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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.3 – Frankenstein Drops In

I decided early on that we’d take a couple of days’ break from Freewheelers every few episodes, and this turned out to be a good idea. More on that later. So my son and I watched Sigmund tonight and enjoyed another episode written by Si Rose. I was really amused that he remembered what his mother had said about Johnny Whitaker’s hair last week. As though it was a brand new gag, he said “I’ve heard of long hair, but a rose bush?!”

He also completely adored the various fish and monster puns, including “peanut butter and jellyfish,” “abalone on rye,” and “ghoul in the family,” and missed an important plot development we had to wind back to hear because he was so busy laughing over Big Daddy calling his two older sons “yo-yos.”

Speaking of monster puns, here’s something cute. I love specially-made one-of-a-kind prop newspapers, press kits, and magazines. Big Daddy is reading an issue of Playbeast, and the front cover is some dopey piece of artwork, but look what’s on the back! It’s Orson Vulture from H.R. Pufnstuf standing in front of a chalkboard covered with math stuff. Evidently, Witchiepoo sent him to learn about cosines. We get no clearer picture than this grab. I wonder who else is in the picture or where it was used.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.2 – Puppy Love

Forty-some years before working with dogs on Mutt & Stuff, Sid and Marty Krofft brought along a few four-legged friends to the Paramount stage where they filmed this silly show, and let things get really silly as Sigmund falls in love with one of the neighborhood puppies. Fluffy’s owner, Peggy, is played by Pamelyn Ferdin, who we remember from 1977’s Space Academy. She made two appearances on the show; it’s strongly hinted during Johnny Whitaker’s closing bubblegum rock tune that he has a schoolboy crush on Peggy, but sadly this really wasn’t developed on the show.

Our son adored this episode, from all the dopey puns (“Clam up? Some of my best friends are clams!”) to the climax, in which Fluffy brings several other neighborhood dogs to chase off Blurp and Slurp. Incidentally, this is the second episode in a row where the noise of all the sea monster brawling is dismissed as “prowlers.” Zelda, the housekeeper, is oddly unconcerned about all this potential crime.

Regarding the quality of these screen captures, as with the DVDs of Land of the Lost, the copies available are very badly in need of restoration and remastering, and suffer from color bleeding and blurs. The seventeen episodes of season one have been released twice in North America, by Rhino and later by Vivendi, but you can get both seasons, all 29 episodes, in a region-free four-disk set from Beyond in Australia. Amazon’s currently sold out of that version, but click the pic above and you can order a box set that includes the complete Sigmund along with H.R. Pufnstuf, Land, and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. That’s 105 episodes in one package for about $60. Not bad at all, even with the need for some extensive restoration work.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.1 – The Monster Who Came to Dinner

When we first started this blog and our son had just turned four, I had planned to show him at least some of the entire Saturday morning Sid and Marty Krofft lineup, in the order the shows were made. That got derailed. He was so frightened by Witchiepoo, Benita Bizarre, and Hoo Doo that I knew that my ever-so-gentle son would absolutely hate the Ooze family in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

The Kroffts’ first three antagonists, after all, are ridiculous fantasy villains. They may have a few traits in common with real-world nutcases and narcissists, but our son’s not going to have to worry about blowhards like them until he’s much older and starts paying attention to politics (HEY-OH!). But the Oozes are a dark mirror of a real family. They’re dysfunctional and horrible and, if they were to move to Blackpool, they’d prove stiff competition for Monty Python’s Most Awful Family in Britain competition, but they’re close to what a real family could become in the worst circumstances. And though hilarious stupidity rules the roost in the Ooze cave, Big Daddy’s demented cruelty and Blurp and Slurp’s unreasoning bullying would be too much for our kid at the time.

He’s old enough now to see it and appreciate it as something completely unreal, even though these “family members” do their darnedest to shatter his image of how all families should be loving and safe. Last year’s pilot for the revamped Amazon series – I haven’t heard yet when it will begin broadcast, but I’m waiting! – sensibly focused much more on the human cast and never went into the caves or introduced Sigmund’s awful parents, just his two dumb brothers. So, in anticipation of the new series beginning sometime soon, I’ve picked an eleven-episode “greatest hits album” of some of this goofy show’s high points which we will watch over the next couple of months.

If you’ve never seen this series, it has Johnny Whitaker and Scott Kolden as two brothers who befriend the hapless and kind Sigmund (Billy Barty) after his family throws him out for incompetence. His family then has to get him back to meet the demands of a rich uncle. Johnny and Scott have to hide Sigmund from the prying eyes of their family housekeeper – Mom and Dad are eternally away – along with various neighbors and incompetent policemen.

When I was a kid, I honestly didn’t like this show at all. Seeing it again, when I was a teenager, on the Krofft Super Stars syndicated package didn’t improve matters. It wasn’t until adulthood that it finally clicked. There certainly are a number of indefensible, lousy episodes – particularly in the second season, when everybody involved with the show used up their last ideas – and nobody’s going to call this art, but at its best, it’s triumphantly funny slapstick, with Blurp and Slurp’s violence and under-their-breath grumbling devolving into clenched tentacles and the sort of physical mayhem totally absent from later seventies live-action children’s television.

Last night, I was still a little leery and cautious about this show, so we had a “prologue” talk about bullying and how absolutely nobody we’ve ever met is anything like the Ooze family. Perhaps I was being too cautious, but dads can be that way sometime. Tonight, we watched the first episode, which was written by the Kroffts’ veteran comedy scribe Si Rose, and he really enjoyed it. He did get antsy with worry when Blurp and Slurp chased Sigmund and the boys all around the house, but he liked all the fish-related puns and bad jokes (although he misheard one as “two shakes of a needle’s tail,” so that one doesn’t count), and of course he loved the climax, in which the two idiot monsters mistake the local sheriff’s police car for a cute, albeit standoffish girl monster.

Marie was alternately fascinated by just how much physical damage the suit actors seemed to be inflicting upon their costumes – these things had to last for seventeen episodes but they seemed to do everything to Blurp and Slurp short of setting them on fire – and by the remarkable hair shown off by Johnny Whitaker. Even accepting that it was 1973 and fourteen year-old boys had long hair then, the “random bush” on top of his head is a pretty amazingly seventies ‘do.

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Pryor’s Place 1.4 – Voyage to the Planet of the Dumb

I was thirteen years old when Pryor’s Place, the Kroffts’ first Saturday morning show for five years, aired. I was not the target audience, I was possibly the most obnoxious thirteen year-old on the planet, and this show had a kid who was breakdancing in it. Well, it was 1984. Lots of kids were breakdancing.

But while Pryor’s Place was tame, gentle, safe, and incredibly boring, its heart was in the right place. It came from Richard Pryor’s sincere desire to be a positive role model and get kids to think twice before they engaged in the self-destructive and stupid behavior of his own youth. So yes, the show meant well, but so do dentists, and no child willingly goes to see one. CBS scheduled the show at 11.30 in the morning, by which time most kids had already been sitting in front of the boob tube for three hours and were ready to go out and play. Sticking Pryor’s Place on at that hour was like taking a broom to the audience.

The episode included on Rhino’s World of Sid & Marty Krofft collection is “Voyage to the Planet of the Dumb,” in which young Richie considers dropping out of school. The episode features small guest star parts for Pat Morita, Pat McCormick, and Marla Gibbs. There’s one moment where some puppet bread tells some dumb jokes, and another moment where two puppet rats – sort of the spiritual ancestors of Zoe and Davenport on Mutt & Stuff – perform like a Greek chorus on the action. Our son enjoyed the part with the talking bread and we reminded him that school is important. That’s our good deed for the night.

This was the Kroffts’ last Saturday morning show for many years. They had success in prime-time syndication with the Barbara Mandrell variety show, and with D.C. Follies, which was occasionally amusing, even if the overall feeling was that it was written by people who thought that Spitting Image was too mean. In 1991, they were back on Saturday mornings with their remake of Land of the Lost, but we do not talk about that diseased beast. They also did some movie with Will Ferrell that I thought was funny. Mutt & Stuff brought them their biggest success in decades, and it’s still going. The new Sigmund and the Sea Monsters had an awesomely good pilot this summer, and the show proper goes into production soon. I hope we’ll be watching that and blogging about it in about six months or so.

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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.


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Bigfoot and Wildboy 2.10 – Return of the Vampire

Bigfoot and Wildboy is a very unusual example of a Krofft show that got a second lease on life. It started as the dramatic, cliffhanging installment of the second season of The Krofft Supershow in the 1977-78 season, with sixteen two-part episodes comprising eight stories. These featured Monika Ramirez as a character called Susie, who assisted Bigfoot and Wildboy as they defended “the great northwest” from a variety of alien, supernatural, and super-scientific threats.

ABC asked the Kroffts for another season of twelve half-hour episodes, even as they lost the overall variety show that was Bigfoot and Wildboy‘s home to NBC. More on that tomorrow. Then, weirdly, ABC put the twelve half-hours on the shelf and didn’t screen them until the tail end of the 1978-79 season, burning them off in the summer instead of promoting them in the fall. I’ve always been curious about this. It feels like petulant retribution for the Kroffts decamping their successful program to another network.

Of course, Bigfoot was never bigger than in the 1970s. Kids today – like ours – have no frame of reference for what a bizarre icon of popular culture Bigfoot was back then. Ours also had no prior experience with the 1970s shorthand for showing a character running really fast by having the character run in slow motion. He’ll be seeing that again in the future, you can bet. Bigfoot made as much sense as the lead character in a 1970s kids’ show as a dune buggy did. It was the seventies, man.

The twelve half-hour episodes of Bigfoot and Wildboy, which saw Yvonne Regalado replace Ramirez as another character, Cindy, hint at what Shazam! and Isis might have been like with supervillain threats. Each week, Bigfoot (Ray Young) and his human pal Wildboy (Joseph Butcher) save the land from space invaders, babbling subterranean magic-users, low-rent Incredible Hulk knockoffs, mummies, and, in this episode, a vampire countess played by pretty Deborah Ryan. (You remember her from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park; she was the one who figured that rock bands keep track of all the members of the audience, as opposed to, you know, venue security.)

I was a little disappointed that Rhino picked a slightly atypical episode of the show. Most episodes that I’ve seen were filmed on 16mm almost entirely on location, but this one is mostly a studio venture set in a labyrinth of caves. On the other hand, that worked perfectly for our kid, who was scared out of his wits by the vampire and her plans, and the feel of getting lost underground in a “jigsaw puzzle” of tunnels. This was one of the scariest things he’s ever seen, even though it follows the tame rules of children’s TV and doesn’t allow the vampire to bite anybody onscreen, and has her power cut off by the lid of her box, which isn’t referred to as a coffin. She certainly isn’t staked through the heart. That didn’t matter; he was scrunched up in a tight ball with his head under the blanket for about the whole show.

While neither Butcher nor Regalado had very many acting parts, Ray Young stayed pretty busy until his death in 1999, usually playing really big, mean-looking people. I’m afraid the casting director this week sort of worked against him by hiring Mickey Morton – Solomon Grundy in Legends of the Superheroes – as one of the human servants of the vampire. Everybody in these shows should be looking up at Bigfoot, not meeting the actor’s sight line!

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Magic Mongo 1.8 – Huli’s Vacation

When The Krofft Supershow came back for its second season in 1977, there were a few changes. Two-thirds of the shows were different, and the hosts, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, had a major makeover.

I always got the impression that the Kongs were many people’s least favorite part of the program – even as kids, few of my friends were at all interested – but I thought they were so much fun. I’d rank them second – a distant second, mind – behind Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in that odd category of best fictional groups for children. They put out an album on Epic Records and everything. The original lineup was a five-piece: the Kaptain (Michael Lembeck), Superchick (Debra Clinger), Nashville (Louise DuArt), Turkey (Mickey McMeel), and Flatbush (Bert Sommer). They dressed in flashy, glam satin. For season two, Flatbush was dropped and they dressed in more subdued denim outfits – still seventies garish, but disco seventies, not Roy Wood glitter rock seventies. Neither the LP nor the single, “And I Never Dreamed,” charted, but the group appeared on all the Kroffts’ evening variety shows, like Donny & Marie.

As for the shows they hosted, Magic Mongo replaced Dr. Shrinker with another batch of sixteen 15-minute episodes. Bigfoot & Wildboy replaced Electra Woman, with sixteen cliffhanging episodes that comprised eight stories. And Wonderbug was back, with six new installments and ten repeats from the first year. This season’s lineup was commemorated by Gold Key/Western in a comic book that ran for six issues over nine months, along with a second Kaptain Kool LP on Peter Pan, one of those audio adventure records that I adored as a kid in the days before home video.

Magic Mongo is absolutely lovable and ridiculous. It’s about an incompetent genie played by Lennie Weinrib. Mongo’s good guy master is Donald, who is played by Paul Hinckley, and his only other credit listed at IMDB is the last episode of Isis‘s first season.

Donald hangs out at the beach all the time with his two always-platonic girl buddies, sharp-tongued Lorraine, who is played by Helaine Lembeck, and Kristy, by Robin Dearden. Lembeck would later play Judy in Welcome Back, Kotter. Dearden, who wears a bikini in every single scene of this series, has had small roles in many shows like Magnum PI and TJ Hooker, along with one of the second season Bigfoot & Wildboy episodes. Constantly antagonizing the foursome: two leather-clad ne’er-do-wells, Ace and Duncey. Ace is played by Bart Braverman, who has been in a million things.

Daniel absolutely loved this episode, giggling through all the special effects and dumb jokes. We have to emphasize “dumb,” because, like most of the TV cartoons and comic books of the period, we have to believe that somehow the villains have access to disguises and a printing press to carry out their bizarrely complicated schemes. (I’m reminded of a very dumb comic book called Dial H for Hero, in which baddies would use atomic submarines and dozens of henchmen to rob the Littleville minor league ballpark of its gate receipts.)

Marie started having trouble suspending disbelief as soon as Ace and Duncey turned up in leather jackets on the beach, so the rest of this was twelve minutes of wincing. For any adult who didn’t love this as a kid, it’s probably a trial. But I always adored the stupid jokes, and Mongo not quite understanding what Donald wants him to do. This time out, he turns Lorraine into a Saint Bernard to track down the bad guys, and doesn’t understand that Donald means “money” when he asks for “bread.” I’m sure a binge of all sixteen episodes would be about fourteen too many, but one’s just fine.

So, here’s some trivia you did not know: Magic Mongo and Wonderbug are set in the same universe. Soon after they taped these sixteen episodes, Sid and Marty Krofft pitched ABC a prime-time sitcom – for families, not just children – in which Braverman’s character, Ace, runs a restaurant. Ace’s Diner wasn’t picked up, but they did tape a pilot, in which David Levy and John-Anthony Bailey’s Wonderbug characters, Barry and CC, also appear. The Kroffts also taped a pilot for another sitcom called Looking Good, starring Sheryl Lee Ralph. ABC passed on both, but ran the two pilots together with some more Kaptain Kool and the Kongs interstitials and special guests Sha Na Na as a summer prime-time special called The Krofft Comedy Hour in July 1978.

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Wonderbug 1.5 – The Maltese Gooneybird

“Dad,” our son said, “this is not real. Dune buggies don’t have eyes.”

Of course it’s real. You just saw it.

“And cars don’t fly. This isn’t real.”

It is real, you just watched it.

“And cars and dune buggies don’t go by themselves.”

You just saw Wonderbug do it.

*deep exhalation*

Well, did you like it?

“YES! It was funny!”

I was going to mention that Wonderbug was the third new installment of The Krofft Supershow and that it starred David Levy, John Anthony Bailey, and Carol Anne Seflinger, with Frank Welker doing the spit-n-sputtin’ voices of Schlepcar and Wonderbug. I would have also mentioned that they did sixteen episodes in the first season and that, unusually, it came back for a second go-around with six new installments in 1977. But as cute and silly as Wonderbug is, my son’s attempt at sanity and common sense is even more amusing.

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