Billie Hayes was born on August 5, 1932. I am precisely the correct age to be one of the WitchiePoo generation. I was four years old when Sid and Marty Krofft’s H.R. Pufnstuf originally aired (1969-1970); upwards of that when re-runs ran. Like the entire show itself, WitchiePoo was a beguiling but perplexing creation. Clearly spun off of one of the most terrifying of cinematic characters (especially to small children), Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal as The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, and grotesque and bizarre in completely new ways, she was also very funny, and laughed at her own jokes! The combination was unusual; ultimately it was a kind of preparation for more sophisticated storytelling strategies like irony and satire.
The ball of fire who played her, Hayes, had been singing and dancing since childhood, and fronting big bands since a teenager. Her big break came when she was cast in the Leonard Silliman Broadway revue New Faces of 1956. This led to being cast as Mammy Yokum in the stage (1956-1958), screen (1959) and tv (1971) versions of the musical Li’l Abner. Strange to think she only played her most immortal role (WitchiePoo) for only one season and a couple of additional reprises. She also played Weenie the Genie on the Kroffts’ Lidsville (1971) and assorted roles on various other Krofft programs. She went on to do a few less flamboyant roles in guest shots in various tv series and made-for-tv movies, but most of her later credits came in voice-over work. Her most recent credits are from 2016; she played the voice of Mrs. Neederlander on the animated series Transformers: Rescue Bots.