“Pee-wee’s Playhouse” stands as one of the oddest, most audacious, most unclassifiable shows in television history. The man-boy Pee-wee and a vast collection of human and nonhuman characters — there was, for instance, Chairry, a talking armchair that gave hugs — held forth in each episode about, well, it’s hard to summarize. There was a word of the day. There were bizarre toys. In one episode, Pee-wee married a fruit salad.
The show had not been on long before academics and cultural critics were analyzing its appeal with weighty papers and other commentaries, but Mr. Reubens was having none of that. “I’ve been almost paranoid about dissecting it too much,” he said, “because the character always has been a kind of instinctual gut thing. I’m able to turn it on, and it just kind of flows. I do what I want and hope it connects.”
The wheels of his career came off in July 1991, when he was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure in an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Fla., where he had grown up. The arrest led to a small fine, but the headlines damaged his reputation.
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