Billie Hayes, an actress who starred as the wacky villain Witchiepoo on the beloved 1969-70 children’s series “H.R. Pufnstuf,” died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. She was 96.
Hayes’ family announced her death on Monday.
By the time she was squaring off with a psychedelic dragon over a talking flute on “H.R. Pufnstuf,” Hayes was already an established comic actress. She made her Broadway debut in 1956 in the ensemble cast of the aptly titled “New Faces of 1956,” which also featured a young Maggie Smith. That same year, Hayes originated the role of Mammy Yokum in the musical “Li’l Abner” and went on to star in the show’s 1961 film version.
However, it was Hayes’ cackling, conniving performance as Witchiepoo (short for Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo) that captured the imaginations of children across the country. Just 44 at the time of shooting, Hayes donned over-the-top face paint and blacked-out teeth to transform into the evil old witch. Her shrill vocals and slapstick comedy chops proved to be the perfect tools for over-the-top television villainy. Although “H.R. Pufnstuf” ran for just one season, Hayes reprised the role of Witchiepoo in the show’s 1970 feature film adaptation alongside ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot.
Post “Pufnstuf,” Hayes made several television appearances, from “Bewitched” to “General Hospital.” She lent her famous voice to “The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries,” “The Flintstones Comedy Show,” “Trollkins,” “The Real Ghostbusters,” “Rugrats” and, most recently, “Transformers: Rescue Bots” in 2016. She also voiced the character of Orgoch in the Disney cult classic “The Black Cauldron” (1985).
Hayes founded Pet Hope, a Los Angeles-based animal rescue organization, in 1984. She’d been an advocate for adoption since finding an abandoned puppy in the basement of New York City’s St. James Theatre during rehearsals for “Li’l Abner.”
Hayes is survived by niece Nancy Powers and nephews Tom Brosch, Louie Brosch and Guy Brosch.