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Witchiepoo made me gay! The DVD reissue of a Gen X classic reminds us how very queer H.R. Pufnstuf always was.

H.R. Pufnstuf--The Complete Series Starring Jack Wild and Billie Hayes * Rhino Home Video * $39.95

"When those other hags see you, they'll eat their hearts out!" It sounds like a line that Karen might cackle to her boobs on Will & Grace, but it isn't. It's Witchiepoo crowing to a talking flute on H.R. Pufnstuf. The year was 1969, the episode was "Show Biz Witch," and if you were gay--whether you knew it or not--you howled and filed it away under "Good Lines to Use When I'm Grown."

A kiddie comedy about a Cockney boy and his fluent fife shipwrecked on an island where everything talks and the mayor is a drawling dragon in cowboy boots, H.R. Pufnstuf was so weird, it makes Pee-wee's Playhouse seem like reality television. The first Saturday morning show created by puppeteers-turned-producers Sid and Marty Krofft, the series was full of twisted ideas rendered in psychedelic colors: a sequined singing frog named Judy; a faggy little vulture who shouted, "Oh, evil queen!" to his pointy-hatted mistress; the magic flute going limp when it lost its power. Each week it was like Wigstock meets a Radical Faeries love-in with a smidgen of the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, all experienced on ecstasy. No wonder we loved visiting Living Island--it felt like home.

All 17 episodes of this seminal '70s series have just been released in a three-DVD boxed set from Rhino Home Video. (The World of Sid & Marty Krofft, a retrospective sampling of their entire oeuvre from The Bugaloos to Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, was released on DVD in 2002.) Among the extras is an interview in which Puf Daddy Marty Krofft denies that the show is peppered with drug references but admits that it was a product of the across-the-board experimentalism of the age.

"All kinds of weirdos, wackos, whatever, were involved with us," he confides. "But they were all talented." No doubt that among this capable crew there were a few "freaky fruitcakes," to borrow a Witchiepoo-ism, which may be one of the reasons we love this series so. The shows are steeped in a countercultural sensibility--and certainly in the year of the Stonewall uprising, being "fabulous" was a colorful part of that.

Like so many of our favorite gay men, H.R. Pufnstuf is in love with show business itself. Each episode included a song-and-dance number by series star Jack Wild, who in those days was fresh off his Oscar-nominated screen triumph as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! The shtick was vaudevillian, and the stories rarely strayed from the theme of being lost but finding comfort in your friends. Central to the Kroffts' later work--particularly Lidsville and Land of the Lost--it's a feeling with which all kids, especially gay ones, can identify.

In the DVD interview, Sid Krofft recounts that Time magazine likened Pufnstuf to that other great "I want to go home" adventure in calling the show "The Wizard of Oz of the '70s." That may be overstating it a bit, but for those of us who were there the first time Witchiepoo (hilariously played by Broadway actress Billie Hayes) mounted her Vroom Broom, H.R. Pufnstuf reminds us why we became Krofft fans 35 years ago and never strayed. It speaks to the drag queen in all of us and reminds us that "Oranges Poranges"--the rock song performed by Witchiepoo, the original riot grrrl--are not the only fruit.

DeCaro is the host of The Frank DeCaro Show, weeknights on Sirius/OutQ radio.
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Author:DeCaro, Frank
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Mar 16, 2004
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