Puppeteers (bottom to top) Gary Griswell, Richard Wilson, and Scott Anthony play a frenzy of strings in the exquisitely-equipped Lidsville marionette theatre in 1976, where no expense was spared.

The well-concealed centerpiece of Atlanta's World of Sid & Marty was Krofft's specialty:  a half-hour musical marionette revue performed ten times a day in the 1000-seat Lidsville Theatre (arrow below).  Located on the mezzanine beneath the Pin Ball ride, Lidsville was the final stopping point along the visitor's guided descension, in a theme park which started at the top and opened for business on Monday, May 26, 1976.

"The world's largest indoor amusement park" was extremely difficult to describe because it was layered and as vague as the rendering below.  The World was intended to operate year round and compete with Six Flags over Georgia, which closed for three months each winter.  But visitors discovered that the whole park offered a mere four rides, while Six Flags offered a hundred -- out of doors-- which guaranteed the return business that Krofft never got.  The park shuttered for good after only six months.

Krofft's four rides included the unique but unreliable Pin Ball; the Crystal Carousel on air casters, too heavy for the building; the subterranean Living Island Adventure; and the world's tallest escalator, being installed below.  Six Flags' roller coaster was ten feet taller than all of Krofft.

Another problem was the advertising.  The inaugural logo (left) showed neither rides nor puppets, but what appeared to be mimes.  whom many people violently dislike.  A similarly ambiguous ad (and the Krofft's last) ran in September when discounts were first offered.  

By 1976 when the Atlanta park opened, the Kroffts were big time, with a Warhol-like puppet "factory" in LA feeding children's television and Krofft special marionette theatres in several theme parks, for eight seasons at Six Flags Atlanta.  They supplied the puppeteers as well, judging from this May 1967 want ad.  Krofft puppeteers were an elite, bonded together by long hours, close proximity, and passion.   They were young, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-six.

Sid Krofft, the creative brother, had started in vaudeville in the 1940's as a teenage "marionetteer," and by the time he was twenty, featured on Broadway as a puppeteer who also skated.

Sid Krofft claimed he was discovered by Jack Benny who put him on Shower of Stars, while Liberace claimed he'd discovered Sid in Paris, at the Lido.  Neither were among the stars the night in 1961 when Sid hit it big with a French show, creating the first sexually attractive marionettes for "Les Poupees de Paris."  From the Los Angeles Valley Times:

"Poupees" was the first Krofft musical revue, tracked to an original score recorded by Hollywood stars, and an LP was also available.

The show was so successful that the Kroffts opened other units, including the 1964 New York World's Fair, their theatre shown below.  Van Snowden, one of the puppeteers (inset), would direct the marionette show in Atlanta.  Also listed is Felix Silla, the "stringless wonder" who went on to fame as Cousin It, and John McAnistan who would later become lead puppeteer at Krofft's Six Flags-Atlanta theatre.

Child actor Jack Wild (left) was the prototype for the Krofft "lost boy" among walkabout Krofft puppetsstarring in their first and successful entry into television, "Pufnstuf" (1969)  and the film version (1970).  The logo (right) was already in use when the Atlanta park opened, but not to describe an earth-bound facility.

The show's title role was walkabout H.R. Pufnstuf (below right), "a puppet without strings" played for the run by Van Snowden, perhaps rewarded by the directing gig in Atlanta.

Scenery, costumes and puppets were designed by accomplished Los Angeles scenic designer Jeremy Railton.

The Atlanta show was audio-tracked at 15 i.p.s. in quadraphonic and double-rolled for safety.  To hear a portion of the pounding pre-show music, click here.  Below, the console of the second memory lighting board ever installed in Atlanta, a Van Buren with forty-eight Hub dimmers and backstage plug type patch panel.  The lighting plot was heavy on the front and sides, but there were no overhead electrics.

The Lidsville Theatre was a fully-equipped proscenium house on a one-half scale, with a thirty-foot-high flyloft packed with counterweighted scenery on six inch centers.  Three elaborate steel puppet bridges, teen feet above the deck, were each equipped with rows of borderlights on the underside.  

The 1977 Ohio's King's Island Krofft show, which included Atlanta alumni Gary Griswell and Mark Ashley, illustrates a similar stage where puppeteers bent to operate fifteen pound marionettes, some with thirty strings.

The Atlanta stage was also large enough to accommodate unstrung people, as shown below in a scene from David Sheppard's Manhattan Yellow Pages which occupied the theatre after Krofft folded, from September 1977 until December 1978.  The curved continuous bench seating was replaced with chairs and tables for four hundred, and the cabaret included what Sid & Marty lacked-- a bar.  The yet-to-be completed scenery was by Luis Maza.

The half-hour Atlanta Krofft show was a revue in seven scenes entitled "Celebration," billed as "a lavish Bicentennial musical extravaganza."  To paraphrase Sid Krofft, it had everything-- and more.  But because the show was never promoted as a theatrical attraction, it was never reviewed.  When the audience entered the house, this was the show drop they saw, one of the many hard pieces with fragile practical electrics.  The opening was rectangular, surrounded by chaser lights.

After the show drop flew out, a vertical elastic curtain was revealed through which party celebration puppets popped.  Puppeteer Danny Layson shows off  two such guests, as well as puppeteers Gary Griswell (left) and Jim Meeker (bottom).  While half the cast were plucked from the elite of Six Flags' casts, both Atlanta and Dallas, Danny Layson had come recommended to Krofft from Vince Anthony's Vagabond troupe.  Vince Anthony had puppeteered for the Kroffts at "Les Poupees" in New York. 

The second scene featured an Elton John marionette, which required two  operators, Danny Layson and Rod Shelnutt shown here.  Elton played the piano, then jumped on top of it.  The drop's system pipe (arrow) was level with the floor of the puppet bridge.

Large hands played the keys on the drop, and Elton's glasses lit up to spell his name in dazzling miniature lamps.  A five pound 12 volt emergency light battery was contained within the puppet, and the effect was switched via two marionette strings.

The Krofft stages were standardized to accept drops sized 9'-6" x 28'.   The piano keys were separately rear-illuminated, the circuit numbers designated on the upper drawing.

On the side stage, nineteen year-old lead puppeteer Tommy Fountain manipulates Stevie Wunder (not shown) while on stage right David Bowie vied for attention.   From age ten, Tommy was a Krofft groupie, and he knew each summer's Six Flags Krofft show by heart.  At age sixteen, he was hired there as an usher, but promoted mid-season to emergency replacement board op, and the next summer (1974) he attained the coveted rank of Krofft puppeteer.  He was also a top-notch figure skater.

At the tag of the scene, Mick Jagger rose up on the orchestra pit elevator, like a miniature Fox Theatre.

Of all the tasks the puppeteers were required to perform, operating the Mick Jagger hand and rod puppet from beneath the active pit elevator was the most perilous.  On the left, Pete Richard, Tommy Fountain and Rod Shelnutt, and at a different performance (right) Pete Richard, Richard Wilson, and Patty Grant.

The third scene was Beauty and the Beast on ice, the prima marionette appropriately operated by Robyn Ice, below.  "It was my very first puppeteer job, and I was excited to be there every single day."  To climax her ballet, symbolic fountains arose on the magically transformed orchestra lift.  "No one who wasn't there had a clue about what we did." 

For the fourth number, Jaws ("horror"), the full stage was lit entirely in blacklight while puppeteers held phosphorescent fish puppets and danced in the dark, a remarkable choreography visible only under worklight.  Puppeteer Gary Griswell (disguised as a normal person) bravely rescued a stuffed damsel when Jaws swam her out into the auditorium.

The fifth scene was Popcorn (click here for the music track) which played down of the upstage elastic.  Below is Rod Shelnutt wearing white gloves which penetrated the drop and passed objects of food (pie, a string of wienies)  to Frankenstein (Ray Pierce) from which was constructed another monster:  Henry Kissinger.

Disco was the penultimate number, and (left to right) Gary Griswell, Richard Wilson and Scott Anthony manipulate the backup dancer Wiggets from the center bridge, while lead Tommy Fountain operated Vera, the tempestuous star, from downstage.  In the flies above can be seen several of the finale drops with practical electrics and some equipped with mechanical chasers.  

The drops were extremely heavy, but the company boasted a strong and sardonic flyman, Christopher Sheridan Hoar.  "Saturday Night Live" was new, and Chris invited fellow stoners to watch it at his house, in their abundance of free time after midnight.

Puppeteer Ray Pierce opened the entirely patriotic Finale as a tap dancing American Eagle.  Pierce was not only a puppeteer, but a professional dancer and a magician with the youthful energy required blissfully to perform a magic show upstairs during his fifteen minute break between shows in Lidsville. 

Ray (far left below) had been a child singer/dancer in Fort Worth and earned his Equity card at age thirteen.  He was one of four to come from the Dallas Six Flags cast (below) as well as stage manager Joe McAleavy, assistant stage manager Norman Scoggin, and puppeteer Paul.

At the star-spangled pinnacle, patriotic puppets bejeweled in a thousand tiny light bulbs comprised The Electric Flying Parade which ran on a motorized serpentine track above the audience.  In the foreground is Betsy Ross, more about later.

Simultaneous with the above, marionette Miss Georgia dropped through the ceiling, the latter manipulated from the attic above the auditorium by the kneeling Richard Wilson, below.  In honor of Miss Georgia, electric atomizers emitted the scent of peaches, which permeated the puppeteers more than the patrons.  To Richard's right is the connector strip for several of the beam lekos.

The auditorium ceiling attic contained a labyrinth of catwalks giving puppeteer access to the eleven puppet holes.

Puppeteer Patty Grant (below) is shown on the catwalk bridge, just downstage of the black Austrian main curtain.  Prior to Krofft, Patty had toured with New York's Nicolo Marionettes and Atlanta's Vagabond, and she was an actress to boot.  Her Krofft track included the post-finale curtain speech, where one night Betsy Ross caught on fire while in motion.  "There is no cause for alarm," announced the coolly professional Miss Grant, with sufficiently-coded dramatic expression to alert the crew backstage to a "Hey Rube" situation, in the jargon of carny trash.

Patty's courageous scheme worked, and Deus ex machina, hero Gary Griswell (below) whooshed Besty Ross with a fire extinguisher as she passed through the portal to her backstage port.  Gary was also a veteran, hired at Atlanta's Six Flags in 1973 as the youngest puppeteer in the entire Krofft company.  At his very first rehearsal, the seventeen-year-old natural was pegged by Sid Krofft as "the only one doing it right."  Gary was perfectly suited for this dark and climate-controlled secret cocoon within the World.

Unlike most of the fully-functional theatre equipment, the park rides were beset with disaster, so much so that the cast was once called upon to play the show fifteen times (instead of the usual ten a day) because all of the rides had failed.  Puppeteers were forbidden from "riding the rides" following an unfortunate incident (below) when the cast was trapped in the elevator down to the sub-basement.  Their Lidsville show was delayed until they were rescued from their own Living Island Adventure.  Note that the Lidsville stage was situated in the corner of the room.

The Carousel (below) was out of service for two months, jacked up six feet to allow the cement floor to be jack-hammered away to reveal a primary support column which had been pulled off center by the enormous weight of the air-castered machine.  To the left can be seen some of the 296 hanging anti-calliope cubes that were added by the Omni to deaden the sound of the amusement park.

Inside the Pin Ball ride during construction.  During the month-long rehearsal period, union labor was still in force, and the puppeteers had to hang the lights and scenery in secret at night.  From the park opening in late May, the cast played twenty-seven days straight without a day off.  "When we finally did get days off, I would go the park to hang out.  The park was really all I had to do," recalled Ray Pierce, who moved from Texas to Georgia for the job and never saw anything else.

Contrary to the psychedelic look of the park, a corporate mentality ruled the near three-hundred employees.  The many show folk on staff were shocked and amused to carry an identity card, puppeteer Laurie Pierce shown below.   The entry check point was on the sixth floor, an irritant to the Lidsville company who could not enter on their own third floor.  Puppeteers were not allowed to be seen by the public in their blacks.

Eventually, the cast of twelve puppeteers included three swings, so that each player had a day off, in a park open seven days.  The normal work week for the puppeteers was six days, seventy two hours.  Following each half-hour performance, they were allotted fifteen minutes for presetting, and for the remaining fifteen, the cast could "sit" (smoking was permitted in the Green Room) unless repairs were required.  From the upstage bridge, Danny Layson repairs the dressing on the system pipe supporting the twirling motors for the Iron Jaw Girls (Finale).  

At the end of a long day are Tommy Fountain in street clothes and Richard Wilson in regulation blacks.  Richard was hired from within park ranks, his other job playing the calliope on the upper Fantasy Fair.  

For his interview with Krofft talent head Mark Ashley, Richard recalls, "I walked in with a string puppet in front of me and had the puppet shake his hand, greet him, and introduce me."  The effervescent son-of-a-Pastor from Rome, Georgia got the job.

After Labor Day, the park switched to a five day week, so like real people, the cast got two days off.  One Wednesday they arrived to be handed their final check in a park that was suddenly silent.  In shock, they marched in unison with the other two hundred ex-employees over to the unemployment office, and said goodbye to one another.  The Puppeteers had given their final performance without knowing it.

For the dozen professional puppeteers required, Krofft recruited the best from their casts in other parks like the Atlanta and Dallas Six Flags.  The Atlanta cast, along with the stage crew, were paid directly by Krofft in California and substantially more than all other Krofft talent who were employed by the Atlanta-based operating company.  In addition they were granted free parking.  Tom Fountain, Jr. was the Lead Puppeteer in a cast which included Richard Wilson, Patty Grant, Robyn Ice, Gary Griswell, Pete Richard, Danny Layson, Rod Shelnutt, Ray Pierce, Laurie Pierce, Scott Anthony, Paul Isaacs, Jim Meeker, and Norman Scoggin, the ASM.  Joe McAleavey was the PSM, Chris Hoar was the flyman, and Bob Foreman was the electrician.  The World of Sid & Marty Krofft opened on May 26, 1976 and closed on November 7th, 1976.  Following the 1977-78 use of Lidsville as the Manhattan Yellow Pages, the park went dark for nine years.


Photographs graciously provided by Pete Richard, Richard Wilson, Robyn Ice, Ray Pierce, Paul Ford, and Laurie Pierce.  

Krofft drawings courtesy Ray Pierce.

Thanks to Lansure Music Paraphernalia for permission to use photographs.  Thanks to Liz Brock, Michael Zande, Ms. Leigh Buck, and R. Duncan Mackenzie.

This article is based largely on the recollections of Tommy Fountain, Richard Wilson, Patty Grant, Robyn Ice, Ray Pierce, and Gary Griswell.

The author

In Memorium
Van Snowden, director
Rod Shelnutt, puppeteer
Joe McAleavey, Production Stage Manager 
Norman Scoggin, Assistant Stage Manager
Chris Hoar, flyman

September 11, 2020