Some Of The Strangest Things You Didn’t Know About Pee-Wee Herman
By JJ Foster -
Pee-Wee Herman is undoubtedly one of the most eccentric fictional characters over the last 30 years. Despite having many movies and TV shows to his name, Paul Reubens has become even more interesting than his on-screen persona…
On-Screen & Off-Screen Lovers?
After the release of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, rumors started to spread surrounding Reubens’ love life. Many believed that Valeria Golino, who plays Pee-wee’s love interest, was also his girlfriend behind the scenes. This rumor was only fueled after the duo attended the 1988 Academy Awards together…
Pee-wee Herman as “Himself”
Many casual fans have been under the impression for decades that Paul Reubens’ real name was actually Pee-wee Herman and that it was simply an eccentric person playing himself his entire life. However, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, and instead, it was simply a very impressive, long-winded performance. In order to prolong the illusion that Pee-wee Herman was a real person, Paul Reubens would always be credited in his Pee-wee productions as “Pee-wee Herman as Himself.”
Mysterious Love Life
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the man behind Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens, is his extremely private personal life. With many rumors surrounding his orientation, as well as his relationship status, a handful of women have only fueled the intense speculation over the years. One of those people was Chandi Heffner, who exchanged vows with Pee-wee at Doris Duke’s mansion in Honolulu, Hawaii. However, it was eventually confirmed that the ceremony was in fact, a mock wedding.
Despite painting a picture of himself as a quirky, awkward, but fun-loving persona as Pee-wee Herman over the years, things haven’t always been so happy-go-lucky for Paul Reubens. One of the darkest and most defining moments in his career came in 1991 when the actor was arrested in a theater for inappropriate behavior. Many have speculated that Pee-wee’s Playhouse‘s cancellation coincided with Reubens’ antisocial behavior and legal issues off-screen. This begs the question: did Reubens ever really overcome this huge setback?
Fleeting Romance With Debi Mazar
While Pee-wee’s wedding with Chandi Heffner was nothing more than a joke, his feelings for Debi Mazar are believed to have been much more genuine. Rumor has it that Reubens and Mazar had been in a relationship for six years during the ’90s. In fact, it is reported that the relationship helped the actor overcome depression caused by his 1991 arrest. Ultimately though, their romance didn’t stand the test of time, and Paul Rubens is believed to have been single ever since.
In light of Paul Reubens’ legal issues, he decided to not only abandon the Pee-wee persona, but to also take a step back from the limelight for the foreseeable future. Over the next few years, Reubens would find some other nasty allegations come his way. Despite this, Reubens received unanimous support from his contemporaries and he was never found guilty for any of the allegations in question. Before finally making a comeback to showbiz, he cared for his terminally ill father, who passed away in 2004.
Friends Until The Bitter End
Any diehard fan knows that without Phil Hartman, Pee-wee Herman may have never existed. Together, Hatman and Reubens developed the character and he ended up co-writing the screenplay for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. However, after the first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Hartman joined SNL, signaling the end of an era between the two friends. Despite never working together again, the duo remained in touch. Tragically though, in 1998, Phil Hartman was killed after being shot by his wife.
It easy to forget that Paul Reubens actually has some real diversity as an actor. Outside of his classic role as Pee-wee, he has played a variety of unique roles. In fact, Reubens has starred in movies since the ’80s, including the Blues Brothers and Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie. By the time the ’90s came around, Reubens could be found in movies such as Batman Returns and Matilda. He also had a role in the critically acclaimed Blow, starring Johnny Depp.
It wasn’t just seasoned pros like Lynne Marie Stewart who Reubens got a chance to work with on his popular show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The children’s program also acted as a springboard for young talent who would go on to become top-tier Hollywood actors in their own right. This included the likes of Laurence Fishburne, who is best known for his role as Morpheus from The Matrix. Other soon-to-be stars included Natasha Lyonne of American Pie fame and Jimmy Smits who starred in the Star Wars prequels.
Season 3 Only Had 3 Episodes
Rarely can a season of television be called an actual season if it only had a couple of episodes to its name. However, Pee-wee’s Playhouse “achieved” just that towards the end of the ’80s. In light of the 1988 strike initiated by the Writers Guild of America, Pee-wee’s show was forced to make some compromises, particularly with its episode distribution. Unlike other seasons, which were comprised of at least ten episodes each, season three only had three episodes, with one of them being a Christmas special.
Studios Didn’t Like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Like many successful movies, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure originally failed to win the hearts of the studios it was being pitched to. After seeing an early draft of the movie, Warner Bros. wasn’t convinced that it would do well commercially. As a result, the studio decided to release the bizarre movie to limited US screens. However, this wouldn’t stop the movie from making a killing at the box office. When everything was said and done, it made a whopping $41 million domestically.
Big Top Benicio
Although he had already hit the big time after appearing in Miami Vice, Benicio del Toro’s first full motion picture role came a year later in 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee. After playing “Duke the Dog-Faced Boy,” del Toro would go on to become one of the most revered actors in Hollywood, starring in classics such as The Usual Suspects, Sin City, and Sicario. The sequel was also the film debut for Dustin Diamond, who would go on to play the iconic Screech in Saved by the Bell.
Pee-wee Made Tim Burton Famous
During Pee-wee Herman’s gradual transition into Hollywood, Warner Bros. wanted to make sure that a like-minded director would make sure that Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was done right. As a result, they turned to Tim Burton, who Paul Reubens believed was the perfect man for the job, especially after watching the original Frankenweenie. “I knew Tim was the director about 15 seconds into Frankenweenie,” he said. Of course, this is the man who would go on to direct other classics such as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.
Cyndi Lauper Sang The Theme Song
Many diehard fans of Pee-wee’s Playhouse will struggle to get the show’s theme song out of their heads. What casual fans might not realize is that it was “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” singer Cyndi Lauper who sang the classic number. Funnily enough, Lauper was credited as “Ellen Shaw.” This is because she had released the hit single “True Colors” around the same time, which had a much more serious tone to it. According to her memoir, “people couldn’t accept both at the same time.”
The Birth Of Pee-wee
While it feels like Pee-wee Herman has been around forever, there was a time when the character was actually created, and his origins are pretty fascinating. When Paul Reubens was working as a member of the improv team The Groundlings, the comedian came up with a character who was desperate to be funny but ended up making people laugh at him rather than with him. According to Reubens, Pee-wee was influenced by classic characters such as Tintin and Pinocchio.
One of the most distinctive features of Pee-wee Herman’s performance is his annoying high-pitched voice. Just like everything else about the iconic character, Paul Reubens recalls exactly how he came up with the classic voice, to begin with. Back in 1970, when Reubens starred in the stage production Life with Father, he played one of the most annoying characters in the story and spoke in a way that he thought would most likely annoy both the characters and audience alike. This would eventually be used for Pee-wee.
It’s In The Name
Many have wondered over the years why Paul Reubens came up with such an odd name for his iconic character. According to the actor though, the background for his name is pretty simple. When he was a kid, Reubens was given a harmonica and the brand was called Pee Wee. Not only that, but Herman was actually the surname of a hyperactive child that Reubens used to hang out with. “I loved the idea of a nickname because it sounded so real to me,” he said.
Show Me The Money
Despite the mini development hell of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Warner Bros’ initial apprehension to greenlight the project, the movie was a huge success nonetheless. When you take into consideration that the movie only cost $7 million to make, its $41 million turnover at the box office is pretty incredible. Despite the fact that the 1988 sequel Big Top Pee-wee failed to build on the commercial success of its predecessor, Big Adventure was the project that ensured Paul Reubens would find work for the rest of his career.
Burton Got Reubens The Batman Role
It wasn’t just Paul Reubens’ early days with Tim Burton that helped the director become one of the most sought-after filmmakers in the whole of Hollywood. Burton also took Reubens along for the bumpy ride. The success of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure helped Burton land other movies such as Beetlejuice, as well as the huge blockbusters Batman and Batman Returns. In the latter, Reubens makes an appearance with Diane Salinger as the parents of the movie’s villain, the Penguin.
So Many Cameos
There is an incredible number of cameos in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Not only does Tim Burton make a surprise appearance in his own movie as a thug, but Cassandra Peterson is the head of the biker gang. Another funny cameo in the movie is Phil Hartman, who helped to write the script with Reubens. He appears as a reporter. There’s also a hilarious skit at the end of the movie that is extremely meta, featuring the likes of Morgan Fairchild and James Brolin.
Pee-wee Could’ve Been Very Different
When Paul Reubens was enjoying his success from his show, Warner Bros were excited for him to write a movie based on the classic character. However, Reubens had a very different idea of how he envisioned Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. In the DVD commentary, the star claimed that the script was going to be more like a remake of Pollyanna (one of his favorite flicks). However, after noticing that everyone at Warner Bros rode bikes, he was inspired to write about Pee-Wee’s stolen bike instead.
He Swore Once
While Pee-Wee Herman has often played a balancing act between the rude and the innocent, it is believed that the character has only used a curse word once in his entire career. When he said the line “I don’t want some other c**ppy bike,” this was the only time Pee-Wee Herman even used what could be possibly considered as a swear word. However, Paul Reubens has sworn on plenty of other occasions in non-Pee-Wee movies. So he’s not that well-behaved. In a recent interview, the actor was also quoted saying “Being the villain is more fun.”
Tim Burton Didn’t Return The Favor
It was Paul Reubens and producers of his hit movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure who basically put Tim Burton on the map. This is because the comedian had been impressed by the filmmaker’s early short-movies, including Frankenweenie. However, Burton hasn’t always returned the favor for Reubens over the years. Despite casting Pee-Wee in his classic A Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton failed to consider Reubens for a voice part in the motion picture version of Frankenweenie.
Over the course of his career, Paul Reubens’ raw talent hasn’t gone ignored by the critics. He has been nominated on a number of occasions for a variety of awards. In 1995, Reubens received a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his brief role in Murphy Brown. Reubens has also received countless nominations for his portrayal as Pee-wee in a variety of shows and movies. According to IMDB, Reubens has received 23 award nominations, winning six of them.
He Was Always In Character
Many method actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis and Jared Leto immerse themselves in their roles so much that they would stay in character during the entirety of a film’s production. However, Paul Reubens decided to take the technique one step further, appearing as Pee-wee Herman for many years. Although he may have behaved normally in private, Reubens maintained the bizarre persona in all of his public appearances, as well as in his interviews. It would be years until Reubens eventually dropped the persona.
Pee-wee On Broadway
Paul Reubens struck gold once again when he was able to take Pee-wee Herman to another medium altogether. After starring in his own shows and movies, the next natural step was to star in his very own Broadway production. The Pee-wee Herman Show returned to the classic comedic style originally established by Reubens, with some updates for a modern audience. After becoming a hit, the play was eventually broadcast as an HBO special – The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway.
Pee-wee’s Bike Sold For $36,600!
Let’s face it, Pee-wee’s bicycle is pretty iconic. In fact, Paul Reubens ended up using 10 different bikes during the production of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure alone! With many of these bikes still circulating around the movie memorabilia community, one of the bikes recently sold on eBay for a hefty price. It ended up selling for a whopping $36,600! It might not have sold for “a hundred million, trillion, billion dollars” as Pee-wee famously said. Nevertheless, it’s still a lot for a bike!
Pee-wee & Chill
At one point, it seemed like Paul Reubens would never reprise the classic role of Pee-wee Herman again. However, nearly three decades after last playing the character in a motion picture, Netflix released Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. The movie sees Pee-wee make a fateful encounter with a mysterious character played by Joe Manganiello. “It’s a road picture and it’s an adventure story,” Reubens said. “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.”