20 Things You Didn't Know About 'Pee-wee's Playhouse'

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Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman and Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne
Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman and Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne

Pee-wee, Pterri, Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne, Reba the Mail Lady, Chairry, Penny, and The King of Cartoons have never looked as good as they do in the new Shout! Factory Blu-ray boxed set of Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series, a painstakingly restored collection that is a boon for fans of the beloved 1986-1990 Saturday morning classic.

In honor of the release, we're dishing up 20 fun facts you may not have known about the Playhouse, from the TV shows that inspired Paul Reubens's creation to the next time you might see Pee-wee on the big screen. These facts are so fun, in fact, that we're sure you're going to love them. So why don't you just go ahead and marry them?

1. Paul Reubens, a member of The Groundlings comedy troupe, created a stage show called The Pee-wee Herman Show in 1980, following a failed audition for Saturday Night Live. HBO taped and aired one of the Herman Show performances in 1981. That led to the 1985 cult-classic Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which led to the debut of CBS's Saturday morning series Pee-wee's Playhouse on Sept. 13, 1986.

2. CBS originally approached Reubens to create a cartoon series, but the actor — a fan of classic live-action series like The Howdy Doody Show and Captain Kangaroo — countered with the idea of a live-action series that would be a less-adult version of The Pee-wee Herman Show.

Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman

3. Several future stars appeared as Pee-wee's Playhouse pals throughout the series' five-season run: future Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Laurence Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis; Golden Globe and Emmy winner S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order) was Reba the Mail Lady; Orange Is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne was Playhouse Gang member Opal; Reubens's Groundlings pal Phil Hartman (who also co-wrote Pee-wee's Big Adventure) was Captain Carl; Emmy winner and current Sons of Anarchy star Jimmy Smits played Conky repairman Johnny Wilson; John Paragon — best known outside the Playhouse for playing Cedric, half of the gay couple who menaced Kramer on Seinfeld — was genie Jambi; and Calvert DeForest — aka David Letterman's buddy Larry "Bud" Melman — played Rusty.

Lynne Stewart as Miss Yvonne, Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, and S.Epatha Merkerson as Reba, the Mail Lady
Lynne Stewart as Miss Yvonne, Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, and S.Epatha Merkerson as Reba, the Mail Lady

4. That is Cyndi Lauper singing the show's theme song, even though one of her backup singers is credited as the performer. Lauper explained the situation in Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir: "[Pee-wee] wanted me to sing the theme song. I told him I would, but I couldn't have it under my name, because I was going to put out True Colors, which had a serious tone. In our superficial world, people couldn't accept both at the same time. So I sang the theme song using the pseudonym 'Ellen Shaw.' And then Paul sent me back a tape that was so hilariously funny, of me singing the theme with him in between saying, 'Oh no! My career is ruined, oh no!' He's a nut. I love him."

[Related: See Photos of Paul Reubens on 'The Blacklist' Season 2]

5. The first season of the show was shot in New York City in a SoHo loft that had previously been a sweatshop. Sewing machines had to be cleared out before the Playhouse set could be built, and air-conditioning had to be pumped in from a truck on the street because the fifth-floor room was so stuffy. For Season 2, production moved to Los Angeles.

6. In one of the most memorable and delightfully kooky episodes of Playhouse — Season 2's "Pajama Party" — Pee-wee took the old "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?" joke to an extreme, and "married" fruit salad, complete with a wedding ceremony (including a bowl of fruit salad wearing a veil). "I really love kids. I'm always knocked out by kids, how funny they are and what they appreciate," Reubens told Rolling Stone. "The greatest moments in the writing room were always when myself or someone else would come up with something that would make us say: This is going to make a 6-year-old fall off the couch. It was so much fun and so rewarding to do something where the goal was to just make kids laugh, entertain them and show them a world that embraces creativity and nonconformity."

7. Most Saturday morning cartoons were produced for about $250,000 an episode. Pee-wee's Playhouse, with cast and the incredible production quality, cost $350,000 an episode.

8. Among the musicians who created tunes for the series: George Clinton, Todd Rundgren, Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, Oscar-nominated composer and Oingo Bongo lead singer Danny Elfman, and Dweezil Zappa.

9. Pee-wee's Playhouse won 22 Daytime Emmy Awards. For its first season, the series won an Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling, thanks in part to future hairstylist of the stars Sally Hershberger. Hershberger, most famous for creating Meg Ryan's signature shag 'do, was also once the most expensive stylist in New York City, charging $600 for a cut.

10. Because of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Season 3 consists of just two episodes plus a primetime Christmas special that included guest appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Cher, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Dinah Shore, Whoopi Goldberg, Zsa Zsa Gabor, k.d. lang, and Annette Funicello.

11. In her book Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, author Caseen Gaines writes that Reubens had once planned a Pee-wee special called Pee-wee's Playhouse Goes Hawaiian, which would have featured Charo.

[Related: From Pee-wee to Mr. T: The 12 Weirdest Holiday Specials We've Ever Seen]

12. Another Playhouse episode idea that was tossed out, according to Gaines's book: a riff on The Patty Duke Show, with Pee-wee hanging out with his lookalike country cousin. The episode would have been a part of the show's fourth season, but Reubens, by then exhausted from a schedule that he said ensured he could never have a personal life or get enough sleep, thought it would be too exhausting to film.

13. Pee-wee's Playhouse had some very talented production assistants, including Boyz n the Hood director (and Oscar nominee) John Singleton, and heavy metal rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie.

14. In the series finale, "Playhouse for Sale," the secret word was "word."

Phil Hartman as Captain Carl and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
Phil Hartman as Captain Carl and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman

15. Like most popular animated kids shows of the day, Playhouse spawned several lines of tie-in merchandise, including a talking Pee-wee doll that sold more than a million units, Pee-wee party supplies, Pee-wee jeans and sweaters at JCPenney, bed sheets, lunchboxes, Topps trading cards, Pee-wee costumes, a full-sized Chairry, and a Pee-wee's Playhouse playset that was so realistic Reubens used one to block episodes for Seasons 4 and 5.

16. Oscar-winning makeup artist Ve Neill, a judge on Syfy's Face Off, won her first major award, a Daytime Emmy, for her work on Pee-wee's Playhouse. She went on to win Academy Awards for Best Makeup for Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ed Wood, and has been the makeup department head for all the Pirates of the Caribbean and Hunger Games films.

17. Reubens's infamous July 1991 arrest for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Florida is sometimes blamed for the cancellation of Pee-wee's Playhouse, but the actor had decided to end the show the previous year, with the last original episode airing in November 1990. CBS did stop airing Playhouse reruns after the arrest, and Toys R Us pulled Playhouse toys from its shelves, but celebrities from Bill Cosby to Funicello were among those who voiced public support for Reubens. The performer took control of the scandal himself two months later, when he appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards in Pee-wee costume and asked the audience, "Heard any good jokes lately?"

18. The series has been digitally remastered for a new Shout! Factory Blu-ray boxed set, which is visually stunning and features more than four hours of new bonus materials, including interviews with Fishburne, Merkerson, Mothersbaugh, Elfman, and series animators, writers, makeup artists, and the fantastic production design team. Reubens was also very involved with the Blu-ray project, right down to sitting in on editing sessions. "This wasn't a goof on kids' shows," he told Rolling Stone. "I felt like it was a mission, and this was what I was supposed to do; I considered it important work. I always sort of thought that this would have a positive effect on kids. And they picked up on that, I think. I've spent a lot of time rewatching these episodes during the restoration process for this set, and I'm still really proud of what we all did."

19. A scene in the Season 2 premiere, "Open House," that shows Pee-wee making sun tea was cut from some early DVD releases because of concerns that viewers didn't know about the dangers of bacteria growth in sun-tea making. The entire episode is on the new Blu-ray release.

Penny
Penny

20. After the success of The Pee-wee Herman Show revival on Broadway (and an accompanying HBO special) in 2010, Reubens and Judd Apatow began developing a Pee-wee movie that is being co-written by Reubens and comedian Paul Rust, and produced by Apatow. Few other details have been available, but Reubens told Rolling Stone that "a big announcement" about the project is "very imminent." Maybe we'll finally get to see Pee-wee's country cousin after all.

Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series Blu-ray set is available from Shout! Factory on Oct. 21.