Thirty years ago this week (Saturday Sept. 13, 1986) Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens debuted Pee-wee’s Playhouse to the joy of children… and… ahem… adults.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary, Mentalfloss.com talked with Paul Reubens, who revealed (27) interesting tidbits of info on the show.
1. “Pee-wee Herman” Was A “Groundling” – the character of “Pee-wee Herman” came from an extended improv he did with a group called “The Groundlings”. Paul said, “We were just given an assignment to come up with a character that one might encounter in a comedy club and I came up with Pee-wee Herman.” Pee-wee’s first stage appearance was in 1977.
2. The Name “Pee-wee” Came From A Harmonica – Pee-Wee’s characteristics were “a bunch of stuff all mixed in together. The voice came from a stage production that I was involved in. And then the name came from a kid I knew who was kind of off-the-wall. The name Pee-wee came from a little harmonica I had that said ‘Pee-wee’ on it. I loved the idea of a nickname, because it sounded so real to me. ‘Pee-wee Herman’ sounds like a name that is so odd, how would you make that up? If you were going to make up a name, you’d make up a better name. It seemed real to me; it was a nickname with a last name that’s also a first name… And it went hand-in-hand with what I wanted to do, which was to make people think this was a real person, not an actor.”
3. “Pee-wee’s Suit Came From A Friend” – Reuben’s says, “The director and co-founder of The Groundlings, a man named Gary Austin, loaned me his suit, which I never gave back.” In addition, Reubens says “Someone else gave me a kid’s black bowtie, which I later changed out for a kid’s red bowtie. And the white shoes were mine. That’s just sort of what I put on and I had success with it so I thought, why mess with it? If it ain’t broke.”
4. “Pee-wee Debuted on 1979’s The Dating Game” – (The Dating Game (totally in character). “That was a little test experiment I was doing early on,” Reubens recalled to Interview Magazine. “I went to a cattle call audition for The Dating Game, and before I even got home they called me back.” He even won a date!
5. “Pee-wee Was In 1980’s Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie” – as a hotel employee
6. “The Pee-Wee Herman Show” Was First A Stage Show – on February 7, 1981, Reubens helped take The Groundlings in a new direction with the premier of a stage version of The Pee-wee Herman Show at midnight. Soon, they moved it to The Roxy on Sunset Strip for (5) months, and included family-friendly matinee performances with many characters that became staples, including Miss Yvonne, Captain Carl, Jambi, Pterri, and Clocky
7. HBO Helped Make “Pee-wee Herman” A Nationally Known Character – and aired a taping of one of the show’s performances at The Roxy in 1981.
8. “Pee-Wee Helped Director Tim Burton’s Career” – with the success of The Pee-wee Herman Show in mind, Warner Bros. wanted to make a movie with the character, and when it came to choosing a director, Reubens had seen Frankenweenie, starring Shelley Duvall, and Reubens recalled to Ain’t It Cool News. “I knew Tim was the director about 15 seconds into Frankenweenie, like the second or third shot of it. I was looking at the wallpaper in this bedroom and the lighting and just going, ‘This is the guy who has style and understands art direction.’ Those were two really important things for me and my baby, I guess, and you know it just happened to luckily all work out.”
9. “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” Ruled The Box-Office – the film cost $7mil to create and earned almost $41 mil, leading to the July 22, 1988 sequel, Big Top Pee-wee.
10. “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” Was Originally An Animated Series – CBS wanted animation, however Ruebens says, “I’d had the stage show originally, so I was much more interested in doing something closer to that, something live-action,” Reubens recently told Rolling Stone. “So when they suggested doing a cartoon, I said ‘I’m not really interested in that; let’s do a real kids’ show.’ I was a big Howdy-Doody freak growing up—I was actually on one show when I was a kid, in the audience—and was more interested in doing something like that. Howdy-Doody, Captain Kangaroo, a lot of the local kids’ shows that were on a long time ago—those were the influences.”
See the additional (17) interesting pieces of info on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, by clicking HERE!
Happy anniversary, and thanks for fun and laughter, Paul!
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