Bumpity - Talking Grass On Portland TV

Bumpity was an enigma and definitely as unique as kid's shows come. I mean, a half-hour show whose star was a talking piece of sod? You don't get much stranger than that.

bumpity show portland

As a kid myself, I would turn on the television on Sunday morning and settle into my large, red beanbag chair to watch one of my favorite shows. There was something soothing about the program. I know that you're probably hard-pressed to find anything truly soothing about a talking lump of sod and a mute blue worm. It was just the intimacy in which the show was done. It made me feel welcomed into their world, as psychedelic-looking as it all was.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself...sorry. So what was Bumpity? It was a 30-minute, Sunday morning kids show in Portland that began in 1971 and was broadcast on KATU, Channel 2. It was produced here in Portland, so any guests that happened into Bumpity Park were local to the area (I especially loved when the Multnomah County Library ladies came and read stories).

Our host himself was nothing more than a bump in the lawn. A green bump with big,  googley eyes. But the kids of Oregon and SW Washington loved him. Created by Bob Griggs, who was employed at KATU, the kids show came about as a result of the FCC stating that there needed to be more educational television geared toward children. Portland, as was typical, responded to the need. Parents were fond of the show as well. They knew that there kids were getting a healthy dose of good stuff, rather than the mind-numbing Smurfs.

bumpity and bob griggs

Our green friend had a few different side-kicks that live in the Park, but no one more regular and endearing than Fred Worm. Fred was a big, blue worm who didn't speak, but acted as the green guy's straight man. He really didn't do a whole heck of a lot, having no voice or hands, but we loved him all the same. Maybe his disabilities struck a chord with the humanitarian in us! haha ;) 

Dropping in on our lovable hosts were the librarians, the local police, firemen and other guests that kids loved to hear about. They would talk to our green buddy, share all about their professions, and just say, "hi." 

Sadly, the show ended in 1985 and since KATU chose not to keep copies of the tapings (why, Channel 2, why?) and VCR's where few and far between in those days, there isn't much left of this wonderful show to remember. Nonetheless, he and his good friend, Fred Worm, will always hold a special place in my heart and my fond memories of childhood.


MIKE RUSSELL: There’s been a sort of re-discovery of “Bumpity” in recent years. Crispin Rosenkranz made his documentary about you and Bumpity, and you were a guest on The Famous Mysterious Actor Show. 

BOB GRIGGS: Well, of course, Crispin was a fan when he was a kid, and found out that I wasn't dead yet. [laughs] He contacted me and interviewed me and my wife JoAnn, who was in about four episodes.

Unfortunately, there's no one who has more than three or four episodes of the show on tape. Because of the way things worked at Channel 2, they'd tape three or four and then erase them.

We tried to get Channel 2 and Channel 10 to think about syndicating the show [nationally]. For some reason, nobody was interested. It was a very, very popular show while it was on.

"Bumpity Park," where the show was set, was supposed to be a little park somewhere in Portland. But we were never specific about it.

Q. Did you personally have a specific park in mind when you conceived of "Bumpity Park"?

A. I would say that it might have been Grant Park [in northeast Portland] more than anything. On Crispin's Web site, there was a story that came to me one time about how Bumpity came into existence:

There was this mushroom circle -- in fairy stories, they call it a "fairy ring." It was down under a big Ping-Pong table they used to have in the park. And a couple of rather fat Shriners or Elks were trying to show some kids how to play Ping-Pong, and a couple of balls fell off the table onto the grass in the center of the ring. And the tooth fell off one of the men's Elks-chains and also landed in the ring. And because of fairy magic, Bumpity came into existence. And he didn't know what his name was -- except that he'd heard a couple of workmen refer to "the bump in the lawn."

In real life, the name came from Wayne Brown, the originator of the show at KATU. He had a little nephew who was about 3, and he was coming down the stairs on his butt, yelling, "BUMPITY," over and over.

I was working at OMSI at the time, but I'd been on another KATU show. Wayne told me the station didn't want another "Captain Kangaroo" or "Mister Rogers"-type show -- they wanted it to involve reading to kids.

And on the way home that night, for some reason or other, I pulled into this fabric place. And right as I walked in, I saw this piece of green, very bumpy material. I took some home, and at 2:30 in the morning, I finished making Bumpity. I called Wayne the next day, and I said, "I think I found Bumpity for you. It's hard to explain. You'll have to see it." So he came over to OMSI, where I was exhibits director at the time, and I pulled out the puppet. And he said, "What does he sound like?" And I did the voice. The expression on his face was absolutely marvelous -- he was just a young guy -- and he said, "That's Bumpity!" He was gobsmacked.

And so he said, "Would you do the first show as just sort of a test?" And then he kept asking me to do more. And I said, "Well, I have a job, and this is taking a lot of time." And he said, "They're willing to pay." Well, that made a difference. I think we ended up doing it for 16 years or something.

There are conflicting stories about why it ended. The one I heard through the grapevine was different than the official one. The official story they put out was that "Bob was tired of doing the show." The other story that I heard was that they put their money into another show that they thought could pick up the young adults who out-grew our show. So they created a show called "Popcorn"…. And somebody said, "Why do we need two shows?" So they bumped "Bumpity." And I don't think "Popcorn" made it six more months.

"Bumpity" was an utter delight. Here I am, retired, 75 years old. Crispin asked me if I'd do the show again if I had the chance. And my response was, "In a New York minute."

Q. You do put on a sort of reunion show in "Bumpity Returns."

A. We took our show to the previous Hollywood Library. (It's now a coffee shop.) I used to go out and do a special show with the children's librarians. But [for the documentary], we had to figure out how to get Bumpity from the park to the library. So Crispin brought over a wheelbarrow with a hole in the bottom -- and I laid under this wheelbarrow, in the grass, and we did this whole thing where I dug out the puppet to take him to the library. Not typical 75-year-old behavior. [laughs]

There were a few times when we had to do personal appearances and I didn't have a stage. So I had a large flowerpot with a hole in the bottom, and I put Bumpity in there. I'm about as much of a ventriloquist as Edgar Bergen was -- you could see his mouth move all the time -- but the funny thing is that the kids would pay no attention to me. They were talking to the green guy.

Q. I remember when my mother was a kindergarten teacher, she had this raccoon puppet that lived in a box. And the kids really seemed to 100-percent believe that it was sentient and actually lived in there.

A. That's what it was. One time in the '70s, I appeared at the opening of the Barnum & Bailey Circus when it came to the old Coliseum. They brought me out in the middle of the caged lions and tigers; one faulty cage door, and Bumpity would've been hamburger. And the clowns were all gathered around backstage before the show -- there must have been 20 at least -- and they're talking to my puppet! I used to think it would be wonderful to be in the circus when I was a kid, and here I am. Bumpity can be kind of a wise-ass sometimes, and they were trying to trip him up, asking him strange questions. And then I came out and there were 5,000 kids saying, "It's Bumpity!" I remember thinking, "My God -- this is my audience!"

As an actor, it never bothered me that I was holding up these guys and they were getting all the credit. It was just a wonderful experience.

Toward the end of the show's run, mothers would bring their kids to the library shows and tell me, "I used to watch your show when I was a kid." The first couple of times that happened, I felt very old. Then I realized I'd lasted through a generation.

If I did come back, I'm not sure how it would work. Everything's syndicated now. But every TV station used to have a kid's show. When I worked for KOIN-TV, there was "Mr. Duffy's Cartoon Circus" and "Ramblin Rod" and Dave Alexander, who was "Paul Bunyan Jr." And then we had Bob Adkins and Heck Harper -- his was kind of a Western show.

Q. You're a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Have you done a children's book?

A. I have one that only had 200 copies printed. A printer I knew asked me if I had any book ideas, because he wanted to do miniature books. And so the first sentence of my book was, "Elray the Elf lived in the attic over a print shop." It's about a little elf who decided he wanted to be a printer -- but because an elf is only as big as a mouse, that's very, very difficult for him to do.

I have yet to sell to the major children's magazines -- I've been working on that for the last 20 years. I came very close just about a month ago. I've been writing another children's book now for four years, and I'm going into my first major re-write.

Q. What's it about?

A. The working title is Stone Age Boy. It's about a young Cro-Magnon lad who's crippled and thrown out of his tribe by his father -- the chief -- because he can't be a warrior and hunter. He's got this bad leg. So he finds refuge with a man who's a master stonecutter who was also thrown out of his tribe. And the boy has talent, so the stonecutter becomes his mentor. And he finally has it out with the enemy who hurt his leg.

Q. Revenge through technology?

A. Yeah. It started out as a short story. It's got 26 chapters to it now.

have had good luck selling stories to a magazine called Good Old Days, which is a magazine of nostalgia covering 1900 to about 1950 -- basically, people write stories about what happened to them. I laugh somewhat ruefully and say I don't seem to be able to sell stories to kids' magazines, but I've been able to sell 13 stories about mychildhood. [laughs]

Q. And now "Bumpity" has inspired other people's nostalgic writings.

A. Absolutely.

Interview courtesy of http://www.CulturePulp.com/ 

Thanks, Mike! ;)

bumpity sun

Hey! Good news, fans! There has been a resurgence of interest in our green friend and his buddies. As a result, a documentary all about the show, it's origin, creator and more has been made. Want a copy of "Bumpity Returns?" Get it right here.

bumpity and fred worm

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