Remember me? Lou from prison. Your letters have really helped me pass the time. In fact, some of the guys joke with me that you are my girlfriend.â?�
This transgressive missive is read aloud in The Pee-wee Herman Show, a 1981 stage production at LA's Roxy Theatre that preceded the TV series Pee-wee's Playhouse and the Pee-wee Herman movies. The Roxy show first reached America through HBO's On Location series, and it's different from the Pee-wee oeuvre that followed in that it's aimed specifically at adults, rather than at both grownups and kids.
As imagined and played by the Sarasota-raised Paul Reubens, the Pee-wee of the Roxy show is very much the same happy-go-lucky man-child that we all recall. He has his crew cut, his Harry Langdon eyes, his little red bow tie, his shiny white shoes and his gray, two-sizes-too-small suit ' an emblem of his refusal to acknowledge impending adolescence.
But if Pee-wee is ever the eternal child, the Roxy show sometimes places him in situations that aren't what you'd call kid-friendly. There's that letter, for one thing. And there's the sequence in which Pee-wee's seafaring pal, Kap'n Karl (the late, great Phil Hartman), shows him a drawing of a mermaid without breasts and asks him to identify her two round missing features. 'A belly buttonâ?� and 'a watchâ?� are the answers Karl is after, but the sequence ventures beyond kid-show boundaries anyway.
The Pee-wee Herman Show comes out on DVD July 18 (following the return of Pee-wee's Playhouse to TV, as part of the Cartoon Network's 'Adult Swimâ?� block). Watching the DVD reminded me how much fun it used to be when Pee-wee would say, tauntingly, 'I know you are, but what am I?â?�, or when he'd punctuate an announcement with a breathless, 'OK? OK!â?�, or when he'd just burst out with his two-tone laugh. It's fun, too, to encounter the putatively beautiful Miss Yvonne (Lynne Stewart) in her strapless gown and the hootin', hollerin' Hermit Hattie (Edie McClurg). The Roxy show also includes a 'Hypnosis Funâ?� sequence in which Pee-wee induces an audience member (presumably a plant) to discard her dress.
Then there's Jambi (John Paragon), the jolly, disembodied genie who magically receives a pair of hands 'with which, he confides, he plans to do something he's been thinking about for quite some time. The provocative photo of Barbara Eden as Jeannie that hangs on a door of Jambi's box obliquely suggests what he has in mind: something Reubens himself was later charged with doing on a fateful visit to a Florida movie theater.
Yes, like 'Lou from prison,â?� Reubens has had his scrapes with the law. And whatever else that might mean, it seems to have meant curtains for Pee-wee Herman's career. That's tough for Pee-wee and Reubens, and also tough for us. But as consolation we at least have the movies (especially Pee-wee's Big Adventure), the innovative TV series and, of course, the hilarious, hellzapoppin' Pee-wee Herman Show. OK? OK!