Retro Casuale is a new feature devoted to profiling weird old things we found on-line that don’t quite fall into our usual areas of discussion. Today, Roy E. Buckingham discusses Kaptain Kool & The Kongs; a band that might have been a defining rock influence of the 1970s if they hadn’t been created for one of the most ill-advised ad campaigns ever.
And now for something completely different, readers. Instead of telling you about an awesomely bad film you have to see to believe, we are going to take a trip back to the 1970s’. Why? To witness the fast birth and death of one of the best unknown music groups that was formed to sell a product. That product being a failed theme park.
From the 1960’s through the early 1980’s, you couldn’t throw a stone at your Saturday Morning Television lineup and not hit at least one Sid and Marty Krofft show. HR Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters were some of their more infamous productions, but all their shows that looked like acid trips from hell. Yet they were such a gigantic success that one day they decided to take a page out of Walt Disney’s playbook and create a theme park.
The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was a first of its kind theme park in America. Opening in Atlanta, GA in May of 1976, this multi-floor indoor theme park that promised many delights. A carousel where the animals were made out of crystal. A thrill ride that put you inside a pinball machine as the pinball. An indoor three-ring circus. The world’s longest escalator (at the time) and more!
Alas, the theme park flopped due to what was described as “urban decay” in the area around the park at the time. Plus, the theme park was considerably more expensive than nearby Six Flags Over Georgia (hey, they had to pay for the crystal carousel somehow, eh?). Today, the building that used to home the theme park now is the home of another multi-floored wonderland: CNN.
So, where does a corporate-formed music group fit into all this, you ask? I shall answer, dear readers.
To promote the new indoor theme park, Sid and Marty Krofft manufactured a band of wacky glam rockers to host the segments of a Saturday Morning “super-show” set in the theme park, much like how The Wonderful World of Disney was used to promote Disney’s theme parks. The show was the Krofft Supershow and it ran for two seasons from 1976-1978. It was a a variety hour of sorts, featuring shows that included Electro Woman and Dyna Girl, Doctor Shrinker, Wonder Buggy and more.
To help introduce each show segment, and also show off the “magic” of the new theme park, Sid and Marty (with the help of television executives who thought they knew the pulse of children) created the O-Town of its day: Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. Each member of the group were hired struggling actors and/or musicians that were given Spice Girl style personalities to make them a unique brand of characters that would appeal to children.
First, you have the leader Kaptain Kool, played by Michael Lembeck,, who was inspired by The Fonz on Happy Days. In reality, he was a glitter-covered greaser dressed in more purple than a Prince concert. He looked like the love child of Gene Simmons of KISS and the film Xanadu. A few episodes in, his look changed to that of a New York Cabbie as portrayed by 1970s era Dazzler.
Next up, you had Turkey, played by Mickey McMeel. Turkey was a tall lanky man who used a lot of physical comedy to entertain the kids. He honestly had more slapstick fake falls than The Three Stooges. To make this mental image more interesting, he had splashy eye make up and smiley suns all over his body to make you realize despite his flaws, he had a “sunny disposition.” Yeah, I know.
Next was Superchick, played by Debra Clinger. Superchick looked like the cross between one of the Wonder Twins and a first time attendee of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Decked out in painted hearts, rhinestones and a big superhero-esque belt buckle, she was made to be the girl of your dreams with a sexy voice. Again, on a show aimed at kids to sell a theme park.
Up next, we have Nashville, played by female comedian Louis DuArt. Nashville was this show’s attempt to cash in on Dolly Parton, only with smaller boobs and an accent that made the cast of Hee Haw sound like the Royal Shakespeare Company. Seriously, she sounded like a stereotypical hillbilly woman you’d expect to see in a 1940s’ black and white Ma and Pa Kettle movie. To further emphasize the ripping-off of Dolly Parton, she not only sang country but was always surrounded by butterflies.
Finally, we have Flatbush. Played by Bert Sommer, Flatbiush was only in the first season of the show. Why was he not back for the second season, you ask? Well, word is he was embarrassed by the show, and wanted to be treated more seriously as a singer/songwriter. Considering he performed at Woodstock and was in the original cast for Hair on Broadway as Woof, I can’t blame him. Seriously! He performed at Woodstock, only to be cast on a show that had him as a fumbling pimp? I get it. And yes, I said pimp. That is exactly how he was dressed. Because again THIS IS WHAT THE KIDS AT THE TIME WERE INTO ACCORDING TO ABC EXECS!
However, instead of being treated as just another cog in the Sid and Marty Krofft machine, it turned out this band actually had potential. Sid and Marty Krofft really wanted them to be big, so they put them wherever they could: Donny and Marie, the Brady Bunch Variety Hour, American Bandstand, various ABC specials and even a concert at both Six Flags Over Texas and Magic Mountain. You name it, they were there, like flies on potato salad.
Then, the inevitable happened: the band recorded an album. In fact, they recorded two albums. They flopped. Hardcore. So Kaptain Kool and The Kongs were replaced with The Bay City Rollers, a band from Scotland that was hot at the time, as The Kroft Supershow was reworked into The Kroft Superstar Hour. So fickle, the entertainment industry.
All joking aside, this band honestly had the potential to really be something, and their albums could have been hits under different circumstances. However, even in the 1970s, people could tell when they were being force fed something artificial. The sad part? This band actually had talent. One song, “And I Never Dreamed”, was released as a single for radio. It wasn’t a hit, but it should have been one. It had every key ingredient needed to make a fun poppy song for the young people to enjoy that also sounded like it belonged on your 1970’s mother’s AM radio as well. Give them a listen, won’t you?
So where are they now?
Michael Lembeck went on to star in a lot of television shows and directed several episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. He also directed a few films, including The Santa Clause 2, The Santa Clause 3 and Connie and Carla.
Mickey McMeel went on to make appearances in Xanadu and Hard To Kill before fading into obscurity.
Louise DuArt went on to become a successful stand up comedian/celebrity impersonator who has also done much voice over work. She now devotes her time to performing for family friendly and Christian-themed television.
Debra Clinger went on to star in the 1980’s cult classic Midnight Madness starring a then unknown Michael J Fox. She also did voice over work on television and did television acting as well. She has since retired.
Bert Sommer went on to do some more recording and stage acting, dying of respiratory issues in 1990.
There is not much available from this short lived band, but if you do find any of their stuff, it is worth taking a peek at. Especially to see what Saturday Morning Television was like back in the day