The Bugaloos 1.7 – Lady, You Don’t Look Eighty

Until this episode’s actual plot started, our son was enjoying this a lot, but he grew a little bored and restless in the end. Just to be silly, the boy Bugaloos convince the gullible Sparky that October 12 is Joy’s 80th birthday, not her 16th, and that they’re all pushing 70 themselves. This goes on for a while, very amusingly, until Benita overhears them and becomes convinced that they’re hogging the Fountain of Youth. Actually, I thought Benita chugging about thirty gallons of lily pad water over the course of an afternoon was a scream as well, especially since they added the sound effect of sloshing water as she tried to move around, bloated, after that.

Lots of the gags in old kids’ shows like this are rooted in the pop culture of the time for the benefit of any parents stuck watching this silliness, so there are usually little throwaway references or jokes from Laugh-In or Hee Haw, like we saw last time. But there’s a quickie reference to a place called Sun City that I never would have caught before last month. By chance, writer Mark Evanier fielded a question about a pair of TV specials called Sun City Scandals, clarifying the next day that the name was used for some well-known retirement communities like a big one in Arizona, and it didn’t have anything to do with that big casino in South Africa. It’s one of those things that grownups in 1970 might have known, just like the South Africa Sun City is one of those things that teenagers in 1985 might have known.

Chaka and Wolf Boy (1979) (allegedly)

A really quick-ish recap: The rarest Sid and Marty Krofft production is 1979’s Krofft Superstar Hour, which was hosted by the Bay City Rollers and co-written by a fellow I admire a great deal, Mark Evanier. The Hour comprised two shows-within-a-show, Horror Hotel and Lost Island, and unless you watched these episodes at the end of 1979, before NBC cancelled the Hour, then the only way you could have seen them is thanks to the bootlegging efforts of the Bay City Rollers’ fan base. Horror Hotel and Lost Island were never merchandised on coloring books or lunchboxes, they were never repeated, they were never syndicated. One, and only one, installment of Hotel has ever been released on home video, and we wrote about it in this post from last year.

So ten years after the Hour was axed, and with half-formed memories of the one Lost Island segment that I saw as a kid still bothering me, I often wondered what the heck that show was called, because I couldn’t remember. And one day in late 1989, I found the answer. It was called Chaka and Wolf Boy, apparently. Continue reading “Chaka and Wolf Boy (1979) (allegedly)”

Horror Hotel 1.12 (unknown title)

As the 1970s wore on, and NBC remained deep in third place on Saturday mornings, the network threw a bizarre Hail Mary and sort of poached The Krofft Supershow from ABC. I’ve always wondered about this, and why the Kroffts switched networks, changed up the format, and crashed and burned so badly. For two seasons, their umbrella program had been hosted by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. Now it was a more traditional variety program, hosted by the Bay City Rollers, and was a huge failure. The Krofft Superstar Hour only aired for eight weeks. Coughing up blood in the ratings, the network pulled the show and edited the remaining five installments down to a half-hour program called The Bay City Rollers Show. Even those bombed and the show was off their schedule by Christmas.

Even stranger, there was absolutely no merchandising for the two new programs within it: Horror Hotel and Lost Island. Not a View-Master, not a coloring book, not a lunch box. The two shows didn’t even have opening credits with the fun theme tunes that all their previous series had. When most of the Kroffts’ programs were repackaged for syndication, these were not included. When four or five episodes from most of their programs were released on VHS in the mid-eighties, these weren’t among them. Columbia House ignored them, and so did the celebrated repeats in the mid-90s on the Family Channel. Exactly one installment of Horror Hotel has been released on DVD. It’s included as a bonus feature on this 2011 collection of H.R. Pufnstuf.

Even today, with IMDB, Wikipedia, and that Live Action ’70s Kid Vid page that still has frames (it’s cool, we all get busy), the Superstar Hour is still determinedly obscure, in part because there are almost no decent, high-resolution images available. Thanks to the Bay City Rollers’ active fanbase, nth-generation washed-out bootlegs of some of the episodes have survived on VHS, allowing us to catch glimpses on YouTube. The show was directed by Jack Regas, and written by Mark Evanier, Lorne Frohman, and Rowby Goren. Only eight of the Lost Island segments ever aired before the show was retooled. The remaining five were never broadcast.

Horror Hotel reimagines Witchiepoo as the owner of a crummy hotel, with Orville, Seymour, Stupid Bat, and Dr. Blinky as her staff. Hoo Doo, the villain from Lidsville who is played by Paul Gale here, is a cantankerous permanent resident. Guest characters are usually played by Jay Robinson, Louise DuArt, and Mickey McMeel.

Lost Island is even more bizarre, but I’ll cover that separately in a footnote / comment.

And there’s one more weird oddity from this production. You remember that in the seventies and early eighties, the networks would have Friday night preview shows for their new Saturday morning lineups? NBC’s 1978 showcase is effectively a bonus episode of this series, entitled The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars. It brought along Erik Estrada from CHiPs and Joe Namath from The Waverly Wonders as guests. Namath also appeared in an additional episode of Horror Hotel, which, although it was probably taped last, was shown as the very first episode. The bootleg of this special that’s been floating around YouTube for a few years is missing the first half of the Horror Hotel spot, among other things; evidently the original taper of this copy was not interested in the parts that didn’t have the Rollers in it. The complete version is, I can attest, pretty darn funny. It’s on one of about twenty-five VHS tapes I still own. Sadly, I have not had a VCR in years.

Counting the Namath episode as the first of fourteen, then, assuming that the date on the YouTube bootleg of this full episode of The Bay City Rollers Show is correct (Nov. 18 1978), this episode of Hotel should be the twelfth broadcast. Like many of the others, Robinson and DuArt appear as one-off characters.

Horror Hotel was never going to win any awards, but the whole show is, thanks to Billie Hayes’ amazing energy, just bizarrely dynamic for a sitcom with only one principal set, and I really regret missing it as a child, because its dopey, kid-friendly shenanigans are packed with the kind of lovably dumb jokes that elementary school-aged kids absolutely adore. Cut loose from the power struggle and danger of H.R. Pufnstuf, Witchiepoo actually made a very funny good guy in this, trying to run a hotel and simultaneously be a star, with four incompetent monsters on the staff and her one grouchy, demanding permanent guest. Watch this nonsense with a kid of knock-knock joke age, and that kid will clutch his sides from laughing so hard.

Our son adored this. He giggled and laughed all through the thing, interjecting “Horror Hotel? They should have called this Silly Hotel!” as the characters went through one of those corridor scenes so beloved of seventies Saturday mornings. (He’s seen it a time or two on The Ghost Busters, of course.) Sure, it’s dopey, but for a show pitched at five year-olds, it’s a downright triumph, and I really hope that a few more episodes emerge from the Kroffts’ vault before we all get too old.

Lidsville 1.8 – Have I Got a Girl for Hoo Doo

…as I was saying, the only episode of Lidsville worth watching is the eighth one. It’s the one where the show’s peculiar sense of gender identity, begun when the Kroffts cast Billie Hayes to play a male genie, comes full circle as Butch Patrick gets dragged up as a Mae West-type called “Lovey Dovey.”

Nah, it’s the one where Billie Hayes gets a chance to play two parts. Hoo Doo writes to the local Lonely Hearts Club and, in one of the all-time great television crossover episodes, Witchiepoo flies over from H.R. Pufnstuf‘s Living Island for a whirlwind courtship. It is hysterical. It’s hate at first sight, and the diabolical duo spend about four minutes insulting each other. One point of contention is that these two deeply ugly people sent fraudulent photos to each other. Witchiepoo advertises herself as a 1940s-style Betty Grable-type, and, in the most wonderful and stupid gag in the whole series, Hoo Doo pretends that he looks like Sid Krofft himself!

Eventually the two lovebirds bond over their mutual love of throwing explosions at goody-goodies, and conclude that, in the words of a then-popular movie with Ray Milland, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry that you zapped somebody.” Witchiepoo won’t be taken to a secluded parking place in the Hatamaran because she’s not that kind of girl, so they spend their first date blasting downtown Lidsville into what the script assures us is dust but the director never shows anything like that.

Sadly, it’s all too good to last, and, his heart won over by Butch Patrick praying to heaven none of his friends were up at 8.00 in the morning to see him dressed like that, Hoo Doo dumps Witchiepoo on the eve of the latest Witch’s Ball, and teleports in Pufnstuf as a consolation prize for her. Puf is at least voiced by Lennie Weinrib, but that costume looks like a cheap, cheap copy made for personal appearances at supermarket openings in Santa Monica, and it’s worn by somebody at least a foot shorter than Roberto Gamonet.

Daniel grinned hugely when Witchiepoo showed up, as well he should. He was still more interested in the song over the end credits than the show itself, though!

Surprisingly, this was far from the last appearance of Witchiepoo, who kept showing up around the edges of popular culture in the 1970s. Billie Hayes did lots of personal appearances in the role, although she was subbed by Louise DuArt when Witchiepoo had a big segment at the big 1973 Krofft live show at the Hollywood Bowl. By 1976, Hayes had befriended the actress Margaret Hamilton, best known as the Wicked Witch of the West, and the two ladies had decided that their witch characters were sisters. When celebrity Paul Lynde wanted Hamilton to reprise the Wicked Witch in his infamous Paul Lynde Halloween Special, Hamilton agreed on the condition that Hayes got to play Witchiepoo with her.

Finally, in 1978, the rarest Krofft series, The Krofft Superstar Hour, aired. This was a variety show hosted by the Bay City Rollers, and there was a recurring segment called Horror Hotel which reimagined Witchiepoo as the proprietor of a hotel and her gang (including, bizarrely, both Dr. Blinky and Hoo Doo, as played by Paul Gale) as her staff! So no, Witchiepoo never hit the big time, but she certainly showed up in lots of places, and Horror Hotel badly, badly needs to be issued on DVD. I’m sure that music clearance issues will keep the whole program on the shelves forever, but We Want Witchiepoo!

(Incidentally, mention of The Krofft Superstar Hour reminds me that when I was about seventeen, I found the book Children’s Television, the First Thirty-five Years, 1946-1981: Live, film, and tape series by George W. Woolery, which dropped the bombshell that one of the Krofft Superstar Hour segments was called Cha-Ka and Wolf Boy. I spent years trying to find just one more reference to that anywhere. Eventually, I found Usenet, and dropped Mark Evanier a line to see whether he knew, since he seemed to know everything. Mark replied the double surprise that not only did he himself write or co-write all of The Krofft Superstar Hour with Bonny Dore and Rowby Goren, but there never was such a show, and Woolery was completely wrong. There are some books that you just can’t trust!)