A Zipper for Pee-Wee Herman

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A Zipper for Pee-Wee Herman

Ethel O’ Grady

History of Television

December 3, 1996

Leaders in childrens television are and always have been concerned about

what programs actually make it on the air. Most early programming for children

of school age in the 1950’s was the western program. Another type was the

science-fiction thriller which tended to be based on hero’s from the radio,

comics, and films. However, a favorite of the youngest audience was the

children’s equivalent of the variety show. This usually contained circus,

puppet, and/or animal segments. “Super Circus”, which aired in 1949, consisted

of music, circus acts, animals, and of course, clowns.

In 1952, yet another type of program came about which reached a very

similiar audience as the circus variety shows. It was called “The Ding Dong

School”. The Ding Dong School offered the conversation, low-key instruction,

commercials, and entertainment of Miss. Frances, a professional teacher.

With the help of these types of shows, a new genre was born. Children’s

television which was a mixture of songs, education, fun, and a whole lot more.

In 1969, the first airing of “Sesame Street” took place. Sesame Street had

programs which were sponsored by different letters of the alphabet or numbers

each day, and relied on very short, animated cartoons with live and puppet

segments which kept the interest of preschool children. The show was an

instant outstanding success, and still broadcasts today.

In 1970, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” was born. Mr. Fred Roger’s used

puppets and music to teach patience and cooperation, while providing guidance

to help children cope with feelings and frustrations. Mr. Roger’s land of

makebelieve’s handpuppet characters interacted with humans in the mythical

kingdom of King Friday XIII. There, the puppets and humans would deal with

their feelings and emotions as they solve typical, everyday problems.

This new genre of programming was a sensation. The children loved it,

and the parents approved of it. During the following years, many new shows

came about which still fit this genre. In the year 1986, yet another show was

born into childrens television. “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”. This series, starring

host Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) used animation, puppets, and vintage

cartoons to entertain and educate its audience. Between Pee-Wee Herman and his

extraordinary playhouse, children were given the opportunity to let their

imaginations go crazy.

The “playhouse” had no permanent residents, that is, besides the

furnishings.Not ordinary furnishings, you see, Pee-Wee’s furnishings could

move, talk, dance, and sing. These “characters” could be seen at the

playhouse on a regular basis. Some of the favorites were: Globey, a talking

globe who would show Pee-Wee the countries that his pen-pal’s letters came

from; Magic Screen, a toy of Pee-Wee’s that enabled him to actually get

“inside the screen” and play a life-size game of connect the dots; Konkie, a

talking robot which revealed the secret word of the day; and of course Genie,

who granted Pee-

Wee one wish a day.

The playhouse also welcomed a series of visitors during each episode,

which could also be seen on a regular basis. Some of these favorites included:

Rina the mail-lady, who came to deliver Pee-Wee’s pen-pal letters everyday;

Miss Yvonne, who Pee-Wee referred to the most beautiful woman in Puppetland;

and of course the King of Cartoons who brought the “vintage cartoon of the day”

to Pee-Wee.

Besides the spectacular furnishings and outrageous visitors, the

television show also had an unusual daily theme. This theme could have been

anything from “a fire in the playhouse”, “a trip to another planet”, or even

“Pee-Wee getting sick”. In all of these situations, Pee-Wee stressed the

importance of friendship, sharing, and just being nice.

One particular show, “Monster in the Playhouse”, was about being in the

dark. Pee-Wee explains that when your with your friends, the dark is less

spooky. Suddenly Mrs. Steve, a neighbor of Pee-Wee’s, begins panicking because

she thinks there’s a monster on the loose. Just then, a great monster with one

eye and one leg enters the playhouse. His name is Roger, and he stays and plays

with Pee-Wee. All of a sudden Roger’s mother is on the picture-phone saying

that Roger is late for dinner. This show ends with Pee-Wee’s elaborate

closing: Pee-Wee mounting his scooter with Roger and giving him a ride home.

Unfortunately, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse came to an startling end only five

years later. Why? Well, on July 26, 1991, Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) was

arrested for indecent exposure in a porno-theater. This incident both shocked

and worried the leaders of children’s television programming due to the morals,

ethics, and values of the society during that time. Questions flooded the

minds of parents, teachers, and officials. People began to fear that Pee-Wee

was perhaps a poor role-model for their youngsters.

The real question is this: Should Pee-Wee’s behavior have been such a

shock to society? Lets look a little deeper into Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. This

children’s television show was actually a refined version of Paul Reuben’s

nightclub act: “The Pee-Wee Herman Show”. It is difficult to imagine that

anyone who had seen his nightclub act, actually agreed to run Pee-Wee’s

Playhouse during Saturday morning, children’s programming.

The Pee-Wee Herman Show can best be described as an adult version of

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Paul Reubens played the part of Pee-Wee Herman, a boy who

acts out his infantile sexuality by “playing doctor” with the ladies and

looking up women’s skirts. Numerous accounts of sexual innuendo’s are made by

Pee-Wee during the entire show.

I don’t think Pee-Wee Herman ever gave the impression that he was a “Mr.

Rogers-Captain Kangeroo” kind of role model for children. Pee-Wee was who he

was: a creative comedian who had a clever way of looking at life through the

eyes of a child. Whether he was a disgusting pervert or just plain human, his

television show and movies were a huge success.

Though no longer in syndication, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’s fire still

continues to burn. There is now a collection of video tapes available which

allow Pee-Wee to be where he belongs: in the center of family room’s across

the country.

Long live Pee-Wee Herman!

Works Cited:

Textbook:

Christopher Sterling & John Kittros. Stay Tuned: A Concise History of

American Broadcasting (Revised Edition). (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1990)

The Museum of Television and Radio (NYC):

1. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: A Fire in the Playhouse

2. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood: Superhero’s

3. Before They Were Stars III (TV)

4. Comic Relief, pt. 2 of 5 (1986)

5. Television, pt 8: The Promise of Television

6. Andrew Dice Clay: For Ladies Only

7. The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years

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