Readers who were watching kids’ TV during the early 1970’s will remember a psychedelically strange show called H.R. Pufnstuf. Like many good things from that era, H.R. Pufnstuf was full of nods to the prevailing stoner counter-culture, and included many sly pot and drug references which most of us likely missed as children.
Launched in 1969, the Summer of Love, the show revolved around the adventures of Jimmy, a young boy trapped on the magical Living Island, where virtually every object, animal and plant can talk and move. In each of the 17 zany episodes, the evil Witchiepoo tries to steal Jimmy’s talking golden flute, named Freddy, while Jimmy tries to escape the island and return home. Jimmy is protected and guided by the island’s Mayor ? a friendly dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf ? and his many friends.
Aside from the extremely colorful and trippy imagery, there were many aspects to the popular show which, to the initiated, revealed its essentially stoney nature.
The main clue is the title character, H.R. Pufnstuf, whose last name sounds a lot like “Puffing stuff.” The title “H.R.” is never explained on the show, and many interpreted it as code for “Hand Rolled,” with Pufnstuf’s title of Mayor also being short for “marijuana.” Pufnstuf is green with red hair, just like cannabis buds.
The theme song of the show gave another strong hint at stoner subtext, with the following chorus being repeated a few times, both at the beginning and end of the show. The last line seems out of context unless seen as a pot reference:
H.R. Pufnstuf, who’s your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Pufnstuf, can’t do a little, ’cause you can’t do enough!
Although the marijuana and drug references are sometimes subtle, they are laced throughout the entire series. Some highlights include Witchiepoo offering a minion a “roach beef sandwich,” Freddy the Flute getting turned into a magic mushroom, Pufnstuf telling Cling and Clang to “stop sniffing” the magic smoke, and Jimmy dosing Witchiepoo with a Love Potion.
When the Pufnstuf crew film a movie, Jimmy plays Black Bart ? a name also used at the time as a slang term for pot.
The evil Witchiepoo regularly uses drugs to mess with the good guys. In one episode she hits up the Pufnstuf gang with “laughing gas,” a magic smoke pouring from her saxophone. She goes to each person and blasts them with smoke ? they burst into laughter, soon followed by a heavy sleep.
In other episodes Witchiepoo plies the good guys with spiked “Campfire Granny” chocolate treats, and uses “love gas” to win the island folk to her side.
Puff and Stuff
For many stoners, “Puff and Stuff” is the perfect summation of their relationship with marijuana and food. So it’s not surprising that the Krofft’s creations were picked up by munchies salesmen pushing fast foodstuffs to hungry stoners.
Although the Kroffts created the enduring Kool-Aid pitcher, the most successful commercialization of their oeuvre was done by McDonald’s, who based their characters of Mayor McCheese, Grimace, Hamburglar and others on Pufnstuf and his pals. Unfortunately, the McDonald’s ad agency scammed the Kroffts, stealing their ideas and puppet technology without crediting them at all.
In 1971 the Kroffts sued McDonald’s, and after six years of court battles, juries and appeal courts backed their claim. The Kroffts have received regular court-ordered royalty checks from the McDonald’s empire ever since.
H.R. Pufnstuf was one of many popular kids shows created by brothers Sid and Marty Krofft. Sid Krofft was a child prodigy puppeteer, touring with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus during the early 1940’s, starting at the early age of 10. His older brother joined up with him only after Sid had spent years on the road, and worked mostly on sales and promotions. “I have a dream and Marty gets it done,” explained Sid in early interviews.
Marty Krofft has always denied the influence of marijuana on their creative work, saying “You can’t do this kind of work stoned,” and claiming that H.R. merely stands for “Royal Highness” backwards.
Yet Sid, the creative member of the team, has always been more cagey in his responses about marijuana and drug influences in his work. In a 1995 America Online chat session, the Krofft brothers were asked “Be honest… did you guys take a lot of drugs in the late 60’s?” Sid slyly replied, “The question should be: Do we take drugs in the 90’s?”
A 1998 book about the Krofft brothers cites “unsubstantiated rumors” that the pair were “often within close proximity of… the sweet smell of pot.”
Considering their history, it’s not surprising that the Krofft brothers would mix in adult themes with their puppet shows. During the late 1950’s and early 60’s, the brothers toured across the US with a set of 130 different sexy female marionettes, performing a puppet burlesque called Les Poup?es de Paris.
Their “adults-only” puppet shows received rave reviews at World’s Fairs in Seattle, New York and Montreal, and also made regular appearances on The Dean Martin Show, with the flirtatious female puppets teasing the buzzed, libidinous host.
Lidsville and Space Nuts
The Pufnstuf TV series was followed by a feature film in 1970, called Pufnstuf Zaps the World. The film was a minor hit, and included a cameo role by Mama Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas. Elliott was also Sid Krofft’s friend and next door neighbor.
Although H.R. Pufnstuf was their first and most enduringly popular show, the Krofft brothers were prolific in their 1970’s TV creations. Their shows included The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost, The Lost Saucer and The Krofft Supershow.
One show by the Krofft brothers which also held special meaning for the toking crowd was called Lidsville. This series was also about a young boy transported to a magical world, in this case one inhabited primarily by large talking hats. Like H.R. Pufnstuf, the name of the show is a pot pun: a “lid” was a common unit for sale of marijuana during the 60’s and 70’s, being a jar-lid full of buds.
Another Krofft show with a different sort of cannabis connection was the 1975-76 Far Out Space Nuts, starring Bob Denver. Denver had already become famous playing the dopey Gilligan, and before that had portrayed TV’s first hippie, Maynard Krebs, on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
Denver was already a toker back in those days, but it wasn’t until decades later that he would actually get busted. In 1998 he got caught receiving 30 grams of bud in the mail from Dawn Wells, who had played the perky Mary Anne.
The spirit of Pufnstuf lives on. Pufnstuf has made guest cameos over the years in shows as diverse as CHiPs and The Drew Carey Show. Also, the Kroffts have been talking about a major Pufnstuf remake movie for years, and in 2002 Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures bought the film rights from Sony.
Meanwhile, the H.R. Pufnstuf videotape set is distributed by Rhino home video. Watch the beginning of each tape in amazement, as their promotion for other Krofft compilations concludes with the unmistakable sound of a bubbling bong!
Check future issues for more shocking revelations on the toking secrets behind the childhood heroes of yesterday and today. Was Popeye also a pot-puffer? Did Mighty Mouse snort cocaine? Did Alice’s Wonderland include psychedelic mushrooms? You’ll have to wait for the next installment of Cannaculture Flashback!
As a special contest offer, send us a letter or email explaining how H.R. Pufnstuf changed your life, and we’ll send one arbitrarily chosen winner a special set of all Pufnstuf episodes on VHS, plus two Lidsville episodes and a Pufnstuf DVD! Send your entries to CC Magazine postmarked by July 14, 2003 or by email to [email protected].