Not to dismiss any of the fine work they've done before or since, but if you grew up during the '70s and spent any significant length of time in front of the television on Saturday mornings, then just reading the names Sid and Marty Krofft undoubtedly inspires a flurry of memories. Well, of course, that's unless you are slightly older and in the midst of a wake 'n bake whilst watching Krofft creations like "H.R. Pufnstuf," "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," or "Land of the Lost." (If that was the case, it's possible that you may not even remember your own name, let alone "Lidsville.")
The brothers Krofft also had a nice run in prime-time TV as well, producing variety shows for Donnie and Marie, The Brady Bunch (you know: the one with Fake Jan), and Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. It's the latter series that has brought Bullz-Eye in contact with Marty Krofft – a collection of the show's best episodes has just been released through Time-Life – but fear not: we asked him about all those other shows he and his brother were involved with, too.
Our conversation was originally supposed to be on a Wednesday, but I received a surprise phone call from Marty on Tuesday, asking if we could reschedule for Thursday; it then got a bit more uncertain when I thought he'd said 10 a.m. when, in fact, he'd actually said 10:30. Finally, however, we both ended up on the line together.
Marty Krofft: Hi.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Marty, how're you doing?
MK: Well, we're finally connecting.
BE: We are.
MK: I thought it was 10:30, but maybe you were right.
BE: And, now, I'm second-guessing myself as well, because I'm thinking that maybe I do remember hearing you say, "Well, let's make it 10:30 to be safe."
MK: So where are you located?
BE: I'm in Chesapeake, Virginia.
MK: Oh, this is good.
BE: Right next door to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
MK: Oh, that's nice. So, we're here.
BE: Yep. And I should probably start by telling you what I'm sure you hear all the time: that, in one way or the other, you were directly responsible for the creation of about three-fourths of my favorite television shows as a kid.
MK: Well, this is good!
BE: Not only do I have H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund action figures within my line of sight, but I've even got a Banana Splits poster above my computer.
BE: Yep. And I understand you and your brother actually helped design those costumes.
MK Yeah, we did. For Hanna-Barbera.
BE: Was doing those costumes for them what led you to start doing shows on your own?
MK: Well, you know, of course, we were doing stuff before then, but they came to us because they didn't know how to do these characters, because they were in animation only. So they knew that we were doing all kinds of live shows with these kind of characters, and this was before we were doing "Pufnstuf," of course. So this led to "Pufnstuf," because Kellogg's and NBC would come to our factory, where we were creating all this stuff, and then the head of programming at NBC said, "Hey, why don't you create something for us?" And then Kellogg's said the same thing! So that was the beginning of the kids thing.
BE: Well, we should probably start off by talking about the show that resulted in our conversation today: "The Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters Show."
BE: Now, a lot of people tend to think of you and your brother in terms of your Saturday morning successes, but your work with the Mandrells wasn't even your first time at the helm of a music-variety show for adults.
MK: It wasn't. We did "Donnie and Marie," we, well, we had done a pilot for Michael Eisner when he was at ABC, called "Fol de Rol," that never got on. And then Mike Eisner and Fred Silverman came to us and asked if we would create this brother and sister show. So that's how we got in on that, and that was the beginning of us doing some prime time, and then the kids stuff, and then we did some movies. But, yeah, we did "Mandrell," we did "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour."
BE: Oh, yes!
MK: Which is in a time capsule. You can't even kill our failures! We did "Pink Lady," the two Japanese ladies who were teamed with Jeff Altman.
BE: Yeah, I read Mark Evanier's blog, and I know he worked with you on that show.
MK: Right. And then, of course, we did "The Patti Labelle Show," which never got on as a series, but that was a great show.
BE: I read a quote from your brother that said that the idea for doing the Mandrell show was all your idea, pretty much from conception to fruition.
MK: Right. We wanted to sell her by herself to NBC. Fred Silverman said, "Well, wait a second, I don't think she'll work by herself. Does she have any sisters?" And I said, "Yeah." So I came back with a wallet-sized picture of the three of them, that their mother gave us, and I sold it based on that picture.
BE: What was it about Barbara herself that inspired you to say, "I smell a show"?
MK: Well, you know, she was very multi-talented, very warm, had a great personality, and had the beginning of a record career, so I knew that the audience would catch on with her. And they did. Within about 10 weeks, we were in the top 10.
BE: Were you and your brother country fans yourself?
MK: Well, you know, actually, we always were somehow involved in the live end, with some of the people we worked with, but that was really the first time that we really brought…we brought country music to the whole country for the first time on network television. In fact, right now, I'm in the process…it took me all this time to find a new show.
MK: So I've got a new show, which I'm not really talking about yet, with three individual recording artists who haven't made it yet that are kind of like "Desperate Housewives" kind of women. But they're hot. In fact, one of them is in here right now, in L.A., recording with Charlie Fox, who wrote "Killing Me Softly." She's recording…there was the original version, there was the hip-hop version, and now Lynn Bryant's doing the country version. So this is, like, exciting. In fact, it's in the middle of being finished. So we've got this new show that…it's scripted, but there's reality in it. It's about the three girls. So I've got another country singer! But this is kind of like crossover country, and I think the audience is gonna catch on to these three, because there are three girls who've been around, working with stars in the background, sometimes in the foreground. So the "Mandrell" thing has come along at a good time again, with these DVDs. I think there's a lot of interest; I figure we have a fanbase from then that'll buy these DVDs.
BE: Well, you know, you don't even need to be a country fan to appreciate those so called "guitar pull" segments of the show, where Barbara played, like, half a dozen different instruments.
MK: Right. And how about Truck Shackley and the Texas Critters?
BE: Actually, I was just about to ask about them. You still managed to get your puppets into the show.
MK: Always got the puppets.
BE: So, now, why didn't they release an album? That seems like it would've been a natural promotional tie-in.
MK: For what?
BE: For Truck Shackley and the Texas Critters to actually release an album under their name.
"I met Walt Disney at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he came over and sat for drinks, and he gave me some input. He said, "Don't ever sell anything you own, and always fight for your name above the title." He never told me save my money, though. That was the only thing I needed!"MK: Actually, way back when, we took them out on the road, on a tour with Irlene Mandrell. Barbara didn't want to do anything. You know, we only had two seasons with Barbara. She decided not to do the show; she thought the show would end her career, with her voice, but she won every award because of the show. So, this time, it's all gonna be ours! (laughs) When it was Barbara, it wasn't. But, hey, it was another launch pad for us.
BE: Now, when she decided that she couldn't take the pace, did anyone ever seriously consider trying to continue it with just her sisters, letting Barbara just do an occasional appearance as she was able?
MK: No, no. NBC didn't want to do that. You couldn't do that; that never would've worked. She wanted to quit after the first season, but we got her to come back, so we tried again after the second season, but that didn't work. But, y'know, we had a hit here.
BE: Who were some of your favorite guest stars who appeared on the show?
MK: Oh, Kenny Rogers, Roy Rogers, Bob Hope, Dolly (Parton), Alabama.
BE: You were definitely pulling out the big names.
MK: Yeah, we had all the big names.
BE: I was very excited at that Johnny Cash performance myself. I'm a big fan of his.
MK: Right, Johnny Cash. We had 'em all! So, you know, we have a normal transition into this new show. In fact, this Lynn Bryant, who's recording "Killing Me Softly," she's from Virginia. She has a house there that, I think, blew away in a storm. No, wait, it didn't blow away; a tree went through it. She's on the beach there.
BE: I'm practically on the beach myself. Well, relatively speaking, anyway. I'm within a half-hour of it.
MK: What's the town you live in, again?
MK: Chesapeake… (trails off in thought) She's in the office now. Hey, Lynn? Come here! Lemme find out where she is.
(Writer's note: I won't burden you with the very pleasant but ultimately trivial conversation, but Marty did find Lynn, and she got on the line for a few minutes, which resulted in us chatting for a minute or two about Virginia. Turns out she keeps a second home in Occoquan, Va., that sustained hurricane damage. "But," she said, optimistically, "at least I still have some very nice property!")
MK: (gets back on the line) Right. So, anyway, she's gotta get back into the recording studio. So, see, you got scoops that nobody else knows!
BE: (laughs) True! So let's talk about some of your other series, because I'm totally chomping at the bit to do that.
MK: "Land of the Lost," I don't know if you want to talk about that.
BE: Oh, I want to talk about several of them, but that's definitely on my list!
MK: You know we're doing a movie, right? With Will Ferrell.
BE: Absolutely. That was on my list of things to ask about, in fact. How's that progressing?
MK: Well, we're trying to find a director, so we can get a date to start.
BE: But the script is all finalized?
MK: The script is fine. The script is great, actually.
BE: Who wrote it?
MK: Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas. Chris Henchy was one of the creators of "Entourage." He's also the husband of Brooke Shields.
BE: Excellent. Good credentials across the board.
MK: Yeah, he's got two kids, so he's got his hands full, with her and the kids!
BE: Well, I've got a 20-month-old daughter myself, and I've been easing her into an appreciation of "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" and "The Bugaloos."
MK: (seemingly pleasantly surprised) Really?
BE: Absolutely. So I'm sure you like all of them for one reason or another, but what are some of your personal favorites among your creations?
MK: Well, I think that "Pufnstuf," of course, being our first kids show, that's our flagship show. And, then, of course, "Land of the Lost" and "Sigmund." And then we have "The Bugaloos." What's happening is that they're all being reborn, one at a time. I guess you can't kill these shows with a baseball bat. We've got the adults who've got passion, and they bring their kids, nephews, brothers and sisters into it. We're developing a new pre-school show based on "The Bugaloos," with a new cast. So, you know, we're still busy. It's better to be working than, well, if you're just home watching daytime television, I think that'll kill you in about a month.
BE: As a kid, I always loved "Lidsville." I mean, in retrospect, it was about as weird and bizarre a concept as any series ever devised, but when I was seven, it was, like, "OK, talking hats? I can get behind that."
MK: Yeah, Charles (Nelson Reilly) was great in that.
BE: I have to say, I think I prefer him as a Krofft villain even over Witchiepoo.
MK: Really? Because she was a great witch.
BE: Oh, all due respect to Witchiepoo, definitely. To this day, a friend of mine is still prone to singing "Oranges Poranges" every time she eats an orange.
MK: You know, I'm going to go see "Wicked" tomorrow night, the pre-story of the Witch (from "The Wizard of Oz").
BE: Speaking of "H.R. Pufnstuf," as far as your legacy goes, do you feel like that's still the show that people most often associate you with?
MK: I think probably, yes. That, and "Land of the Lost." I think the one thing we did was…I met Walt Disney at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he came over and sat for drinks, because he had seen our act when we were the opening act for Judy Garland in Vegas. And I was sitting with Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse, who knew him, and he gave me some input. He said, "Don't ever sell anything you own, and always fight for your name above the title." He never told me save my money, though. That was the only thing I needed!
BE: Do you ever just get tired of people trying to force drug references into your shows when they weren't really there?
MK: Hey, if I'd done as many drugs with my brother as they say we did, I'd be dead today!
BE: I was hoping you'd give me the big scoop and tell me that, yes, the references really were there.
MK: The drugs? Try to create something on drugs, and you end up with gibberish. I think some of the audience may have been on drugs.
BE: Yeah, I think we pretty much have confirmation on that. So I understand that Tom Hanks was actually in the running to be a member of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (from "The Krofft Superstar Hour").
MK: That was one. And Michael J. Fox was up for "Land of the Lost."
BE: I didn't know that.
MK: Oh, yeah. We turned down a lot of people who are famous today! (laughs)
BE: You were also behind "Pryor's Place."
MK: Right. With Richard. That was an interesting show to work on.
BE: You know, I remember enjoying it, but I always figured that the reason it wasn't a rousing success was because it was hard for parents to get behind their kids watching a Saturday morning show by Richard Pryor.
MK: Nah. I think that if we would've hung in there for more than one season, we would've gotten there. He told this story to "The New York Times" during a press conference. A woman asked him, "Mr. Pryor, why are you doing this show? Is it because you're paying back the kids for all the turmoil you've caused?" He said, "No, if you ever knew Marty Krofft, you'd know it's easier to just say 'yes' and get him the hell out of the room." And that's the truth!
BE: Were there any series ideas that you had but never got around to making? I heard a little bit about one called "Mishmosh."
MK: You're right! Boy, where did you get all this?
BE: Ah, you see, I research!
MK: You do! Well, that was about the only one. We had very few. "Horror Hotel" was one, which ended up as part of "The Krofft Superstar Hour." That was one which never really got off the ground. But there were only a couple of them. "Friendship Factory" we never got off the ground, which was kind of like a do-gooder show, but by the time we finished developing it, the networks didn't need to push the whole do-gooders thing anymore. The government had gotten off their back.
BE: Like I said, I really didn't read much about it, so what was "Mishmosh" about?
MK: It was going to be a show in the sea, under the sea, with a lot of interesting characters. I don't remember it all right now, but we had these incredible books that we used to sell the shows with, with all art in them. The books were, like, three-and-a-half feet long and two-and-a-half-feet wide, and there was tons of artwork in them, and that's how we'd go in. Not with a script. And we'd get a pilot deal off of that.
BE: Have you ever thought about releasing any of those books of sketches?
MK: Yeah, well, I dunno. They're all in our warehouse, which I like to call an archive, but we need an archive guy to keep it together. So, y'know, that's the last thing you worry about when you're in business, but it should be an important thing. We've probably thrown out a million dollars worth of stuff. Well, it's worth that today. Like the Pufnstuf doll, which was $30 in 1970 but sold, in the box, for $3,500 not long ago. If I'd known, I would've saved a lot more of those!
BE: This is kind of a tangential question, but I've been reviewing some of the DVD sets of the Filmation live-action series, and it just made me wonder if any of your live-action kid show competition during the '70s ever made you go, "Okay, that impresses me."
MK: (exhales deeply) Let me see. Well, there weren't that many. Offhand, no. Our competition was mostly animated shows. We tried to make our shows move almost as fast as the animation shows. Kids don't have a big attention span.
BE: As far as revisiting some of your other shows, obviously, you mentioned "Land of the Lost" and "The Bugaloos," but I've also heard rumblings about redoing "H.R. Pufnstuf."
"I guess you can't kill these shows with a baseball bat. We've got the adults who've got passion, and they bring their kids, nephews, brothers and sisters into it."MK: Right. Well, we had a deal at Sony, but they didn't pick up the second option. The script didn't come out the way we wanted it to, and we're trying to redevelop it right now. And that one should be turned into a movie very soon, and we're working on it. And "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," we're working on that, trying to get a writer and a director. And there's been interest in "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl" again.
BE: Yeah, actually, I've seen the pilot, from when they tried to revive it for the 21st century.
MK: How did you see it?
BE: (sheepishly) Um, it was on YouTube.
BE: Yep. I don't know who posted it, but that's where I saw it.
MK: The whole pilot?
BE: Well, they cut it into two pieces. I guess there's a time limit for what you can upload.
MK: Really. And you can see it for free, then?
BE: (quickly covering my ass) Yes, but I would've paid for it! And still would! But what I was wondering, though, was if it felt weird having the characters telling vaguely risqué jokes now, given that they were conceived as a kids show.
MK: Nah, that was OK. I mean, that didn't get on because we never had a real clear direction. And we did it in Canada; we should've spent another million dollars on it. And we were on The WB developing it. I mean, we got "Family Affair" on about three or four years ago, but we were up against "Survivor" and "Friends" on The WB. We had no chance!
BE: What was it about doing the re-visitation of "Family Affair" that caught your eye?
MK: Well, I loved that show, and I knew the Feddersons, who originally created it and owned it, and the wife was willing to give me the rights, and I sold it to The WB. We got Tim Curry to play the uncle. Ah, you know all this. You know every bit of information!
BE: Well, I also interviewed Gary Cole, who was the lead in the show.
MK: You ought to work for us and do our archives.
BE: Hey, if you're hiring, keep me posted!
MK: All right! So where does this all appear? On the Internet?
BE: Yep. The website's Bullz-Eye.com.
MK: Right, okay. And when will you have this up?
BE: Hopefully, sometime in the next few weeks. We've actually got a bit of a backlog at the moment.
MK: Be sure to send me an email when it's up.
BE: Absolutely! You know, I read a quote from you about your brother, where you said, "If Sid does only 75 percent of what he's telling everybody he's going to do, it'll be 300 percent more than anybody else would do."
MK: You got it.
BE: Is it fair to say that he's done a lot of the heavy lifting for Krofft Productions over the years, or has always been pretty much a 50/50 operation?
MK: Well, what do you mean by heavy lifting?
BE: (hesitates) You know, I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that.
MK: On the day-to-day stuff, he's not there. He's very brilliant on ideas, and when he likes one of the things that we're doing, he stays on top of it. When he doesn't, I can't find him. Right? But, hey, he shows up whenever we need him, and he's always got…within a month, you'll hear a great idea. He's always got at least one great idea every month.
BE: And he continues to do well?
MK: Yeah. You mean, as far as in good shape? Yes, he's in excellent shape.
BE: OK, and to start wrapping things up, another writer here at Bullz-Eye who's also a big fan of your work (writer's note: that'd be Jason Thompson) wanted me to ask if there's anything you and your brother can possibly do to make Saturday mornings cool again.
MK: Can we make Saturday mornings cool again? Lemme tell ya: if we were 20 years old, I could say yes. I don't have enough time and energy. Well, I have a lot of energy, but that would be a mammoth job! I'd have to have Freddy the Flute for real! Yeah, I'd definitely need to wave a magic flute around. I think that if you can come up with one great thing, it could make a difference. And there are stand-outs here and there. But look, don't ask me what they are, because we've never tuned in to other people's shows. All of our creations came out of our own heads.
BE: Actually, that leads me to one that I was saving as just a last question of curiosity, and I don't really know how much you know about it, but I'd read a story about Anthony Spinner filing a lawsuit against the producers of "Lost."
BE: Do you know anything about that?
MK: We do, actually. It was our development, and we don't know what our position's going to be on this right now. He's suing, of course, for, well, it's our thing. It's our show. I didn't realize that, and so I don't know where that's going right now.
BE: So it's still in litigation, then?
MK: Yeah, but I don't know what our next step is for us. I had one lawsuit with McDonald's years ago, and I'll tell you the truth, I'm not in the lawsuit business. I'm the production business.
BE: Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
MK: Well, thanks, Will. If you're ever out here, you come find us at CBS.
BE: Funnily enough, I'll be in L.A. in July. I was just admitted into the Television Critics Association, so I'm coming out for the press tour.
MK: Really? Well, this is great! Give me a call; maybe you can come over here, and I'll buy you a cup of coffee.