BOOTLEG FILES 508: “Fol-de-Rol” (a 1972 TV special created by Sid and Marty Krofft).
LAST SEEN: An unauthorized posting is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Problems with music clearance rights are probably holding this out of circulation.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely, at least for now.
I just received the latest copy of the always sublime magazine Shock Cinema, and while thumbing through its pages I came upon a write-up of a production that I never heard about: a 1972 TV special produced by Sid and Marty Krofft called “Fol-de-Rol.”
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Kroffts were responsible for changing the kiddie TV landscape with a number of wacky programs including “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “The Bugaloos,” “Lidsville,” “Sigmund and the Sea Monster” and “Land of the Lost.” The Kroffts also designed the character costumes and the psychedelic sets for the Hanna-Barbera classic series “The Banana Splits.” I was a kid when these shows were first-run, and the Kroffts’ work had a profound impact on my appreciation of popular culture.
But that’s not to say that everything touched by the Kroffts turned to gold. In 1972, the creative siblings had the opportunity to break into primetime television with a variety special. For their first venture before a grown-up audience, the Kroffts decided to offer “Fol-del-Rol,” a Renaissance-inspired puppet show they staged during HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio, Texas. But rather than present the original version of “Fol-de-Rol,” the Kroffts opted to change their material to accommodate an all-star cast of shtick-waving comics and popular singers. And that’s where things went haywire.
“Fol-de-Rol” opens with a mime in Renaissance-era clothing (a young Robert Shields) trying to fly a kite. After the opening credits, Ricky Nelson appears as a minstrel who wanders through a country fair while strumming a mandolin and singing his pop tune “Life” with new lyrics specifically designed for this show.
At this point, things slowly begin to fray. The Kroffts’ weird-looking puppets and anthropomorphic costumed creatures intermingle with such human characters as the Baron (Guy Marks) and the Town Crier (Milt Kamen), who are dressed in medieval finery but sound like Borscht Belt comics. These men inform the gathered crowd that the Queen (old-time movie star Ann Sothern) has arrived to open the “pleasure fair.”
Although “Fol-de-Rol” has no specific plot – it is mostly a skein of unconnected skits and variety numbers – there is a mild story thread about a young couple debating marriage. The couple seeks out the advice of the “Mother Superior” (played by the zaftig comic Totie Fields), but she seems more interested in ogling the hunky young men at the fair.
From here, there is an extended argument between the local dungeon master/executioner (played by Mickey Rooney) and his nerdy son (Danny Goldman). The son finds his father in the midst of torturing a hapless prisoner locked in stocks – the father complains about his son’s presence by stating, “How many times do I tell you not to bother me at the office?” The crux of the scene involves the son refusing to join his father’s line of business, preferring instead to join Robin Hood’s band and become a “social worker.” A haphazard laugh track is used to remind the audience that the scene is meant to be funny.
Next up is a quartet of black nuns (The Willis Sisters), who do a cover of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” with the help of the Krofft puppets. And, yes, there is a singing bullfrog that recalls the wine-drinking Jeremiah of the classic tune.
The diminutive Billy Barty shows up as a mini-Leonardo who reacts in horror as his painting of the “Goddess of Love” comes to life in the guise of Totie Fields. “Oh, come, reap your reward!” she shrieks as Barty tries to scamper away from her amorous clutches.
The singing nuns come back for a cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” which is interrupted by Howard Cosell as the host of a theatrical presentation of Noah and the flood. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen” Cosell intones, “this was the big one.” The Noah show involves actors wearing the Kroffts’ animal costumes, a bearded Rooney (doing an off-kilter impression of Red Buttons) as Noah and Fields as his cantankerous wife. She looks off-stage at her floating menagerie and yells, “I’m telling you for the last time – on the papers!” She then looks down at her bumbling husband and sneers, “Okay, stupid, can’t you do anything right?” The drama ends with a dove (actually, a man in a bird suit) bringing an olive branch to Noah, at which point the nuns reappear to sing “My Sweet Lord” again.
A brief interlude at a Punch and Judy show is followed by the Queen, the Baron and squadron of armor-clad knights engaged in something called the “Blind Man’s Bluff Minuet.” The dance ends with the knights smacking into each other and creating a metallic wreck.
After this, a giant caterpillar (another Krofft costume-creation) scatters around before the camera’s gaze turns blurry. When focus is recovered, a huge set of butterfly wings fills the stage while Cyd Charisse in a sparkling body suit dances to Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.” When that number has concluded, Peruvian vocalist Yma Sumac emerges to show off her four-octave range.
The young maiden considering marriage then seeks out a coven of witches (Fields, Charisse, Sumac and Lynne Thigpen) for a love potion. The Queen arrives and it turns out that she is the sister of the oldest witch – her claim to royalty was secure by kissing a frog that turned into a prince. The Queen and the witches do a musical dance number extolling the value of love – with Sumac falling out of her dance steps several times and bumping into her co-stars.
Ricky Nelson turns up again, this time doing a cover of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” while Robert Shields (in clown make-up) mimes the lyrics. The young couple decides to get married, and all of the denizens at the fair sing “Walk Him Up the Stairs” from the Broadway show “Purlie” – which is interesting, considering that song is about a funeral.
“Fol-de-Rol” was broadcast on ABC on February 28, 1972 as part of the network’s hodgepodge variety serving “The Monday Night Special.” However, the show performed dismally in the ratings and the reviews were negative; Variety harshly ruled that the Kroffts “laid an egg” with their offering. Despite the poor response, the Kroffts quickly put “Fol-de-Rol” behind them and successfully embarked on a number of primetimes specials and series, most notably “Donnie and Marie.”
But perhaps they left “Fol-de-Rol” too far behind. The production was never rebroadcast and, to date, there has not been any commercial home entertainment release. One can easily assume the costs of clearing the music rights to the classic tunes in the show are too expensive to pursue, especially for a program that was widely dismissed as a flop.
While “Fol-de-Rol” is certainly not the Kroffts at their best, it has a weird and cheesy charm that permeated many of the variety shows created during the early 1970s. A washed-out print of the production can be found on YouTube, and those who are enamored of the Kroffts’ beloved kiddie programs should seek it out – if only to realize that even the great Sid and Marty Krofft were capable of missing the psychedelic bulls-eye.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!