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Pee-wee's Playhouse facts for kids

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For the stage show, see The Pee-wee Herman Show.
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Pee-wee's Playhouse
Peeweesplayhouse.jpg
Genre Comedy
Created by Paul Reubens
Presented by Pee-wee Herman
Starring
Theme music composer George McGrath, Mark Mothersbaugh, & Paul Reubens
Opening theme Mark Mothersbaugh
Ending theme Mark Mothersbaugh
Composer(s)
  • Mark Mothersbaugh
  • The Residents (2.1, 2.9, 3.2)
  • Danny Elfman ("Monster", "Cowboy and Cowntess", "The Gang's All Here" "Pee-wee's Store", "Pee-wee Catches a Cold")
  • Mark Snow (5.1, 5.8, "Love That Story")
  • Tom Snow (4.4)
  • Ron Grant (5.6)
  • Todd Rundgren (1.11, 1.13)
  • George S. Clinton (5.5, "Dance Music"; only episode)
  • Gleen A. Jordan
  • Dweezil Zappa (3.1, 4.1, 4.2)
  • Scott Thunes (3.1, 4.1, 4.2, 4.8)
  • Jeff Baxter
  • Bruce Roberts (5.2)
  • Jonathan Sheffer (5.2)
  • Stanley Clarke
  • Van Dyke Parks (Christmas special)
  • Cliff Martinez (2.5)
  • Mitchell Froom ("Now You See Me, Now You Don't")
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 45 + Christmas Special (list of episodes)
Production
Producer(s) Paul Reubens
Richard Abramson
Production location(s)
  • 480 Broadway, New York, New York (1986)
  • Hollywood Center Studios, Los Angeles, California (1987–1988)
  • The Culver Studios, Los Angeles, California (1989–1990)
Camera setup
  • Film (principal photography)
  • Videotape (post-production)
  • Single-camera
Running time 23–24 minutes
Production company(s)
  • Pee-wee Pictures (entire run)
  • Broadcast Arts Productions (1986)
  • Binder Entertainment (1987–1988)
  • BRB Productions (season 2 reruns)
  • Grosso-Jacobson Productions (1989–1990)
Release
Original network CBS
Picture format 4:3 NTSC (480i)
Audio format CBS Stereo Sound
Original release September 13, 1986 (1986-09-13) – November 17, 1990 (1990-11-17)
Chronology
Related shows The Pee-wee Herman Show

Pee-wee's Playhouse is an American children's television program starring Paul Reubens as the childlike Pee-wee Herman which ran from 1986 to 1990 on Saturday mornings on CBS, and airing in reruns until July 1991. The show was developed from Reubens' popular stage show and the TV special The Pee-wee Herman Show, produced for HBO, which was similar in style but featured much more adult humor.

In 2004 and 2007, Pee-wee's Playhouse was ranked #10 and #12 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever, respectively.

Format

The premise of the show is that host Pee-wee Herman plays in the fantastic Playhouse in Puppetland. The house is filled with toys, gadgets, talking furniture and appliances (such as Magic Screen and Chairry), puppet characters (such as Conky the Robot, Pterri the baby Pteranodon), and Jambi (John Paragon), a disembodied genie's head who lives in a jeweled box. The Playhouse is visited by a regular cast of human characters, including Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), Reba The Mail Lady (S. Epatha Merkerson), Captain Carl (Phil Hartman), Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne), and a small group of children, The Playhouse Gang.

Although primarily a live-action comedy, each episode includes segments featuring puppetry, video animation, and prepared sequences using Chroma-key and stock footage (for example when Pee-wee jumps into the Magic Screen), as well as inserted clay animation sequences (some made by Aardman Animations, who would later make Wallace & Gromit) and excerpts from cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation and in the public domain, usually presented by the character "The King of Cartoons". Each episode features specially written soundtrack music by rock and pop musicians such as Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Todd Rundgren, Mitchell Froom, and The Residents. The show's theme song performance is credited to "Ellen Shaw", though in her autobiography, Cyndi Lauper admits to being the actual singer.

The show has many recurring gags, themes, and devices. Each episode usually contained a running gag particular to that episode, or a specific event or dilemma that sends Pee-wee into an emotional frenzy. At the beginning of each episode, viewers are told the day's "secret word" (often issued by Conky the Robot) and are instructed to "scream real loud" every time a character says the word.

CBS and Reubens mutually agreed to end the show at the end of the 1990–91 season after 5 seasons and 45 episodes. The last original episode aired on November 17, 1990. In July 1991, Reubens was arrested for exposing himself in a Sarasota, Florida, adult movie theater, prompting CBS to immediately stop airing its Playhouse re-runs, which were originally intended to air until late 1991. The show was replaced by reruns of The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy.

Soundtracks

The music for the show was provided by a diverse set of musicians, including Mark Mothersbaugh, The Residents, Todd Rundgren, Danny Elfman (who provided the score for both of the Pee-wee movies), Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, George S. Clinton, and Dweezil Zappa with Scott Thunes (spelled 'Tunis' in the credits).

Mothersbaugh, who later went on to become a fixture in composing music for children's shows like Rugrats, joined the show on hiatus from recording with Devo.

Paul Reubens asked me to do Pee-wee's Playhouse, and I had some time, so I was like, yeah, let's do it.

Pee-wee's Playhouse was really chaotic. They'd send me the tape from New York on Tuesday. I'd watch it Tuesday night; Wednesday I'd write the music. Thursday I'd record the music, it'd go out Thursday night to them, they'd have Friday to cut it into the picture, and then Saturday we'd watch it on TV. And it was like really fast, and instead of writing an album once a year I was writing an album's worth of music once a week, and it was really exciting. It was a new experience and it was a different creative process.

The opening prelude theme is an interpretation of Les Baxter's "Quiet Village". The theme song, which originally followed the prelude, was performed by Cyndi Lauper (credited as "Ellen Shaw"), imitating Betty Boop.

For the final season in 1990, a new version of the prelude theme was recorded, and the opening theme was slightly edited. This plastered the season 2 opening on the season 4 episodes in all post-1990 airings and video releases.

Cast and crew

Many now-well-known TV and film actors appeared on the show, including Sandra Bernhard, Laurence Fishburne, Phil Hartman, Natasha Lyonne, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jimmy Smits, and Lynne Stewart. Future heavy metal musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie was a production assistant, and future filmmaker John Singleton was a security guard.

Season 3 (which consisted of only three episodes) included an all-star Christmas special featuring the regular cast, with appearances by Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Magic Screen's Cousin played by Magic Johnson, Dinah Shore, Joan Rivers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Little Richard, Cher, Charo, k.d. lang, the Del Rubio triplets, and Grace Jones.

Human characters

Character Played by Description
Pee-wee Herman Paul Reubens The childlike "Host". Pee-wee is portrayed as an impatient and fun-loving child with dainty mannerisms and quirky facial expressions. He is typically cheerful and flamboyant, with occasional childish temper tantrums.
Cowboy Curtis Laurence Fishburne A "cowboy" in the 1950s pop culture sense with a jheri curl mullet.
Captain Carl (first season) Phil Hartman A gritty, unshaven sea captain with a gruff voice, but a somewhat shy demeanor, he shows Pee-wee interesting things from the ocean. His tolerance for Pee-wee's antics is often tested whenever he stopped by. Captain Carl is more adult-oriented in the HBO special and Miss Yvonne appears to have deep feelings for him.
Miss Yvonne Lynne Marie Stewart A woman obsessed with beauty and cosmetics, who often flirts with Pee-wee and many of the other male characters on the show, she is given the title "the most beautiful woman in Puppetland" by the puppet characters (especially Mr. Window who would usually introduce her). She wears a large brown bouffant-style wig that she doesn't like getting wet, gaudy dresses, and heels.
Reba the Mail Lady S. Epatha Merkerson A mail carrier who is often confused by the rules of the playhouse.
The King of Cartoons Gilbert Lewis (first season);
William H. Marshall (subsequent seasons)
He shows a brief cartoon clip during his segment, with his catch phrase "Let the cartoon begin!"
Tito (first season only) Roland Rodriguez The playhouse lifeguard, he usually enters the house during a group activity.
Ricardo Vic Trevino A soccer star with an apparent medical background. He replaced Tito after the first season.
Mrs. Steve Shirley Stoler A frequent visitor to the playhouse during the first season, she enjoyed eating and "snooping around" when Pee-wee was not seen.
Mrs. Rene Suzanne Kent A neighbor of Pee-wee's, she replaced Mrs. Steve after the first season. She is the polar opposite of Mrs. Steve, being much more tolerant and fun-loving.
Dixie (first season only) Johann Carlo A no-nonsense taxi driver, she introduces the King of Cartoons in the first season by playing her trumpet. The character was dropped in later seasons and the King's introduction is done by the flowers.
The Playhouse Gang (first season) Natasha Lyonne (Opal);
Shawn Weiss (Elvis);
Diane Yang (Cher)
Three children who interact with Pee-wee during the first season, they were replaced by three other children for the subsequent second season.
The Playhouse Gang (second season) Vaughn Tyree Jelks (Fabian);
Alisan Porter (Li'l Punkin);
Stephanie Walski (Rapunzel)
Three children who interact with Pee-wee in two episodes of the second season.
Roosevelt Unknown Pee-wee's dog. Pee-wee can understand what he says.

Puppet and object characters

Character Voiced by Description
Jambi John Paragon A blue-faced (later green) genie who lives as a disembodied head in a jeweled box, he usually appears once per show to grant Pee-wee a wish, often with unexpected results. To power his magic, he makes the group and audience chant, "Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho".
Chairry Alison Mork A bluish-green armchair with eyes on the chair back, a mouth between the seat cushions, and armrests that flap around, she occasionally hugs Pee-wee when he sits on her.
Magic Screen Alison Mork A screen on wheels that slightly resembles an Etch-A-Sketch, she shows films, and Pee-wee would frequently jump into the screen to interact with a fantasy land inside.
Pterri John Paragon (seasons 1, 3–5);
George McGrath (season 2)
A green pteranodon and one of Pee-wee's closest friends, he usually acts like a sensitive young child.
Mr. Window Ric Heitzman The window to the left of the playhouse door when inside the playhouse, he has googly eyes and talks by moving his yellow window pane up and down. His role on the show is to introduce other characters.
Clockey Kevin Carlson A yellow and red clock shaped like a map of the United States, he often introduces cartoons.
Conky 2000 Gregory Harrison (season 1);
Kevin Carlson (subsequent seasons)
The playhouse robot, he gives Pee-wee the "secret word" each week and serves as a computer element. He spoke with a stutter, and is made from various parts of old electronics, including old camera attachments for eyes, a boombox for a chest, phonograph for a torso, and a cash register for the head.
Globey George McGrath A spinning globe with a pair of arms at the base and a large face in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Globey speaks with a French accent and often helps Pee-wee out with geography, language, astronomy, or history questions.
Puppet Band Wayne White (Dirty Dog)
Ric Heitzman (Cool Cat)
Alison Mork (Chicky Baby)
Three animal puppets who comprise a 1950s-style jazz combo, they live in a corridor of the Playhouse resembling a street alley. They normally speak in rhyme, parodying Beat generation poetry.
Mr. Kite Wayne White A pink kite, he occasionally appears in one of the playhouse windows for weather reports and visitor announcements.
Randy Wayne White A red-headed marionette who serves as the playhouse bully, usually making life miserable for everyone.
Billy Baloney Paul Reubens A ventriloquist dummy, he slightly resembles Randy in appearance (but blonde), which Pee-wee himself operates on occasion.
Dog Chair George McGrath A white chaise longue, which is similar to Chairry but resembling the face of a dog.
The Ants Miscellaneous Occasionally, Pee-wee would check on the ant farm; a short close-up animated sequence shows the ants engaged in some human activity.
The Dinosaur Family George McGrath (Red)
Alison Mork (Light Blue)
Ric Heitzman (Blue)
Kevin Carlson (Pink)
A den of miniature, clay-animation dinosaurs, they live in a mouse hole in the playhouse.
Food Miscellaneous The contents of Pee-wee's refrigerator, these clay-animation food items dance and juggle.
Flowers Ric Heitzman
George McGrath
Wayne White
These three flowers live in a flowerbed in the window. After Dixie was dropped from the show, they introduced the King of Cartoons.
Fish Ric Heitzman (Purple);
George McGrath (Yellow)
The fish lives in the playhouse aquarium.
Penny Avriel Hillman A clay animation short featuring a blonde girl with pennies for eyes, who described some situations in her life and daily activities.
Knucklehead Gregory Harrison (season 1)
Kevin Carlson (season 2)
A large image of a side view of a fist, with "googly eyes" and lipstick who tells bad knock-knock jokes.
Cowntess George McGrath A life-sized, talking cow that speaks in an elegant accent.
Salesman Ric Heitzman A giant salesman, dressed in a tacky suit, he rings the doorbell and shouts "I'm going door to door to make you this incredible offer!"
Floory Kevin Carlson A section of the playhouse floor that stands up and talks.
Chandelier Alison Mork A talking chandelier with a French accent.
Magic Glasses N/A A pair of glasses attached to a hat that has a monkey's head and arms on them. Pee-wee puts them on him and sees various things through them.
Exercise Belt Ric Hetizman A vintage vibrating belt exercise machine.
Toys Miscellaneous These are Pee-wee's strange toys he keeps in a smiley face-shaped window, with movable shelves inside.
El Hombre Tito Larriva A Spanish-language cartoon about a superhero who stops crime, thwarts strangers, saves people's lives and rights any other wrongs. Six different clay animation shorts are featured on this show.

Episodes

List of Pee-wee's Playhouse episodes

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