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Marty Krofft, who changed children's TV with 'H.R. Pufnstuf,' dies at 86

Producer Marty Krofft arrives at the premiere of "Land of the Lost," at Gramuan's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on May 30, 2009. Krofft, one of the producing pair that put "H.R. Pufnstuf" and the Osmonds on TV, has died at 86.
Reed Saxon
/
AP
Producer Marty Krofft arrives at the premiere of "Land of the Lost," at Gramuan's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on May 30, 2009. Krofft, one of the producing pair that put "H.R. Pufnstuf" and the Osmonds on TV, has died at 86.

NEW YORK — Marty Krofft, a TV producer known for imaginative children's shows such as "H.R. Pufnstuf" and primetime hits including "Donny & Marie" in the 1970s, has died in Los Angeles, his publicist said. Krofft was 86.

He died Saturday of kidney failure, publicist Harlan Boll said.

Krofft and his brother Sid were puppeteers who broke into television and ended up getting stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Along the way, they brought a trippy sensibility to children's TV and brought singling siblings Donny and Marie Osmond and Barbara Mandrell and her sisters to primetime.

The Osmonds' clean-cut variety show, featuring television's youngest-ever hosts at the time, became a lasting piece of '70s cultural memorabilia, rebooted as a daytime talk show in the 1990s and a Broadway Christmas show in 2010. The Kroffts followed up with "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters," centered on the country music star; it ran from 1980-82.

Like the Osmonds, "H.R. Pufnstuf" proved to have pop culture staying power. Despite totaling just 17 episodes, the surreal show, featuring an island, a witch, a talking flute, a shipwrecked boy and a redheaded, cowboy boot-wearing dragon, came in 27th in a 2007 TV Guide poll ranking of all-time cult favorites.

More than 45 years after the show's 1969 debut, the title character graced an episode of another Krofft brothers success, "Mutt & Stuff," which ran for multiple seasons on Nickelodeon.

"To make another hit at this time in our lives, I've got to give ourselves a pat on the back," Marty Krofft told The Associated Press ahead of the episode's taping in 2015.

Even then, he was still contending with another of the enduring features of "H.R. Pufnstuf" — speculation that it, well, betokened a certain '60s commitment to altering consciousness. Krofft rebuffed that notion: "If we did the drugs everybody thought we did, we'd be dead today," he said, adding, "You cannot work stoned."

Born in Montreal on April 9, 1937, Krofft got into entertainment via puppetry. He and his brother Sid put together a risqué, cabaret-inspired puppet show called "Les Poupées de Paris" in 1960, and its traveling success led to jobs creating puppet shows for amusement parks. The Kroffts eventually opened their own, the short-lived World of Sid & Marty Krofft, in Atlanta in the 1970s.

They first made their mark in television with "H.R. Pufnstuf," which spawned the 1970 feature film "Pufnstuf." Many more shows for various audiences followed, including "Land of the Lost"; "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl"; "Pryor's Place," with comedian Richard Pryor; and "D.C. Follies," in which puppets gave a satirical take on politics and the news.

The pair were honored with a Daytime Emmy for lifetime achievement in 2018. They got their Walk of Fame star two years later.

Sid Krofft said on Instagram that he was heartbroken by his younger brother's death, telling fans, "All of you meant the world to him."

While other producers might have contented themselves with their achievements far earlier, Marty Krofft indicated to The AP in 2015 that he no had interest in stepping back from show business.

"What am I gonna do — retire and watch daytime television and be dead in a month?" he asked.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press