April 16, 2016


(CBS, September 13, 1986-November 10, 1990)

Pee-wee Pictures, Broadcast Arts Productions (season 1), Binder Entertainment (season 2-3), BRB Productions (season 2 reruns), Grosso-Jacobson Productions (season 3-5)

Paul ReubensPee-wee Herman, Billy Baloney
Laurence Fishburne – Cowboy Curtis
Phil Hartman – Captain Carl (season 1)
Lynne Marie Stewart – Miss Yvonne, Yvona
S. Epatha Merkerson – Reba the Mail Lady
Gilbert Lewis (season 1) & William H. Marshall (season 2-5) – The King of Cartoons
Roland Rodriguez – Tito (season 1)
Vic Trevino – Ricardo (season 2-5)
Alison Mork – Chairry, Magic Screen, Chicky Baby, Light Blue Dinosaur, Chandelier
John Paragon – Jambi, Pterri (season 1 & 3-5)
George McGrath – Globey, Dog Chair, Red Dinosaur, Flowers, Yellow Fish, Cowntess, Zyzzybalubah, Pterri (season 2)
Ric Heitzman – Mr. Window, Cool Cat, Blue Dinosaur, Flowers, Purple Fish, Salesman, Execise Belt
Kevin Carlson – Clockey, Pink Dinosaur, Floory, Conky 2000 (season 2-5), Knucklehead (season 2)
Gregory Harrison – Conky 2000, Knucklehead (both season 1)
Wayne White – Dirty Dog, Mr. Kite, Randy, Flowers
Avriel Hillman – Penny

Johann Carlo – Dixie (season 1)

            Comedian Paul Reubens joined the Los Angeles improvisational team The Groundlings in the 1970s. In 1977, The Groundlings staged a performance where their members would portray characters one might encounter in a comedy club. Reubens decided to use his weakness of being unable to remember punchlines or tell comedic stories in sequence to depict the one guy everyone knew would never make it as a stand-up comedian. That character would begin the slow evolution towards becoming Pee-wee Herman.

Pee-wee Herman.

            Pee-wee, named after a Pee-weiny herman brand miniature harmonica and an energetic boy Reubens grew up with, was a fun-loving child-like man with effeminate mannerisms and quirky facial expressions. Herman’s traditional outfit consisted of a gray glen plaid suit that was first borrowed from Groundlings director Gary Austin and a red bow tie given to him by an acquaintance. The refined costume and his persona were closely modeled after 1950s children’s television host Pinky Lee. Reubens also added short black hair, pale skin, red rouge and red lipstick to round out the appearance. Amongst Herman’s signatures were his distinctive laugh and chuckle, and his go-to comeback “I know you are, but what am I?”

Pee-wee with Cheech Marin.

            In 1980, Pee-wee made his national debut in a cameo role in Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie. That same year, Reubens auditioned for the upcoming season of Saturday Night Live, the first of the five infamous years without showrunner Lorne Michaels that almost ended the show, but lost out to Gilbert Gottfried. Fearing his career was over, Reubens made one last ditch effort at success by bringing Pee-wee to the stage. With $3,000 of funds partially contributed by his parents, 60 people and his fellow Groundling and friend Phil Hartman (who would go on to become part of SNL himself), Reubens created the show with Dawna Kaufmann.

            Debuting at the Groundlings theater in 1981 before moving to the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, The Pee-wee Herman Show centered around Pee-wee hanging out with his friends in his Puppetland playhouse in an homage to low-budget 1950s kiddie shows. Pee-wee really wanted to fly after genie-in-a-box Jambi (fellow Groundling John Paragon) grants him a wish, but Pee-wee decided to give that wish to Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), “the most beautiful woman in Puppetland”, so that she could make gruff-yet-shy sea captain Carl (Hartman) like her. HBO recorded one of the performances and released it as a special later that year, while Fatima Recordz released the cast recording on a 12” vinyl record. While the show was successful in its own right, Reubens often credited his character’s popularity to his appearances on Late Night with David Letterman beginning in 1982.

            Warner Bros. took notice and brought Reubens in to write a script for a full-length Pee-wee movie. Reubens initially planned to do a remake of Pollyanna, his favorite film, but changed his mind when Warner Bros. gave him a bike to get around the studio backlot at his request. Reubens became inspired and rewrote the film to become a loose adaptation of The Bicycle Thief; dealing with Pee-wee’s love of his bike and the lengths he’d go to to retrieve it when it ends up stolen. He and the producers fell in love with the work of Tim Burton, particularly Vincent and Frankenweenie, and hired him to direct the film. The script was reworked between him, Reubens, Hartman and Michael Varhol to become Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The film opened in 1985 and became a financial success, launching the career of Burton and making Pee-wee a household name. That year, Reubens finally made it to SNL--hosting an episode as Pee-wee.

Pee-wee in his scooter helmet with Pterri and the outside of the Playhouse.

            After the film’s success, CBS approached Reubens about turning Pee-wee into a cartoon for their Saturday morning line-up. Reubens, however, wanted to honor the children’s programs of his youth that mixed live-action with cartoons—Mickey Mouse Club, Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo—and pushed to become the host of his own live-action program in a similar vein. CBS relented and production began on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which would be similar to The Pee-wee Herman Show with content toned down for a younger audience and Pee-wee becoming the best role model for children possible. Reubens was given full creative control (although they would request some changes down the line) and an initial budget of $325,000 per episode.

Pee-wee with Reba and Cowboy Curtis.

            Reubens assembled most of his supporting cast from The Pee-wee Herman Show and the Groundlings. Hartman, Stewart and Paragon returned to their respective roles, with Paragon serving as a regular writer with Reubens, Varhol, George McGrath and Max Robert. Joining the live actors were a pre-movie star Laurence Fishburne as 1950s-esque Cowboy Curtis and a pre-Law & Order S. Epatha Merkerson as the sassy mail lady Reba. The Playhouse set was designed by a troupe of artists including Wayne White, Gary Panter, Craig Bartlett, Richard Goleszowski, Gregory Harrison, Ric Heitzman and Phil Trumbo in a converted New York loft on Broadway. The Playhouse was a psychedelic blend of art styles and motifs and filled with talking objects, furniture and fixtures, as well as some non-flesh and blood characters.

Dixie introduces the King of Cartoons.

            Amongst the regular supporting cast was the talking armchair Chairry; Magic Screen, which could show films and allow Pee-wee to jump in to interact with the fantasy land inside her (both Alison Mork); Pterri (Paragon and McGrath), a green Pteranodon who was afraid of thunderstorms; Conky 2000 (Gregory Harrison and Kevin Carlson), a robot made from various old electronics; bullying marionette Randy (Wayne White), who liked to cause trouble around the Playhouse; Cowntess (McGrath), a talking cow with an elegant accent; the King of Cartoons (Gilbert Lewis and William H. Marshall) who would introduce the episode’s cartoon; Mr. Window (Heitzman), who announced visitors to the Playhouse; Clockey (Carlson), a clock shaped as a map of the United States who could sometimes manipulate time; and Globey (McGrath), a globe with a French accent who helped teach Pee-wee about geography. There was also a jazz-playing and rhyming puppet band comprised of Dirty Dog (White), Cool Cat (Heitzman) and Chicky Baby (Mork); the weather-reporting Mr. Kite (White); the Claymation Dinosaur Family; Pee-wee’s flowers and fish; and Knucklehead (Harrison and Carlson), a large fist with googly eyes and lipstick that told bad knock-knock jokes.

            Pee-wee’s Playhouse began on September 13, 1986 with a theme song composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. Reubens’ friend Cyndi Lauper performed the opening theme doing an impersonation of Betty Boop. She was credited as “Ellen Shaw” since she felt the public couldn’t accept her doing something silly at the same time as her releasing her serious-toned album True Colors. Just before the theme played a prelude showing Pee-wee entering the Playhouse set to an interpretation of Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”. Other composers for the series included The Residents, Todd Rundgren, Danny Elfman, Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, George S. Clinton, Dweezil Zappa and Scott Thunes (as Scott Tunis). Mothersbaugh also contributed music throughout episodes, once stating that he would be sent an episode to score and return it within four days before it went to air.

"Wish? Did someone say 'wish'?"

            Each episode consisted of several recurring gags. At the start of each episode, Conky would tell the audience the day’s “secret word” and that everyone should scream loudly upon hearing it. Naturally, the word would be said several times including when Pee-wee departed the Playhouse at the end of the episode. Jambi would also grant Pee-wee a wish per episode with the words “Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho”, though they would never turn out exactly as Pee-wee planned. Dixie the cab driver (Johann Carlo) would introduce the King of Cartoons, who would then play all or part of a public domain cartoon from the Golden Age of Cartoons. Several segments featured Claymation, including shorts starring Penny (Avriel Hillman), a little girl with American pennies for eyes, and the Dinosaur Family, as well as the intro prelude. Some of the Claymation was rendered by Goleszowski and Nick Park, the creators of Wallace & Gromit.  Episodes would end with Pee-wee launching himself and his scooter out of the Playhouse and riding along footage of various roads and highways as the credits played. Both Penny and Pee-wee would appear in PSA commercials.

Cooking with Miss Yvonne.
            The show didn’t talk down to children and had enough adult-oriented jokes for parents that the series became a hit with all audiences. As a result, it was easily renewed by the network. For the second season, the show moved production to Los Angeles; receiving a larger set and new designs for the puppets. Several cast members changed as well: Captain Carl was retired when Hartman stayed in New York for SNL; William H. Marshall replaced Gilbert Lewis as the King of Cartoons; the recurring character of lifeguard Tito (Roland Rodriguez) was replaced by coach Ricardo (Vic Trevino); and Carlson took over Harrison’s roles. After the second season, the recurring characters of The Playhouse Gang, a group of children who visited Pee-wee, were removed.

Pee-wee shares the word of the day with Cher.

            In 1987, Reubens was approached to make another Pee-wee movie by Paramount Pictures. Production on Big Top Pee-wee, coupled with the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, resulted in the third season being comprised of only two episodes and a primetime Christmas special. The special featured a collection of celebrity guest-stars, including Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, Dinah Shore, Little Richard, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Joan Rivers, Magic Johnson and Charo. Other celebrities who have appeared during the regular show included a mixture of unknowns (at the time) and established talent, such as Natasha Lyonne, Sandra Bernhard, Jimmy Smits, Bernard Fox and Calvert DeForest. Behind the camera, some of the crew would also go on to have prominent careers: in particular a production assistant named Robert Cummings (or maybe you know him as Rob Zombie) and security guard John Singleton.

The Playhouse with Chairry, Clockey, Dog Chair, Mr. Window, and Magic Screen.

            Reubens and CBS mutually agreed to end the show after the fifth season due to Reubens feeling burnt out from all the work involved and wanting to pursue other projects. The fourth and fifth seasons were filmed back-to-back without the usual break in between and the series officially ended on November 10, 1990. During the show’s run, it was nominated for 22 Emmy Awards and won 11 of them. Pee-wee also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. CBS kept the show going in reruns and planned to do so until the fall, but Reubens’ arrest for indecent exposure in July of 1991 caused them to pull the show shortly after as did Toys ‘R Us with any Playhouse merchandise. Many of Reubens’ friends, co-stars and fans came out in support of the star and protested CBS’ cancellation of the planned reruns. Pee-wee would make two final post-arrest appearances at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards and a 1992 Grand Ole Opry tribute to Minnie Pearl.

            As the 90s went on, Reubens came out of his self-imposed exile and took various on-camera and voice-over jobs. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that Pee-wee would return to television on Spike TV’s 2007 Guys’ Choice Awards. Pee-wee began making the rounds on the talk show circuit, starring in shorts and even appearing on WWE Raw leading up to the revival of The Pee-wee Herman Show. The stage show featured most of the same cast and crew as the original production, with the notable exception of Cowboy Curtis replacing Captain Carl and being played by Phil LaMarr. As far back as 1999 during promotion for Mystery Men, Reubens announced plans for a third Pee-wee movie. After two different ideas, Reubens settled on a story set in the real world similar to the 1980s films and released Pee-wee’s Big Holiday on Netflix in 2016.

            During the show’s run, a wave of merchandise filled the store shelves featuring the title and characters. Amongst them were a line of action figures and a fold-out Playhouse playset by Matchbox, lunchboxes, dolls, bed sheets, party favors, trading cards, watches and other knickknacks. From 1988 to 1990, Hi-Tops Video released 13 episodes to home video, along with the Christmas special and two collections containing several episodes. Hi-Tops also released two-episode collections and the special to laserdisc. In 1996, MGM/UA Home Video released 16 two-episode volumes to VHS, along with the special on both VHS and on laserdisc. In 2004, Image Entertainment released the entire series on two DVD volumes and the special on a separate DVD. In 2010, the special was combined with the two volumes and released as The Complete Collection. In 2014, Shout! Factory released The Complete Series to remastered Blu-ray, as well as re-released remastered versions of Image’s previous DVDs. In 2011, for the show’s 25th anniversary, ECW Press published Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Culture Phenomenon by Caseen Gaines.

Season 1:
“Ice Cream Soup” (9/13/86) – Captain Carl ends up lost on the way to some fun in the pool, and Pee-wee makes the gang some ice cream soup when the rain spoils their fun.

“Luau for Two” (9/20/86) – Pee-wee wins a dinner for two and he can’t decide who to take.

“Rainy Day” (9/27/86) – A rainy day has Pee-wee bored inside until Randy talks him into prank calling strangers.
Cartoon: Summertime

“Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” (10/4/86) – Pee-wee impresses the gang with his ability to make himself disappear, but finds he can’t make himself reappear.

“Just Another Day” (10/11/86) – Cowboy Curtis and Pee-wee show each other how to do routines in their respective lives.

“Beauty Makeover” (10/18/86) – Mrs. Steve becomes the unwitting target of Miss Yvonne’s desire to give someone a makeover.
Cartoon: The Three Bears

“The Restaurant” (10/25/86) – Pee-wee makes believe he runs a restaurant that only serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while Dixie has a bad day.

“Ants in your Pants” (11/1/86) – The ants escape and trample all over everyone on their way to steal cake from the Dinosaur Family’s home.

“Monster in the Playhouse” (11/8/86) – A giant, one-eyed monster arrives at the Playhouse.
Cartoon: Jack Frost

“The Cowboy and the Cowntess” (11/15/86) – Cowntess attempts to help Cowboy Curtis overcome his jitters about his pending date with Miss Yvonne.

“Stolen Apples” (11/22/86) – Randy steals Mrs. Steve’s apples and she asks Pee-wee to help her find them.

“The Gang’s All Here” (11/29/86) – Pee-wee invites everyone over to sketch him, and after he gets stuck in a mouse hole Jambi shrinks his head to help him escape.
Cartoon: Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!

“Party!” (12/6/86) – Pee-wee throws a party at the Playhouse and everyone’s invited.
Cartoon:  Bunny Mooning

Season 2:
“Open House” (9/12/87) – Pee-wee tricks his friends into doing all his chores and they make new friends in the process.

“Puppy in the Playhouse” (9/19/87) – Cowntess shows off some video from her world cruise while a puppy finds its way to the Playhouse, causing Pee-wee to fall in love with the lost dog.
Cartoon: To Spring

“Store” (9/26/87) – After Pee-wee and Cowboy Curtis have an adventure in Magic Screen, Curtis and Miss Yvonne go shopping at Pee-wee’s “department store.”

“Pee-wee Catches a Cold” (10/3/87) – Miss Yvonne and Ricardo take care of a sick Pee-wee.

“Why Wasn’t I Invited?” (10/10/87) – Pee-wee’s flowers are unhappy with an uninvited caterpillar and the Cowntess doesn’t invite Pee-wee to her birthday party.
Cartoon: Piano Tooners

“Tons of Fun” (10/17/87) – A day of singing to old records is capped off by the choice between two desserts.
Cartoon: Philips Broadcast of 1938

“School” (10/24/87) – Pee-wee turns the Playhouse into a school and educates his friends.
Cartoon: Pagan Moon

“Spring” (10/31/87) – It’s spring time: Pee-wee plants a seed and doesn’t make the baseball team, while The King of Cartoons introduces his family.

“Playhouse in Outer Space” (11/7/87) – The Playhouse is abducted into space and taken over by a lonely alien.

“Pajama Party” (11/14/87) – Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne hold a pajama party and Pee-wee marries fruit salad since he loves it so much.

Season 3:
“Reba Eats and Pterri Runs” (9/10/88) – Pee-wee has Jambi summon Reba on her day off so he can mail a letter, and Pterri runs away after Pee-wee punishes him.
Cartoon: Farm Foolery

“To Tell the Tooth” (9/17/88) – Pee-wee’s toothache means he needs to face his greatest fear: the dentist.

“Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special” (12/21/88) – Pee-wee’s star-studded Christmas party gets a damper when Santa tells him he must shorten his list or other kids won’t get presents.

Season 4:
“Dr. Pee-wee and the Del Rubios” (9/9/89) – Pee-wee plays doctor for a sick Reba and the Del Rubio Triplets stop by for a visit.

“Fire in the Playhouse” (9/16/89) – Randy decides to burn Miss Yvonne’s baked bread, leading her to develop a crush on Fireman Frank when he arrives to talk about fire safety.

“Love That Story” (9/23/89) – The Playhouse gang tell each other their favorite stories.
Cartoon: Spring Song

“Sick, Did Someone Say Sick?” (9/30/89) – When Jambi gets sick Pee-wee calls in a genie-ologist whose bedside manner is lacking.
Cartoon: To Spring

“Miss Yvonne’s Visit” (10/7/89) – Pee-wee invites Miss Yvonne to stay with him while her house is painted and finds she’s a pain as a houseguest.

“Rebarella” (10/14/89) – The Playhouse crew pretend to take a trip around the world, and later Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne chaperone Reba’s date.

“Heat Wave” (10/21/89) – Pee-wee presides as the judge over the case of Miss Yvonne and Mrs. Rene’s same one-of-a-kind dress.

“Chairry-Tee Drive” (10/28/89) – Searching for the Cowntess’ pencil sharpener leads Pee-wee and the gang to assemble items they don’t need any more to donate to charity.

“Let’s Play Office” (11/4/89) – Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne play office, but when it’s time for Yvonne to be the boss Pee-wee goes on break.
Cartoon: Little Lambkins

“I Remember Curtis” (11/11/89) – Finding Cowboy Curtis’ magic lasso leads the gang to remember all the fun they’ve had with him.

Season 5:
“Conky’s Breakdown” (9/8/90) – Conky breaks down and Pee-wee calls in a repairman, but Miss Yvonne’s crush on him may keep him from finishing fixing Conky.
Cartoon: One More Time

“Mystery” (9/15/90) – Pee-wee’s stuff begins mysterious disappearing around the Playhouse.
Cartoon: Farm Frolics

“Front Page Pee-wee” (9/22/90) – Pee-wee publishes a Playhouse newspaper, but Randy messes around with it after Pee-wee goes to bed.

“Tango Time” (9/29/90) – While Mrs. Rene learns how to tango Cowboy Curtis recalls his first and last time using roller skates.

“Playhouse Day” (10/6/90) – Pee-wee creates a new holiday so that his friends can get time off of work to hang out.

“Accidental Playhouse” (10/13/90) – Oki Doki visits from Japan and teaches Pee-wee about his culture.

“Fun, Fun, Fun” (10/20/90) – Miss Yvonne teaches the gang how to make cheese balls.
Cartoon: Freddy the Freshman

“Camping Out” (10/27/90) – Pee-wee and Cowboy Curtis go camping, leaving Mrs. Rene in charge of the Playhouse.
Cartoon: Allegretto, Balloon Land

“Something to Do” (11/3/90) – Jambi gives Pee-wee a list of things to do on a boring day.

“Playhouse for Sale” (11/10/90) – Miss Yvonne is surprised when she visits the Playhouse and finds a “for sale” sign on it.

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