Tomorrow will feature another Character Profile from the World of Rowan Blaize (check out yesterday’s profile of Aunt Ariadne) but today we’re taking another voyage into the razzle-dazzle of CHILDREN’S TV ON-THE-CHEAP! Oh what fun it shall be.
HAZMAT-RETRO HALL OF FAME (CHILDREN’S TV ON-THE-CHEAP) by JONATHAN KIERAN
TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (NBC 1973-75, Original Run)
GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Sid and Marty Krofft (producers), Johnny Whittaker (“Johnny”), Rip Taylor (“Sheldon”)
(HARDLY) RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Wow. If you were unlucky enough to be born after the 1980s, when fabulous rerun-blasts of artistic genius like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters radiated out of Saturday morning TV sets to teach your brain the true meaning of Wonder and Awe, then I pity your emaciated soul.
I absolutely understand the importance of any cinematographer working feverishly to stay within a certain budget. You know, getting “creative” with set-design in order to cut costs here, trim a bit of production fat there. But if anybody on earth could apparently bag a 25-minute kids’ show on a major network for under twenty bucks an episode, it had to be the thrifty team of Sid and Marty Krofft. Give those boys a can of spray paint, a wedge of foam rubber yanked from the seat-cushion of a Nash Rambler, six or seven plastic ficus-tree leaves and a box of shredded newspapers, and Sid & Marty would give you an EXTRAVAGANZA.
Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was perhaps the most successful, if not the most well-known of the Krofft Brothers’ forays into children’s programming. Unlike on-the-tat classics H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, and the Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters actually ran for two entire seasons. I guess NBC figured it could afford to spend the extra $350. Lord, I would love to have seen the catering-table on that set. Saltines and Tang. No wonder Johnny Whittaker was such a skinny, anemic-looking child who burst into songs that could only have been triggered by the delirium of hunger.
The premise of Sigmund was as weird as it gets. Johnny and Scott Stuart are two brothers who discover and befriend a sea monster named “Sigmund” who has been thrown out of the family cave by uncaring parents because he is too timid to frighten humans. Considering that Sigmund looked like an overused green exfoliating-glove you might find in any old lady’s shower, I think the sea monster parents were being a trifle harsh on their offspring. But the creepy motif of neglectful parenting was not limited to sea beasts on this show. Oh no. Johnny and Scott themselves were evidently abandoned by their parents in the care of a dominating, suspicious killjoy-of-a-housekeeper named “Zelda.” To be sure, it was explained that Mom and Dad Stuart were merely on vacation. Mom and Dad, however, never returned and were never seen for two whole years. That’s some “vacation.” The boys didn’t even get a lousy phone call from their folks throughout the duration of the show and, believe me, I watched that program like a hawk, waiting for those parents to “touch base” and throw-down some severe disciplinary threats upon their out-of-control twosome. I don’t even think there was a phone on the Sigmund set. NBC wouldn’t cough-up the shekels for a prop. Even Zelda the housekeeper jumped-ship after Season One to be replaced by an even more merciless harridan named “Gertrude.” Who HIRED GERTRUDE? The parents? How? By carrier pigeon? I lay awake at night worrying about these things so you don’t have to.
Anyhow, every single one of these enthralling episodes revolved around Sigmund’s bumbling inability to stay out-of-sight and hidden in the Stuart brothers’ clubhouse. He was always escaping and I don’t blame him: who knows what sick, twisted things those two kids were doing to him in there? They were probably exfoliating each other with his tentacles or something. Invariably, Sigmund would get caught in some snafu after breaking out of Club Perversion and Johnny and Scott would have to think mighty fast on their feet to keep Sigmund away from the prying eyes of Zelda (or Gertrude) and the fiendish plots of Sigmund’s psychotic brothers, Slurp and Blurp. It was harrowing stuff. By the end of every episode, Johnny and Scott would manage to get Sigmund safely back into the clubhouse to await God-only-knows-what horrors they had in store for him, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the boys could continue to keep their dirty little secret.
As a child of six, I would pretty much buy into anything peddled on Saturday morning TV as long as it was remotely ludicrous, featured a goofy monster of some sort and was sponsored by the most tooth-rotting Sugar Death cereals in Kellogg’s repertoire, but even I had to balk when the Sigmund producers had the questionable judgment to introduce none other than Rip Taylor as a mincing, prancing, green leotard-wearing, giggling, glitter-bombing “sea genie” in Season Two. Sheldon the Sea Genie made his home in a conch and was even accompanied by a preschool-aged “nephew genie” named Shelby.
Rip Taylor and a five year-old boy living together in a pearly-pink seashell? I don’t think so.
One of the most ironic things about the Sigmund program was that most of the set was destroyed in a fire at the end of Season One and the Krofft brothers were reportedly forced to work with “minimal sets” for the remainder of the run. “Minimal sets” … ? What? How in the hell did they describe that set before the fire? Did they think it was decked out like an Esther Williams MGM Technicolor classic or something? I have to admit: we loved and cherished everything the Krofft Brothers scissored-out and Elmer-glued together, including Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, but this particular show confounded our household. Maybe Sid & Marty were trying to tap into some sort of mid-’70s strung-out zeitgeist with the dysfunctional themes of sea monster abuse (environmental degradation?), shamefully unsupervised minors (the breakdown of the American family?) and Rip Taylor in sea-genie drag (gays “coming out” of their … shells?), but my guess is that they were maybe just chooming some really fabulous stuff, back in the day. Long live the Krofft Brothers, wherever they are. It wouldn’t have been a proper Saturday Morning parked in front of the tube in your jammies without them.
DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “Get out there and scare a human!”
BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: Without question, Sid and Marty Krofft were great (after their own fashion) as producers and creative forces in children’s television programming, but this show was touched by the presence of other legends, as well. The magnificent Billy Barty occupied the Sigmund “costume” and Margaret Hamilton, the Wickedest Witch in All of Cinematic History, made a few guest appearances as the boys’ neighbor, Mrs. Eldels.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Johnny Whittaker, well-known for a number of roles as an American child star (including his participation in the classic Family Affair TV series) is now supposedly a certified drug and addiction counselor.
EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: Let Johnny Whittaker bring back the innocence as you listen to his adenoids regale you with the theme song and video intro for Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Escape the Imminent Collapse of Civilization, Friends, if Only for a Few Hours. Get acquainted with the comparatively sane world of Rowan Blaize …
One witty 2,800 year-old warlock. A suspicious storm that hurls him to earth near London. A goddess who wants to destroy the world. The catch? She needs Rowan’s face. REMOVED.
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