By John Wooley / TULSA WORLD / October 2, 1992. (abridged)
If you were of a certain age in the early '70s, and you were living in or around Tulsa, Oklahoma, the name "Mazeppa" symbolized something almost magical, a shared experience of a place and time in Tulsa when our youth-culture scene was enriched and enlivened by some special creators.
Leon Russell was living in town, with people like George Harrison and Eric Clapton dropping by to jam. The likes of J.J. Cale and David Teegarden were recording hits that popped onto the national charts. Any number of rock bands, including one fronted by Gary Lewis and Billy Cowsill, were making their homes here, and making the clubs at night.
And Mazeppa was on television.
For three brief years, Gailard Sartain was Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi on the late night weekend show "The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting." Beginning in April of 1970, Sartain and his cohort Jim Millaway, aka Sherman Oaks, created wildly inventive, hip, off-trail humor that predated the national "Saturday Night Live" by several years, wrapping it around showings of old horror movies and Busby Berkeley musicals.
A year after the show's inception, Sartain and Millaway were joined by Tulsa's Gary Busey, as Teddy Jack Eddy, whose own manic presence added immeasurably to the show. And an ever-shifting cast of supporting characters wove in and out throughout the program's three years, adding to the always-present air of unpredictability.
The Mazeppa show rolled along until the summer of 1973, after which Sartain joined the cast of the "Hee Haw" TV show, and sequed into what has become a rock-solid career as a feature-film character actor.
As the years have rolled by, the Mazeppa episodes have taken on the quality of myth. Much of thas is due, of course, to the inventiveness and imagination of the principals, and the sheer entertainment value of what they got over the airwaves. Part, also, is due to the fact that there was no home video--as we know it--during the Mazeppa show's run, and so there's been no way to see the stuff again.
"Unfortunately," said Steve Todoroff recently, "this was before VCRs. So, all people have had are fond memories."
Todoroff--in conjunction with Sartain and his wife, Mary Jo-- now offers "The Lost Tapes of Mazeppa, Vols. 1,2 and 3," a videotape collection of Mazeppa bits available in VHS format.
The collection runs approximately 55 minutes each, and contains lots of well-remembered characters from the program--including Coach Chuck, The Reverend Dr. Menleaux Park, and Toby the Toe-Headed Boy--in sketches that include "Eddy Leon's Hair Salon" and "Teen Town Topics."
Sartain and Todoroff are producers of "The Lost Tapes of Mazeppa.: Mary Jo Sartain is executive producer. "She's been great, running things down and doing a lot of footwork," said Sartain from his hotel room in Atlanta, Ga., where he's filming his 33rd movie, "The Real McCoy," with Kim Basinger. "Mary Jo used to have her own ad agency and she knows how to do things. Plus, she said if she didn't get executive-producer credit she'd hide my car keys."
Although Mary Jo was born in Tulsa, she was living in Pittsburgh during the Mazeppa show's run. So she hadn't actually seen an episode until a few years ago.
"I remember coming into Tulsa during that time to see friends, and they were all into Mazeppa, but I didn't know anything about it," she recalled. "I did get a Mazeppa 7-Up card. I think it got me a discount at Der Wienerschnitzel (a fast-food restaurant of the time), and that was all that mattered to me."
Much later, after she and Gailard were married, he showed her a tape of some sketches he had, and she began to understand what tll the fuss was about. "I was amazed at how progressive it was for the time," she said. "And I had no idea Gailard could make that many noises."
She and Gailard began talking then about putting out a videotape of some of the old episodes. Then Todoroff, a major Mazeppa fan, former Tulsa resident and friend of Sartain, entered the picture.
"We were both back in Tulsa on vacation, and we went out to lunch and talked about it," Todoroff recalled. "It took a while for us to get together again, but I went out to L.A. where Gailard was living, on some business and we had dinner and talked about it again. I thought about it, he thought about it, and then I wrote a proposal. He called and said, 'Let's go for it.'"
"Mazeppa was a big part of my life," added Todoroff. "When I was a teenager in Bixby, the show was an integral part of my life. I have fond memories of it, as everyone has. Parents and kids both could watch it and laugh until the next Saturday night. It was something people shared."
Todoroff went on to become a natural gas liquids trader for Enron in Houston. His Saturday-night heroes went on, too.
Like Sartain, Busey became a well-known actor, nabbing an Oscar nomination for his lead role in 1978's "The Buddy Holly Story." Millaway, never completely comfortable with celebrityhood, went on to local fame on radio and television before leaving show business for a successful career in oil, gas and timber leasing. He still does on occasional writing or acting job.
"Jim was such an invaluable source of humor and support during those years, and the lunatic spontaneity of Gary still remains unchallenged," said Sartain with a soft chuckle. "That was jus a special little band."
He said that he, Mary Jo, Todoroff and Millaway looked at tapes "from a number of different sources" before selecting what went on the first tape. If response warrants it, he added, there will be more.
"You know, the stuff's still funny," he said. "It's like somebody showing you a picture of yourself at a junior high school party with a lampshade on your head and an Ozark Mountain stogie the size of a Stuckey's pecan roll jammed in your mouth. It doesn't thrill me to see this energetic young person, devil-may-care, with a full head of hair, though. It's kind of painful in that regard realizing how the time's flown by."
He chuckled again. "But it's fun. It conjured up a lot of great memories. And it's interesting--in a sociological sense."