Skip to content

The Krofft Brothers at Hemisfair ’68

May 19, 2023

With 2023 being the fifty-fifth year since Hemisfair ’68, it is more than overdue to look into the involvement of two of the most famous puppeteers in modern history. When Hemisfair ’68 opened in San Antonio on April 6th, two puppet productions by Sid and Marty Krofft were included: Kaleidoscope in the Coca-Cola Pavilion and Les Poupées de Paris at the Lido Theatre. The all-ages Kaleidoscope was commissioned by Ralph Garrard, Vice President of Coca-Cola USA, exclusively for Hemisfair. The adults-only Les Poupées de Paris originally opened in the early 1960s and had already been a World’s Fair attraction at Seattle and New York in 1962 and 1964, respectively. R. Jay Casell Productions funded Les Poupées de Paris coming to Hemisfair ’68.


Coca-Cola signed on as a major Hemisfair ’68 exhibitor in May 1966 and paid $122,500 for the construction of a 17,500-square-foot Coca-Cola Company Pavilion. Local architect Philip Carrington was secured to design the pavilion. Carrington’s design consisted of:

A flat, drum shaped central structure containing the seating area of the theater, with a dominant slope-roofed structure to one side of the drum over the stage, and low sloping masses projecting from the remainder of the circumference, reflecting the ancillary spaces.

Phillip Carrington, Coca Cola Company Pavilion architect, letter to Eileen Doyle, July 28, 1967, San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, MS 31, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

The original concept for the Coca-Cola Pavilion was a cowboy exhibit. By May 1967, Garrard had the idea for “a family-type puppet show” (May 17, 1968 correspondence from James M. Gaines to John Daniels, San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, MS 31, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections). Puppeteer brothers Sid and Marty Krofft stepped up to the challenge and created the original all-ages show Kaleidoscope for the 500-seat theater.

The show was designed to keep with Hemisfair ’68’s theme of “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas”. Its costuming, presentation, and music emphasized a variety of American cultures and history, including:

  • Aztec, Toltec, and Maya costumes and dances
  • Mexican bullfighters
  • Simon Bolivar
  • Davy Crockett

The plot of Kaleidoscope was that at the beginning of time a hero was transformed into a dragon by a witch. He must stay this way until he is kissed by someone. Thousands of years later, he meets a famous girl who accompanies him on his search to find the witch. Ultimately, the hero is returned to his true form.

Kaleidoscope was a 25-minute show with a cast of more than 120 puppets. Puppets were made from plaster molds of a wood dough. Once dry, forms were painted and then sent to hair and makeup and wardrobe. Hair and makeup included the addition of plastic teeth, false eyelashes, and styled wigs. Some of the puppets stood up to twenty-two feet tall.

This massive production was performed twelve times a day for 184 days. After each show, puppeteers would “pull back the curtain” for the crowd. The audience was then invited backstage to see how the stage effects and puppets were operated.

Though Kaleidoscope was limited to its 6-month run at Hemisfair ’68, at least one part of this production has lived on via a later Krofft effort. The breakout star of Kaleidoscope was the dragon mascot puppet. After this production, the Kroffts pitched a TV show based on the character to Larry White at NBC. For a name Sid and Marty ultimately landed on Pufnstuf, which was inspired by the Peter, Paul, and Mary song “Puff the Magic Dragon”. They then added H.R., which is the initials for “royal highness” reversed. Less than a year after Kaleidoscope closed, H.R. Pufnstuf premiered on September 6, 1969 on NBC.

Les Poupées de Paris

“If the girls in this spicy French revue were real, they’d surely be arrested.”

Hemisfair ’68 included a Sid & Marty Krofft puppet show that press releases described as “Punch and Judy in the Nude”, Newsweek said it’s “like seeing Santa’s toy bag animated by the brothers Minsky”, and Jack Paar dubbed the puppets “naughty pine”. The 600-seat Lido Theatre, across from the Lone Star Pavilion and two doors down from the Mormon Pavilion, showed Les Poupées de Paris, an adults-only musical revue with a $250,000 production budget featuring 250 puppets and a musical score by Broadway musical team Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen. $75,000 was spent just on the costumes. The performance space was named for Lido de Paris, the Venetian luxury-styled cabaret, which sadly closed its doors last year after 76 years in business. In the early days of his career, Sid Krofft had performed puppet shows at the original Lido.

Other influences on the show included Folies Bergère and Radio City Music Hall. Stars who lent their voices to their puppet doppelgangers included Pearl Bailey, Mae West, Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Liberace, Jayne Mansfield, Phil Silvers, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. In addition to the voice cast, “puppet personalities” of Jackie Gleason, Maurice Chevalier, Brigitte Bardot, Marty Krofft’s own wife Christa Speck, and many other stars were featured in the revue.

Les Poupées de Paris opened with the puppet versions of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby serenading Brigitte Bardot in her bathtub. Then the scene switched to Gene Kelly and Pearl Bailey in Paris. Then to Mae West, Liberace, and Milton Berle. Stage effects included:

  • a twenty foot waterfall
  • a skating rink
  • a fifteen foot swimming pool
  • sixteen units of dancing fountains with fireworks
  • a full symphony orchestra of puppets

The workings of the extravagant stage effects in the show were of great interest themselves. Like Kaleidoscope, each show ended with the audience being invited backstage to see not only how many of the puppets were manipulated, but how special tricks like smoking, swimming, and can-can dancing were created. The audience learned how such wizardry as the waterfall, ice skating rink, haunted castle, swimming pool, and fountains with fireworks were all controlled backstage. They were also invited to peek into the puppet workshop where new puppets were constantly being designed (Press release by R. Jay Casell Executive Producer Hemisfair Station, San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, MS 31, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections).

By late July 1968, the “adults only” signs were removed on the attraction and children were welcomed into the Les Poupées de Paris audience at half price admission. Immediately, kids began to take up ten percent or more of audiences. R. Jay Casell’s reasoning for this move was that attitudes had changed over the last decade since the Kroffts had initially premiered this show and the pint sized patrons were more interested in the puppets and production than the lyrics or dialogue (Lloyd Larrabee, “Les Poupees de Paris Removes ‘Adults Only’ Restriction”, San Antonio Light, July 30, 1968, 17).

The Krofft brothers employed 112 puppeteers for their Hemisfair shows, not to mention the staff for their puppet workshop as well as the ushers and ticket booth representatives. The artistry displayed in these two Krofft stagings is impressive and would make for incredible productions today. The results are a testament to the ambition and creativity of the Krofft Productions team, especially the proto-Pufnstuf from Kaleidoscope.

Source Collections

General Photograph Collection, MS 362, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

HemisFair ’68 Memorabilia Collection, MS 127, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

San Antonio Express-News Photograph Collection, MS 360, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, MS 31, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: