Friday, June 11, 2010


Thomas  Wolfe once said, "You can't go home again." If he had had a television, he might also have said, "You can't re-watch TV shows you loved as a kid, because you will discover how much they sucked."

A lot of my favorite programs from my youth, like, "F-Troop", "McHale's Navy" and "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp", to name a few, are pretty hard to watch nowadays.  They seemed so great back in their day, but now they seem really lame. The passing of time gave them a gloss in my memory that they did not really possess. Of course, there were shows like "Lost in Space",  that even back then I knew were pretty wretched. I loved it anyway, though, so I still enjoy it now. There are other shows, like the original "Mickey Mouse Club" or "Astroboy", that, while I see how awful they are, I can still appreciate for the warm fuzzy feelings I had when I originally watched them.

Sadly, the one show that I loved  above all others, the highlight of my Saturday mornings if not my entire childhood, is one of those shows that I can not even  enjoy for its nostalgia factor anymore. 

That show is "H.R. Pufnstuf".

When it originally aired, this show had everything I loved: puppets, people in giant puppet costumes, a kid with  an English accent and catchy musical numbers. It also had an irresistible premise, at least to me. One day an ordinary boy Jimmy (played by English kid Jack Wild) and his talking golden flute, Freddy are kidnapped by a wicked witch named Witchypoo, and transported to Living Island. The island is so named because everything, trees,  houses, even the elements, everything, is alive. The Island is run/ruled over by a friendly dragon, H.R. Pufnstuf, who is also Mayor. Over the course of the series, the friendly citizens of Living Island spend the majority of their time protecting Jimmy and Freddy from Witchypoo, and trying to find a way to get them "home". At least once an episode, they also break into a totally unnecessary, but toe-tappin', musical number. 

I realize the above description doesn't exactly sound like must-see-TV. An actual  viewing of the series is even worse.  As I youngster, I guess I overlooked things like the shoddy production values, hackneyed scripts, Jack Wild''s awful singing voice, and performers whose body language suggests that, rather than happy creatures on a magical adventure, they are hot, sweaty people in uncomfortable puppet suits suffering from heatstroke.  I really loved this show.

I wasn't the only one. Despite there being only 17 episodes produced, the series ran for years, and there was even a theatrical feature made of it (with Mama Cass and Martha Raye in the cast, no less!). To this day, one of my sisters can still sing "I'm a Mechanical Boy", one of the songs from the show, and, if pressed, my other sister will admit to at one time declaring her ambition to become "Mrs. Jack Wild". The show's influence wasn't just confined to our house, either. if you troll  the Interweb, you can find the site of a person  who has dreams of reviving the show as an animated series. There has also been talk for years about a big screen adaptation.  That is a truly chilling thought for those of  us still nursing our wounds from the "Underdog" film a few years ago.

Ah, who am I kidding? I still love ol' Pufnstuf! I even have an action figure of him sitting on my desk as I type this. For that love to continue though, I'll only watch the re-runs in my mind. They're much better that way.

Oh, and for those of you wondering, no, my sister never did become Mrs. Jack Wild. 

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Blogger David said...

Wasn't there goofy little puppet guys that were cops on the show too?

Do you remember Lidsville?

And the live action show with cavemen...Korg, 70,000 B.C.?

June 11, 2010 at 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I had to settle for Mrs. McCarthy...sniff

June 11, 2010 at 11:20 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

David- Please show some respect. Those "goofy little puppet guys" were officers of the law on Living Island. Officers Kling and Klang.

I do remember Lidsville, try as a may to forget.

Korg sounds somewhat familiar, but then Sid & Marty Krofft produced so much cr- I mean, entertainment, it all starts to blend together.

Anonymous- Count your blessings.

June 12, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Chris Sabatino said...

What a great post! I LOVED all the shows you mentioned too...I run out to buy the DVD of my old favorites and am shocked at how bad they really were...but I still love the memories of watching them with my friends & brothers!
Lidsville was actually one of my favorites! I still have a strange obsession with hats. And do you remember The Bugaloos??? I thought those bugs were SOOOO cool!!!
God, reading "The Mechanical Boy" brought back such memories! I, too, am a grown man with a H. R. Pufnstuf action figure in my studio!!!

June 12, 2010 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Chris- There is no denying that at the time, "The Bugaloos" WAS cool (I also had a crush on Joy, not to the extent I wanted her to be Mrs. Bill White, or anything, though). Now, however, it is ABSOLUTELY UNWATCHABLE! Get thee to YouTube if you have any doubts.

I think every cartoonist worth their salt should have a Pufnstuf figure in their studio. In case I didn't mention it, I also still have the Pufnstuf puppet I got as a mail-away from Kellogg's all those years ago.

June 12, 2010 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger P.L. Frederick said...

Mental re-runs are way better, aren't they? Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny even have a show together.

June 13, 2010 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger SNeelyArt said...

I download all the McHale's Navy shows and didn't think they were bad at all. It was situation humor that has a charm to it. Some plots seem the same for sure and you know how they will end, but that's because at your age now, you've seen it ALL. Back then it was new and fresh, so that's why it may seem lame now.

Also I think the tide of reality shows has killed the sitcom as I can't watch Two and a Half Men without saying how unfunny it is. Even Friends and Seinfeld seems contrived's just the format of a sitcom and maybe we are past that?

The older shows I think work in the context in which they were done. I Love Lucy and The Adventures of Superman still work really well. Even the old Dennis the Menace was pretty entertaining.

June 13, 2010 at 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i also was crazy for h.r. when i was a kid. i had the talking flute premium (as i recall you had to send in box tops from some toaster pastry to get it). that toy was much loved, and got played with until it broke. pity that, as they fetch a high price these days.

funny you should mention the old astroboy animated series. i've been watching my them on dvd.


June 14, 2010 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

P.L.- The line up of shows on my mental DVD player is better too, although the reception sucks.

Scott-To each their own. My memories of olld shows is greatly enhanced by my imagination. That's why the reality is hard to reconcile.

I hope the sitcom form ain't dead. It's true though, the few that are still in production are tough to sit through. Half hour comedies that I enjoy now are all of the one camera ilk, like The Office and Modern Family.

eeteed- That Freddy the Flute mail-away was an item I pined for as a child! I dunno why I never got it. I got (and still have) all the other Kellogg premiums.

June 14, 2010 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger SNeelyArt said...

I was watching the Six Million Dollar Man battle Big Foot. This was the first time they met, and it was such a success that they fought several more times but the first one was STILL great. As Steve runs into the woods to track the wail of Bigfoot, you'd see Big Foot's feet moving throught the forest, so that you'd know they'd eventually run into each other. The pacing and suspense to it was still pretty awesome and the battle scene was fun, though a lot of people now rip on the slow motion thing as being lame or something.

Ohh, even the first time the Russian Alien Probe was running around by a computer screwup, it still works as a suspenseful show.

And a lot of Starsky and Hutch episodes when they were hitting their stride were pretty money. The chemistry and dialogue are still great...and they had a awesome car...

June 14, 2010 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Chris Sabatino said...

The was such a GREAT episode of The 6 Mil $ Man!
According to Entertainment Weekly, 6 Million and the original Bionic Woman are finally coming to DVD in October! That's 2 show I will buy. I wanted Jamie Sommers as my girlfriend when I was in Jr I know it probably wouldn't be good to go steady with a girl who can hear everything you say from half a mile a way...and who can also beat the crap out of you!!! Two of my favorite shows though!!

June 14, 2010 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Scott & Chris-

Six Million Dollar Man was must-see TV for me back in the day, but I think that it is one show I will definitely leave for my mental DVD player.

Bad joke, but what would be the cost of Steve Austin, now, with inflation?

June 16, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

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