Pufnstuf and Witchiepoo, too 

Tripping down memory lane to the wacky World of Sid & Marty Krofft

The guests at the gala opening of The World of Sid & Marty Krofft reads like the cast list of an episode for the "The Love Boat": Tony Orlando, Ernest Borgnine, Bob "Gilligan" Denver, Donny and Marie Osmond. The year was 1976, and it was an invitation-only launch party for the world's first indoor theme park, located in Atlanta's Omni International (now CNN Center). Ice skating champion Peggy Fleming glided across the ice rink on the atrium floor, now home to a food court and the set for CNN's "Talk Back Live." Crooner Kate Smith, accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, belted out "God Bless America." Men decked out in wide-collar tuxedos and women in cumbersome evening gowns gathered to hear Mayor Maynard Jackson's welcoming words. "It's the biggest premiere in Atlanta since Gone With The Wind," he proclaimed. Flashbulbs popped as press from around the world covered the event.

The park's multi-hued explosion of fantasy and entertainment was big news in Atlanta. A spectacular TV commercial beckoned visitors. Two full-page spreads detailing the park's layout ran in the Atlanta Journal. Excitement peaked on the heels of a national TV special about the park, which opened to the general public May 26, 1976. The next day, a photo in the Journal showed a giddy 7-year-old boy entering the park on opening day, jumping with excitement, balloons all around him.

"The thing about it, it was all new," says Golden Jet Travel Service owner Sal DePace, who was executive vice president of Omni International. "It had never been done before. Being in commercial real estate and development, [to work] on a multiuse complex that included an amusement park was something different."

The World of Sid & Marty Krofft turned out to be a short-lived dream. A myriad of problems left it shuttered less than six months after it opened. But downtown Atlanta is very different today than it was in 1976. Centennial Park and loft developments have brought new life to the area surrounding what was then Omni International. Plans are under way to build an aquarium and relocate The World of Coke museum there, and as CNN's presence continues to shrink in the CNN Center, one can't help wondering: Could Atlanta be ripe for a revival of The World of Sid & Marty Krofft?

Omni International was an oasis in an otherwise bleak, crime-ridden part of downtown in 1976. It was the brainchild of Maurice Alpert of Alpert Investment Corp. and Tom Cousins of Cousins Properties. They envisioned a multiuse development that would help revitalize the downtown area and lure consumers back to the city. The complex featured office towers, a plush hotel, upscale restaurants, high-end boutique shops, a six-screen movie theater and an ice-skating rink. Visitors dined at Bugatti and did the hustle at Mimi's disco restaurant. Then Alpert and Cousins decided to add an indoor amusement park to the mix, which would become the shining star of the complex.

Enter Sid and Marty Krofft.

The brothers Krofft were fifth-generation puppeteers. In 1959 they joined forces to create Les Poupees de Paris, a burlesque puppet show featuring topless marionettes. It had successful runs in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Seattle and New York. During its performance at the New York World's Fair in 1963, the brothers' act caught the eye of Angus Wynne, owner of the Six Flags amusement park chain. Four years later, Wynne brought the Kroffts to Atlanta to create a family puppet show for the park. Dubbed "Circus!" it was a $150,000 psychedelic puppet show popular with teenagers. "It was amazing," remembers Sid Krofft. "A huge flying saucer came out of the ceiling. Puppets came out of the wall."

Two years later, the Kroffts made their first foray into children's television programming. Their debut show, "H.R. Pufnstuf," meshed their puppetry roots with a palette of groovy colors. It followed the adventures of Jimmy (Oliver child star Jack Wild), a mop-topped lad with a talking flute coveted by the comically diabolical Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes). Stranded on the tripped-out wonderland of Living Island, Jimmy attempted to evade the witch with help from Mayor Pufnstuf, a friendly, rotund dragon. "Pufnstuf" was laced with humor, music and over-the-top live-action, offering an alternative to the typical Saturday morning cartoon fare.

Meanwhile, the Kroffts' association with Six Flags expanded. Pufnstuf and other Krofft creations were licensed to the park. The Krofft Factory in Los Angeles churned out installations and ride designs for the amusement park chain, including the Okeefenokee ride at the Atlanta park.

The Kroffts' brand of entertainment seemed like a perfect fit for Alpert and Cousins' vision of a family-friendly entertainment draw at Omni International. A deal was struck. Morgan Guaranty Trust and other big-time lenders financed the $14 million creation -- back when $14 million went a long way. The Kroffts' company designed and manufactured the rides, which were then shipped to Atlanta and placed into the park.


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