Pee-wee Aloysius Herman was born at The Groundlings, an improv comedy team in Los Angeles, California. According to Paul Reubens, the man responsible for introducing us to Pee-wee, “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.”
His first appearance on stage as the zany, quirky and lovable Pee-wee Herman was in 1977.
Reubens had a harmonica that said "Pee Wee" on it and Reubens thought that would be a perfect name for his fictional character. “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.”
Apparently Pee-wee’s iconic gray suit belonged to a man named Gary Austin, the director and co-founder of The Groundlings. He let Pee-wee borrow the suit and he never got it back. The bow tie was also borrowed and the only thing that actually belonged to Reubens was his pair of white shoes. This ensemble became his signature look.
“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 ..."
Two years after his first stage appearance, Pee-wee was on three episodes of The Dating Game. He stayed in character and even got the girl in one episode! Reubens told Interview magazine, “I went to a cattle call audition for The Dating Game, and before I even got home they called me back.”
In 2014, the bike that was used in the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure went up for auction on eBay. The seller hoped to get $15,000 for the bike but he got more than double. In the end, someone bought the prop for $36,600. Wait, Pee-wee said that he wouldn't sell his bike for all the money in the world. Not for 100 billion-million-TRILLION dollars!
While it may have been just a children’s show, so many actors got their start on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Phil Hartman, Natasha Lyonne, Laurence Fishburne and Jimmy Smits all made appearances on the show very early on in their careers. I am sure they have a special place in their heart for Pee-wee, Chairry, Mr. Window and the rest of the gang.
7. Rob Zombie And John Singleton Worked On 'Pee-Wee’s Playhouse'
Not only did the show feature future stars in front of the camera, but there was a lot of talent behind the scenes as well. Five years before he wrote and directed Boyz n the Hood, John Singleton was a P.A on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Rob Zombie was also a P.A on set around the time that he formed White Zombie.
When he first auditioned for Cowboy Curtis, Laurence did not understand the tone of the show. No one informed him that the show was meant to be silly and fun and he came in with a much darker approach. “I was in the D.C. area making Gardens of Stone, and I got this call that Paul wanted to see me,” Fishburne told Entertainment Weekly. “I had almost no hair on my head because I had been doing this military picture. I auditioned as a Yul Brynner-esque kind of cowboy—very dark and serious. Reubens and Paragon both looked at me like, 'Could you lighten it up?'"
I guess he upped his silly factor, because he got the role!
Benicio Del Toro had done a few small TV roles before he booked his first feature film, Big Top Pee-wee as “Duke the Dog-Faced Boy." This movie was Dustin Diamond of Saved By the Bell’s first feature film as well. A few month’s later he booked Saved By The Bell and became a household name as Screech.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was Tim Burton’s first feature film as a director. It was also the first feature film for composer Danny Elfman. Elfman went on to also compose Big Top Pee-wee and a few episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse and of course Beetle Juice, Good Will Hunting, Silver Linings Playbook and so many more.
In 2016, Netflix releasedPee-wee’s Big Holiday, his first film in 28 years. Reubens described it as, “a road picture and it’s an adventure story. It’s similar in tone and structure to Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in that it is a road picture—I’m trying to get somewhere. I live in a real little small town and I don’t get much excitement.”
Reubens never wanted Pee-wee to just be some character that he played. He always had the intentions of making Pee-wee feel like he was a real person. Because of this, when he performs, he credits himself as "Pee-wee Herman as Himself."
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was a huge success. With a budget of only $7 million, the movie earned $41 million at the box office. It also led to the sequel, Big Top Pee-wee and of course Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Originally CBS wanted to make Pee-wee’s Playhouse an animated series. After the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, CBS came to Reubens with the idea of creating an animated children’s series. “I'd had the stage show originally, so I was much more interested in doing something closer to that, something live-action,” Reubens 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.’"
The theme song for Pee-wee's Playhouse is credited to Ellen Shaw, but if you listen closely, that voice sounds very familiar. Can you guess who it really is? Cyndi Lauper admitted in her autobiography that it was actually her that sang the theme song.