Originally, puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft were supposed to come to Washington this week for the conclusion of a three-week lecture series at the Smithsonian that was to include cartoonist Pat Oliphant and Muppeteer Jim Henson. But when Henson died suddenly last month, the Krofft brothers decided to turn their lecture into a tribute to Henson, so they're bringing a truckload of their puppets for a full-blown production called "D.C. Follies Storms Washington."
"Follies" -- a political spoof featuring puppets based on famous personalities, such as Jack Nicholson, Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle and Sam Donaldson -- is best known from its weekly syndicated television show. "President Reagan called us right before he left office," says Sid Krofft, "and said he watched it all the time and loved it."
Krofft started out in the last years of vaudeville. "I was billed as the world's youngest puppeteer!" he says with a touch of pride in his voice. At 14 he was working under the big top of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (This part of his life was re-created in the NBC television movie "Sideshow" a few years ago.)
In the '50s he went off to Europe, and in Paris he began a puppet show strictly for adults called "Les Poupe'es de Paris." "It was like the Folies-Bergeres," says Krofft, "and I said, 'You have to be 21 to get in!' "
When he returned from Europe he hired his brother Marty as an assistant and toured as Judy Garland's opening act for almost two years. "I opened for her at her first show in Las Vegas," he recalls, "and played the Metropolitan Opera with her. Oh, the stories I have about her. I was the only one traveling with her all that time. I'm sure you can imagine. She was quite a lady."
But perhaps the Krofft brothers are best known for creating several popular Saturday morning television shows in the early '70s -- "H.R. Pufnstuf," "The Bugaloos," "Lidsville" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monster" -- and producing the musical variety shows for Donny and Marie Osmond and Barbara Mandrell.
About 10 years ago, they came up with the idea for the "Follies." The puppets would be faces in the news and the material would be a twisted social and political commentary. It was supposed to be a live production filmed on Fridays. "But, about then, the 'Barbara Mandrell Show' came up, so we pushed it back," says Sid Krofft.
In 1987 the "Follies" were brought to life as a taped television show. The live puppetry was put on hold. Until now.
"The D.C. Follies Storms Washington" tomorrow night at 6:30 and 8 in the Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium. Tickets are $12 for Resident Associate Program members and $15 for non-members. For information call 357-3030.