge teen celebrity and his records sold by the ton. (A British equivalent might be all those mid-period episodes of The Tomorrow People that insisted that Flintlock, a group with exactly one dent in the top 40, was some kind of huge mega-act.)

Wild’s story really is a sad one, especially since – well, let’s be honest, a lot of what he does in Pufnstuf is not all that unique or amazing. But every so often, like in this episode, they write a song and dance bit for him. “The Moment That I Saw Your Face” is intentionally reminiscent of “Consider Yourself,” and Wild danced just magically, and had star power written all over him. He shouldn’t have been in California; he should have been on Broadway and the West End. He died from cancer of the mouth in 2006, way too young at 53, and with far too few moments of greatness captured on film.

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