Monday, July 6, 2015

The Museum of Comfort TV Salutes: Freddy the Flute

Imagine a place where all of the instantly recognizable objects associated with classic television are on display. It doesn’t exist, so we’ll create it here, and pay tribute to many of our favorite Comfort TV things.

As with any museum, some exhibits are more popular with visitors than others. At the moment we’re seeing a lot of people coming in to check out the General Lee – not sure why.

Anyway, whenever I stop by I always pause to admire Joe Friday’s badge (best-looking shield in the country) and Emma Peel’s leather catsuits. But I won’t even waste a sideways glance on Freddy the Flute.

There, I said it. I hate Freddy the Flute, that little gold buzzkill on H.R. Pufnstuf

I grew up with the Sid & Marty Krofft shows and I love their remarkable puppetry and subversive sense of humor. But Pufnstuf, arguably their most successful creation, is the one I revisit the least – mostly because Freddy is so annoying.  

As a flute he was tolerable. He had a pleasant tone, and could play without someone blowing him, which I guess means he was able to finger himself. How's that for a sentence that doesn’t belong in a G-rated blog?

The trouble was that Freddy, like everything else on Living Island, could also talk. His voice was provided by Joan Gerber, but his squealing, high-pitched voice will remind most viewers of Mr. Bill, the oft-abused clay figure who appeared in several filmed shorts during the early days of Saturday Night Live.  

And just like Mr. Bill, Freddy was vulnerable to all manner of trouble. That resulted in non-stop whining every time he was captured by Witchiepoo, and constant cries of “Help! Help!” “Jimmy! Save Me!” and “Please let me go!” It should surprise no one that my favorite Pufnstuf episode is “Flute, Book and Candle,” in which Freddy fell into an evil mushroom patch and was turned into a mushroom. Because it finally forced him to shut up.

The crux of the problem is that I know I am supposed to be cheering for Jimmy and Freddy to escape the evil clutches of the witch. But I can’t. I root for Witchiepoo. Because Witchiepoo was a riot.

Let’s also remember that, as we learned from the show’s theme song, Freddy is the one responsible for Jimmy getting stuck on Living Island in the first place (“But the boat belonged to a kooky old witch, who had in mind the flute to snitch”). I recognize that can be interpreted as blaming the victim, but I can’t help it. H.R. Pufnstuf inverts my perception of right and wrong. Even Jimmy gets on my nerves sometimes. His best friend is a flute? Freud would have a ball with that one. 

Am I alone in my Freddy hate? Kellogg’s Cereal thought enough of him to offer a home version in 1970, complete with a movable mouth. These plastic Freddys were made in my hometown of Skokie, Illinois by the Toy Development Co. and came with a long sheet of assembly instructions that probably resulted in a lot of frustration-induced breakage. That may be why they go for so much money today. 

As for the original, it remained in the Krofft warehouse for decades. It was stolen in 1995, but after Marty Krofft offered a $10,000 reward for Freddy's safe return, the flute was dropped off anonymously at a Los Angeles television station. The reward was never claimed.

Now he’s here at the Museum. Sometimes we leave the display case open, in case Witchiepoo wants to make another attempt at flute-napping. Don’t tell Marty. 

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