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The Backstory of Lidsville

Yes, on September 11, 1971 (whatta date!), the brothers Krofft premiered their legendary, whacked-out kiddie show, "Lidsville." The original Eddie Munster, Butch Patrick, played the aforementioned Mark, a
nosy boy who fell into a magician's hat and wound up stranded in a world full of Hat-People. The nemesis of the Hat People was The Great Horatio J. Hoo Doo, a manic, green-faced wizard who was campily portrayed by stage legend (and "Match Game" star) Charles Nelson Reilly. Starring as the bumbling, somewhat asexual Genie who escapes Hoo Doo's clutches and winds up serving Mark was none other than Billie Hayes, who'd made a splash a few years earlier as the wise-cackling Witchipoo, the villain in "H.R. Pufnstuf." The seventeen episodes revolved around Mark's attempts to return to the real world as Hoo Doo made life miserable for him and the good hat people.

There were lots of things getting in the way of it being a really good show.  Basically the series is a retread of "H.R. Pufnstuf."  A young boy is whisked off to a magical land that's inhabited by strange creatures and has to square off with a cantankerous magician (and for the record, Sid Krofft admits to being influenced by L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll).  However, where that series had a fun-frenzied set, the shooting of "Lidsville" was miserable.  "I hated it, I hated it, I hated it," Butch Patrick later recalled.  "I hated every day I went to work." 

The show was conceived by Sid Krofft, who had a huge hat collection.  He suddenly wondered, what if all of these hats were alive and had different personalities?  The result was "Lidsville."  Unfortunately, Sid didn't entirely think things through.  Because this land was populated entirely by hat people, they had to make all of the costumes from scratch, rather than recycle ones from previous series and theme park productions.  There went part of the production cost.  He didn't anticipate the ridiculous network notes, such as the one that demanded helmet-headed Mother Wheels wear a motorcycle helmet when she drives.  Nor did he know that they were going to be unhappy stars, goof-ups galore and hoards of little people running around.  17 episodes were filmed in 11 weeks.  Scripts for every episode were written in advance, so the actors would show up at, say, Hoo-Doo's hat-home and shoot every scene from every episode that was set there.  Although this was more practical for the editor, it was more difficult for the actors to determine what part of any given story that they were supposed to be playing.

It was rumored that Jack Wild's titular co-star from Oliver!, Mark Lester, would be taking the starring role in the series, but ultimately it went to a then-18-year-old Patrick.  Patrick turned them down three times before finally relenting -- he only took the job because he figured the show meant a couple months work, a tidy paycheck, and nobody would ever see it since it was buried on Saturday mornings.  But with "Pufnstuf" and "The Bugaloos" in reruns, the Kroffts were hitting the pique of their popularity.  It seems to have just been teenage mentality because in later years, Patrick recalled the show fondly, saying, "I wish I had appreciated the experience then like I do now." 

Seeing episodes of the show today, it looks like Charles Nelson Reilly was having the time of his life devouring the scenery. And clearly he was once the cameras were rolling and he got into character. However, when he signed onto the show, he was told that he'd only be wearing light makeup.  By the time they got him in costume, he was under contract.  "The outfit is all wool on wool on wool," Reilly said.  "Three layers of wool in the heat and you can't breathe with a green face 'cause it covers all your pores, and it gets hotter as the day gets longer, so it's like a wax mask.  If it came in white, I could do The Phantom of the Opera," he joked.  "It was the head. The head was so hot, and the hair -- it's like a torture device.... It's kind of like one green blur-with-itchy-hair memory."  Despite Reilly's discomfort, he loved the character.  "I always wanted them to call me The Great Hoo-Doo, not just Hoo-Doo.  The Great Hoo-Doo!"

That's Sharon Baird's face peeking out of Raunchy Rabbit's mouth!

Since the series featured short little hat people instead of tall dragons, owls, lions and trees like their previous shows, The Hermione Midget troupe were brought in to fill the roles.  Although the seasoned, suited Krofft actors mostly stuck to playing the same characters, nobody knew for certain which hat they'd be playing until they arrived, the result of so many characters being on screen at the same time.  Which isn't an especially good thing when you're under studio lights smothered in foam and they can't turn on the air conditioning because it will ruin the sound.  And speaking of the sound...

Unlike on previous series where the costumed actors spoke their lines on-set and were dubbed later, someone had the brilliant idea to bring the voice artists to the set and have them record the lines live.  This was another source of confusion for the actors, as there were so many hat-people that it was difficult to know which character was supposed to be speaking.  There's numerous times throughout the show when Patrick is dazed trying to determine which hat he's supposed to be looking at.

Just like "Pufnstuf," "Lidsville" has come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons. By the time the Kroffts' third series hit the air, they'd discovered that they'd gained a reputation with viewers older than their target demographic, and it's reflected in the writing. Matter of fact, although it was very innocent (and would fly over the heads of youngsters), they even managed to slip in a pretty dirty joke about the Little Old Lady Who Lived in the Shoe and her sex life during a song crooned by Hoo Doo and crossover guest Witchipoo.

The titular "Lid" is an old slang term for a hat, but by the '70s the word "Lid" had taken on an entirely new meaning, namely as slang for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana. The title coupled with the completely off the wall premise (living hat people) and trademark, kitschy, colorful designs of Sid and Marty Krofft shows, resulted in the show now being looked upon as a kiddie acid trip. And perhaps rightly so, though the Krofft brothers vehemently deny the use of any mind altering substances by themselves or the crew. Butch Patrick, however, later claimed that he'd smelled a very distinctive odor wafting from Sid's office...

The show lasted 17 episodes, though that wasn't quite the end.  Hoo-Doo returned in September of 1972 to host the Saturday morning preview show with the kids from "The Brady Bunch" (which foreshadows the Kroffts later "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour").  Gone was Charles Nelson Reilly, and in his place an actor named Paul Gale.  Gale reprised the role in "The World of Sid and Marty Krofft at the Hollywood Bowl," and continued to portray Hoo-Doo in various other productions until at least 1978, when the character was featured (alongside Witchiepoo herself) on the regular "Horror Hotel" segment of "The Krofft Superstar Hour with The Bay City Rollers."

"Lidsville" aired in reruns on the networks for a few years, garnered a few home video releases, popped up on cable TV, spawned a few pieces of merchandise (lunch box, coloring books, Halloween costumes), and it's now being remade as a CGI film, currently slated for release in 2015.