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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 2.6 – Pufnstuf Drops In

As we wrap up our “best of” batch of Sigmund, here’s a pretty obvious pick from the show’s second season. The show had some very weird production shenanigans. They decided to add a character: a sea genie called Sheldon played by the irrepressible and ridiculous Rip Taylor. Much confetti was thrown. Sheldon is, like Barbara Eden’s Jeannie, mostly competent, but prone to a comedic mistake or three before saving the day.

They were apparently in production of the first episode when there was a massive fire at the studio, destroying sets and costumes and throwing their calendar into disarray. I suspect that they had to build new suits for the monsters, and the delay meant that Mary Wickes was not available for the full run of twelve episodes. Zelda is in about half the episodes; in the seventh, Fran Ryan steps in as a temporary replacement housekeeper, Gertrude. Even stranger, that episode also introduces Sheldon’s nephew, Shelby. Shelby is played by Sparky Marcus, who was omnipresent in the mid-to-late seventies. He was the kid brother in Freaky Friday and was one of the Bad News Bears. I don’t know why they thought that after six episodes with a genie, they needed to add a cute Cousin Oliver, but they did it anyway.

Halfway through this run, Sheldon tries to conjure up a dragon to scare Blurp and Slurp away permanently and brings in H.R. Pufnstuf. Everything about this is bizarre. For starters, H.R. Pufnstuf is actually credited as an actor in the opening credits. Seriously, there’s the screen with Billy Barty and the four suit puppeteers, then a screen for Pufnstuf, then a screen for Special Guest Star: Rip Taylor.

Even weirder, Scott recognizes Puf, and Dr. Blinky, who arrives at the end. Now hang on a minute. If he knows them from watching a TV show, then did that program star Jack Wild? But the boys don’t say “We thought you were just a TV show,” which is what you, dear reader, would probably say if a fictional character showed up in your clubhouse. A couple of episodes previously, Sheldon accidentally whammied Paul Revere into the present (and if that’s not actually the sort of thing Jeannie always did, it’s absolutely the sort of thing that happened often on Bewitched!) and this episode treats Pufnstuf exactly like that. “Hey, he’s not supposed to be here, so send him home!” No explanation about how they know who Puf is, they just do.

Anyway, since our son doesn’t pay attention to the onscreen credits, he was so hyped up about Sheldon and Sigmund talking about a fire-breathing dragon that I was worried that Pufnstuf would disappoint him. It did give him a delightful moment of confusion and then he laughed all the way through it. Honesty, however, compels me to admit that his favorite bit was a godawful joke about trees and bark. Our son sat on the floor tonight – ours are hardwood – and he just pounded the daylights out of it with laughter.

Overall, it’s a cute episode. It is definitely nowhere close to being as gleefully malevolent and hilariously mean-spirited as the great Pufnstuf / Lidsville crossover, although the sight of Sweet Mama plopping an enormous apple in Puf’s mouth in anticipation of cooking him is pretty funny.

Mentioning Sweet Mama brings up a question I can’t wait to have answered. This will be the last episode of the original Sigmund we will watch together and blog about – my wife is breathing a sigh of relief – but we’ll certainly be writing about the new series when it is available. The Kroffts’ social media team has been aggravatingly quiet about it, but according to actor Kyle Breitkopf’s Facebook, they wrapped production on the first season last week. (And Scott Kolden will be showing up in some form, as Johnny Whitaker did in the pilot.)

If you watched the new pilot (as we did last year), then you know that it didn’t have the Ooze parents in it, just Sigmund, Blurp, and Slurp. I wonder what Big Daddy and Sweet Mama will be like. In the original, Big Daddy is clearly Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, and Sweet Mama is Bea Arthur as not-really-all-that-much-like Maude, but these characters are ancient history for today’s kids. Have they given them the same characterization, or will they be updated for today’s audiences? I really can’t wait to see.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.16 – The Wild Weekend

A couple of years ago, we watched the episode of Batman that had Chad and Jeremy in it, and I wrote about that old Hollywood habit of presenting faded hitmakers playing themselves as major celebrities. Jack Wild certainly wasn’t major, and absolutely not in Hollywood.

After the Pufnstuf film, Jack had gone back to England. It looks like he appeared in four films in Europe and an episode of the long-running BBC drama The Onedin Line, none of which were mainstream hits in the US, over the next three years. His bubblegum pop music career had tanked, and there was the really sad and unfortunate problem that Wild’s reputation for partying really, really hard had preceded him and he wasn’t getting any offers from American companies. However, Zelda, and, bizarrely, Sweet Mama are starstruck by Jack Wild, who bumps into Johnny and Scott on the beach taking a break from the “rat race” of making movies and wants to spend a quiet weekend without the studio knowing where he is.

I really liked Sweet Mama recognizing Jack from Oliver!, the only film named here. She knows him from “those foreign human movies on The Late, Late Show,” and Jack makes a cute joke about the Artful Dodger when he’s escaping. But really, John Fenton Murray’s story is the Kroffts giving a fading star of their acquaintance another chance to grab the spotlight, this time spending half an hour shirtless in a denim vest for the preteen girls to enjoy. Jack Wild needed the Kroffts more than they needed him. You’ll notice Jack wasn’t invited to be a special guest star on Donny & Marie. Not even on Pink Lady.

Our son didn’t recognize Jack; he’s not all that good with faces anyway, and it’s been quite a few months since he’s looked at any H.R. Pufunstuf. We told him who the guest star was and he was very pleasantly surprised. I guess, however, that since the fictional character of Jack did not actually say anything like “You know, three years ago, I played a kid stuck on an island with weird monsters kind of like this,” we can pretend that this fictional character of Jack had, instead, made dozens of hit movies at that Hollywood studio. I’ve often said that Jack Wild’s deterioration and long demise is a horrible shame and a real waste of a great talent. It’s nice to pretend for a few moments that in the fictional universe of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, there are a whole mess of great and fun Jack Wild movies, because there, he was the star that he should have been here.

Besides, in the fictional universe of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, H.R. Pufnstuf isn’t a TV show. Stay tuned.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.15 – The Dinosaur Show

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how it took me until adulthood to warm to Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. When I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy it, and when I was in middle school – at the height of puffed-up, super-important, hyper-serious preteen stupidity – I really, really couldn’t stand this show. I would watch everything else in the syndicated Krofft Super Stars lineup in the afternoons, but when it was an episode of Sigmund, I’d suffer through it with all the blinkered lunacy of a touchy twelve year-old. (See also this earlier post about me flipping out over an episode of Batman at that age.)

(Incidentally, as po-faced, angry, easily embarrassed, and humorless as I was at twelve, I didn’t have nuthin’ on my older son when he turned twelve. He once went apoplectic when he heard Toho was making a new Godzilla movie, because the previous one had been called Godzilla: Final Wars, and that meant it was supposed to be the last one.)

Anyway, one day when I was twelve, furious, and stupid, I was probably set to start grumbling about how this stupid show would be improved if the sea monsters would eat Zelda when suddenly a caveman called Ook and his pet talking dinosaur, Unk-Unk, showed up after “a million years” of hibernation and kicked the Ooze family out of their caves, which was all wrong because everybody knows cavemen and dinosaurs didn’t live together and the dinosaurs were from 65,000,000 years ago, not 1,000,000. The writers, Fred Fox and Seaman Jacobs, were doing this deliberately to enrage me.

But honestly, the thing that infuriated me the most was Ook. Middle school maniac me could not understand why they would make a big fake puppet suit for the caveman when they could have just dressed an actor in a bear skin. That would be more “realistic,” I probably said before reading another adventure of Mack Bolan or some other pulp hero who would murder everybody in the Mafia, but would do so “realistically” by describing the caliber of his machine guns in lurid detail.

But that’s actually a good question. Why is Ook a mascot costume instead of an actor in a wig and makeup? Did the Kroffts build him for a minor league baseball team or something? The Culver City Cavemen, maybe? Or is it possible that these two were created for another TV series and “The Dinosaur Show” is a backdoor pilot for a program that was never made?

Whichever the case, I imagine that Ook and Unk-Unk were probably pressed into service waving at kids at the LaBrea Tar Pits or supermarket openings in southern California for a couple of years after this. I don’t think Ook was ever seen on television again; the Unk-Unk costume appeared at least once more, nine months later when the Kroffts produced the ridiculous NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue, hosted by Little Jimmy Osmond.

Incidentally, here’s a frightening thought. If Ook and Unk-Unk did have a Saturday morning show picked up for the fall of 1974, then the Kroffts might not have had the resources to produce Land of the Lost. Good Lord, imagine a world without that show and seventeen episodes of these two characters instead.

And having said that… it’s a good thing we didn’t wait until our son is twelve and ridiculous to show him this. He absolutely adored it, laughed like a hyena the whole way through, and says that he loves this episode as much as the second one, the one with all the neighborhood dogs, and wouldn’t mind seeing more of Ook and Unk-Unk. There’s something to be said for actually watching a program when you’re in the target audience age.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.14 – Uncle Siggy Swings

Not a lot to say about tonight’s episode. Marie suffered through it, our son roared with laughter, and I enjoyed it more than I did the last time I saw it. It’s written by Krofft regular John Fenton Murray and concerns Sigmund’s rich Uncle Siggy falling in love with the humans’ housekeeper Zelda. In an earlier episode, the boys used Zelda’s mudpack-n-rollers weekly beauty treatment to scare away Blurp and Slurp. Amusingly, it doesn’t work at all with the lovesick old-timer.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.11 – Make Room for Big Daddy

The more antagonists a show like this has, the better. This episode features a new recurring menace for the boys, a crotchety old lady who has moved in next door. Miss Eddels is so crotchety that Zelda becomes their ally. She’s played by Margaret Hamilton, the immortal Wicked Witch of the West. I let our son know that the actress was forty years older and a lot less green than the last time he saw her.

Even without the amusing star power of the show’s latest antagonist, this really would be a great episode, and our boy howled with laughter through the whole thing. Milt Rosen contributed a pretty simple farce with mother-in-law jokes and nosy neighbors that just has a few fish puns added to the script, but it’s such a good script that it doesn’t matter that it could easily be repurposed for just about any other show with kid antagonists. One of my favorite beautifully funny moments is when we see that they’ve run away from home, Blurp and Slurp arrive at Sigmund’s clubhouse with little suitcases.

But even that pales before the perfection of the “farewell” note they allegedly leave Big Daddy, which Johnny has forged to bring him to help, and plants in his favorite chair. The “don’t try to find us” note explicitly explains where they have gone. The detail isn’t punctuated with a punch line or a stupid laugh track. It isn’t needed. Nobody could possibly be so stupid, except, of course, for Blurp and Slurp.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.8 – Ghoul School Days

One of our heroes, Walker Edmiston, makes an in-person appearance in another silly episode written by Rita Sedran Rose. Edmiston did many of the voices for the series, and Sharon Baird, who also shows up as a human this week, was wearing the Big Daddy costume. It makes financial sense, when you need additional humans to play assistant principals or women who try to use a phone booth that’s occupied by a runaway sea monster, to cast people who were on the payroll already.

The beauty of this episode is watching Blurp and Slurp argue about idiotic nonsense and proving their stupidity. Beyond debating whether you spell trouble with a capital D or a small d, or how “correctly” spelling dumb “D-O-U-M” was just a lucky guess, the Oozes despair because some monster law requires that somebody from their household attend school, and these two are too stupid to attend at all. This really is a laugh-out-loud funny episode, with great jokes and lots of fun slapstick.

Our son had his usual ball, but we think he most enjoyed the revelation that Blurp and Slurp are afraid of ghosts, and all the caterwauling and fun that develops from that. He also loved learning that Sigmund’s former homeroom teacher is named “Mr. Godzilla.”

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.5 – Happy Birthdaze

This time out, preparations for Big Daddy’s birthday party are happening at the same time as the local sheriff’s. Blurp and Slurp abduct Sigmund to clean, and the boys go get him back. There’s nothing in Warren Murray’s story here that’s all that new. It feels like a repeat of everything that’s worked so far.

But repetition is the key to a young viewer’s heart. Our son was in heaven, hopping up and down with excitement. He didn’t appreciate Blurp and Slurp’s bullying, and the sight of a big sea monster appearing at the window caused a fun yelp, but he took it in good spirits and had an absolute ball after the few seconds of surprise.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.4 – Is There a Doctor in the House?

It’s kind of rare to see direct continuity between episodes like we see in this Si Rose script. It takes place soon after the previous episode, in which Johnny dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster. This time, Johnny gets captured and the wolfman shows up to use the Oozes’ shellephone. Naturally, the sea monsters assume, incorrectly, that this is Scott in disguise and attack him, leading to a slapstick chase that had our son howling, because, of course, it’s a real wolfman.

Before he started giggling over that lunacy, our son was in absolute heaven over the prescribed diet for a sick sea monster: mashed eels, melted jellyfish, and warm squid milk. He repeated this over and over with a chuckle. This show’s even more perfect for kindergartners than I imagined.

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