How Sid Krofft, at 92, became an Instagram Live star and why celebs ask to be on his show
LOS ANGELES — Sid Krofft is telling another story. This one is about the time Michael Jackson called him around 6 a.m. L.A. time on Sept. 11, 2001, as coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center engulfed all.
"He was crying, and he said, 'I was supposed to come back to L.A., but they've attacked us. It's like the world has come to an end,'" says Krofft, who created stages for the Jackson Five to perform on decades earlier. "We had become incredible friends. I went to Vegas with him, and we hung out a lot."
Krofft is best known through his collaborations with his brother Marty on TV shows like "Land of the Lost," "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour," "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour" and "H.R. Pufnstuf," whose 17 episodes from 1969 were a syndication staple through the 1970s and again in the '90s. The Beatles, Krofft says, were Pufnstuf fans. "Every time it came off the press, they wanted a copy. They wanted to be the first to have 'H.R. Pufnstuf' because they were locked in their hotel room."
The 92-year-old puppeteer's career and influence goes far beyond that TV-producing fame from the late 1960s through the early '70s. He worked in vaudeville, was a featured player with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and toured as the opening act for Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters and Cyd Charisse. In 1987 and 1988, the brothers produced the satirical "D.C. Follies," starring Fred Willard as a human bartender surrounded by puppet representations of real-life political figures. And from 2015 through 2017 they produced the Nick Jr. show "Mutt & Stuff," starring Calvin Millan, son of "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan, with a mix of real and puppet dogs. Throughout his 80-odd years of performing, Krofft has crossed paths with hundreds of celebrities, and it is from this wellspring of Hollywood experiences that his Instagram Live show "Sundays with Sid" draws its inspiration.
On the show, Krofft talks to an assortment of guests with no particular rhyme or reason. Paul Ruebens on being Pee Wee Herman? Check. Toni Basil? Yep. Dita Von Teese? Of course. He also watches (with his 17,000 followers) episodes from many of the shows he produced and often tells stories about events and people in his past that include brushes with well-known celebrities. But it took a little prodding from "Sundays" producer and director Kelly Killian to get him in front of the camera. When COVID-19 hit, Killian would often sit and listen to Krofft talk about the past, before television fame thrust him into a different spotlight.
"I did not grow up with 'Pufnstuf' and 'Land of the Lost.' The stuff I was hearing him talk about were real, living people," says Killian. "I just thought 'You can't not share this with the world.'"
Consider just a few of the stars he's encountered at what one magazine called "Sid's mad pad," the custom-built Los Angeles house he's lived in for decades. "Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell and David Crosby used to come up and sit in my front yard and play," Krofft says. "They'd come up with Mama Cass because there's an incredible view of the San Gabriel Mountains and the ocean on the other side. And they'd use my house to make their millions of dollars."
Krofft, who professes to once hating interviews but is now "OK with them because of the show," was not at all on board initially.
"[Kelly] said to me 'You've got to go on Instagram! The stories!' Nobody realizes there's 28 years before 'Pufnstuf' and all that," says Krofft. "I said to Kelly, 'Come on. I'm 91.'"
Killian says he was 90 at the time, and though they bicker like an old married couple, he reluctantly tried it out. What he found was that his penchant for storytelling helped him connect online like he had with audiences through his puppetry or through TV, and that many people remembered and revered him not only for his work but how it influenced them.
"You just don't know, after all these years, that the fans still hang out and they know all the songs and everything that you've done," says Krofft.
Those fans include many who are now stars in their own right. Just the other day, according to Krofft, Seth Rogen came to visit him. Why? Because he admired his work.
He says he didn't know most of the stars he's interacted with. "They searched me out! A few days ago, Anderson Cooper contacted me. I don't know Anderson. And Katie Couric. People are reaching out to me that I never knew. I wanted to, but I never met them. Half of the people that I have had on, they reached out to me. I'm floored over that."
The Oct. 3 episode of "Sundays" marked 75 Instagram shows. And there doesn't seem to be any sign he's stopping. And why would he? Fans — famous and not so famous — clamor for his attention and praise him every chance they get. While on Zoom for this interview, we were joined by Debbie Allen, David Copperfield and neighbor Beverly D'Angelo, guests on the 75th episode, along with Donny Osmond and Paul Reubens — each wanting to talk about a man they find inspirational.
Allen called in during a short break while directing an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" just to say how much she liked and admired Krofft.
"I met Sid when he called me to come up the mountain to that wonderful Hobbit palace that he lives in, which is filled with wood and crystals and goldfish and birds and all kinds of little animals. He makes the best cookies and juice, and he can seduce you into doing any damn thing. He called me, and I said yes before the hell I even knew it. His legacy is so amazing, and I look forward to doing something with him," says Allen, rushing off to direct a scene.
Copperfield, quoting Allen's Emmy speech from last month, yells out, "It's your turn, Debbie!"
After she signs off, Krofft gives his view of how they met — in a roundabout way. He and Marty had pitched MGM on doing a Black "Wizard of Oz," and it did not go well.
"They said, 'That's the worst idea we have ever, ever heard! Get out, you're wasting our time!' Two months later, I heard that it was going to be done on Broadway. I went to the opening night of ["The Wiz"], and Debbie Allen was there. I was too shy to go up to her. We've waved at each other now all throughout our careers."
It was just another chapter of Krofft's story. D'Angelo, who's known Krofft for 13 years since she moved into a nearby house that through the years belonged to Dan Aykroyd, Ringo Starr, Cass Elliot and Natalie Wood, speaks with Krofft often. For her, it wasn't a surprise that he began this Instagram journey because of his storytelling soul.
"With the Instagram, I just thought, 'Well, it's completely logical because Sid, even though he's 92, he still knows how to reach an audience.' It's a great platform for him to have what feels like a one-on-one with thousands of people; a one-on-one with every individual viewer, because that's where he really thrives," says D'Angelo, who credits him with bringing positivity into her life. "He taught me this principle that every day you get up, it's a beautiful day."
Copperfield, who has known Krofft for only about eight months as they work on an as-yet-unannounced-or-talked-about project, echoes D'Angelo's sentiments about Krofft's positive vibes.
"[Working with Sid] is a lift, you know. Everything's a lift; life is lifted. The house lifts you up, the raw fruit — and the thing tastes so good. I don't know how he finds it," says Copperfield. "It's not just going [to a farmers market], it's knowing what to pick and what to choose. It's curating. Sid Krofft has curated life in a very magical way."
With this phase of his "curated" life, Krofft has taken to not only telling a story but telling a story with purpose.
"When I first came on [Instagram], I said, 'You've never heard the stories about my life, and I want to share them with you because I don't know what your trip is and where you're going in life, but maybe you can use something,'" says Krofft.
"I'm reliving my life. That's what I'm doing right now. And it's just been the cherry on the cake for me."