A Zipper For Pee-Wee Essay, Research Paper
Ethel O’ Grady
History of Television
December 3, 1996
A Zipper for Pee-Wee Herman:
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,
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
also be seen on a regular basis. Some of these favorites included: Rina the mail-lady,
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
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
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
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
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!
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