HR Pufnstuf: He can’t do a little, because he can’t do enough! If you were a kid in the late ’60s/ early ’70s, likely as not, you too remember that Magick Time of early Saturday morning, when you and your brother were up, with the still, quiet house to yourselves (cause your parents were still in bed); and then came that Golden Hour when the Cartoons started, and the two of you settled down with bowls of Captain Crunch, to visit the Living Island of HR Pufnstuf. The show’s creators Sid and Marty Krofft came to be regarded as auteurs in the field of 1970s kids’ television programming; HR Pufnstuf established their initial formula (followed by Lidsville and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters), whereby a young male, just-on-the-cusp of adolescence, discovers a secret Magickal world populated by fantastical creatures. Much has been made of the hallucinogenic quality of Pufnstuf (which was broadcast from 1969-72): but I think that the Magickally animate inhabitants of Living Island introduce a very animistic way of looking at the universe- a perspective conducive to fostering a Pagan worldview and philosophy.
Joseph Campbell said that the basic shaman’s story is that of an individual transported to a strange new world, made up of mystical animals and fantasy-figures (some of whom are helpful, while others are not). Here in this intermediate world, the protagonist learns lessons about himself, discovering unknown strengths and wisdom. It is interesting that HR Pufnstuf resembles The Wizard of Oz in a number of ways, including the fact that both feature soon-to-be teen-agers, each possessing an emblematic talisman: in the case of Pufnstuf’s Jimmy, a talking “magic flute” (in other words, a phallic symbol with which Jimmy forms a bonding relationship); in Dorothy’s case in The Wizard of Oz, she acquires the Freudian symbol of a pair of ruby slippers. The Kroffts, by the way, were as lucky to sign the British kid-actor Jack Wild (the Artful Dodger from the movie-musical Oliver!) for Pufnstuf, as MGM was to have Ms. Garland for Oz; both young actors had precocious performing skills, well-sufficient to anchor their respective shows. Wild’s Englishness and clever Brits wit make an agreeably unusual element for an American production (he looked much younger than he was, apparently being seventeen when Pufnstuf started, for all that he looked twelve).
The instigator of Jimmy’s removal from the Real World to the Magickal one of Living Island is (as is so often the case) a Witch: in this case, technically a Wicked one, who greedily desires the Power of Jimmy’s Magick Flute for herself. Witchiepoo’s malevolence is off-set by the fact that she is such a Comic Witch: the Witch as a Circus Clown or the Witch as a Fool and Jester. As fortunate as the Kroffts were in signing Mr. Wild to the role of Jimmy, they were equally blessed by fate in finding the character-actress Billie Hayes to play Witchiepoo (real name, Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo); her antic nature and her skills at parodying a “Wicked” Witch sell the show every bit as much as the teen-aged English vaudevillian Jack Wild does. One can see a cartoon-version of Margaret Hamilton’s memorably Wicked Witch in Witchiepoo, down to the cartoon Wicked Castle, with the cartoon Wicked Guards. However, whereas Ms. Hamilton can be so intensely Wicked as to unnerve children (giving The Wizard of Oz the grit that it needs, to work as an Initiation Tale): Witchiepoo is so funny and farcical as to provide a reassuring presence to the kiddies. In an interesting way, I wonder if Witchiepoo’s capriciously willful nature is not attractive to kids (kids being such willful creatures themselves); I remember as a kid, having my imagination so stirred by Witchiepoo (who as a comic figure, seemed a safe candidate for play-acting), I would fantasize about being a similar Witch, living independently in a Witch’s Castle (Witchiepoo’s independence was very attractive to me), flying around the sky in a Vroom Broom (a kind of souped-up mod hot-rod of a broom), with parody Witch’s Familiars such as a cartoon vulture and spider as companions. I guess it’s kind of curious to consider now, but Witchiepoo was sort of a role-model for me (when I was like six) for what an independent, Magick-Working adult Witch’s life might be like; she was (cranky and high-strung) nonetheless an avenue through which a sense of a Witch’s perspective began to seep into my impressionable brain.
A good way to introduce Pagan kids to various Pagan-themes such as the Journey to a Magick Place and the understanding that all Things, such as animals and trees and the four Winds, have Life to them: HR Pufnstuf is available on Hulu.com; its opening (setting up the backstory of Jimmy and his Flute, and how Witchiepoo lured him to Living Island, and how he meets Pufnstuf) is one of the more involved in the history of the television (it’s kind of remarkable how concise it manages to be in covering all this material). Check it out at YouTube; to get a handle on how winning and natural an actor Jack Wild was, check out the exuberant little jig that he breaks out into, at the end.