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August 29, 2015

Five Stars Launched On 'Pee-wee's Playhouse'

by Ryan McKee, posted Oct 20th 2010 6:00PM
After nearly two decades, Paul Reubens is becoming Pee-wee Herman, that silly man-child in the tight gray suit, again.

Reubens stars in the revival of the 1981 production, 'The Pee-wee Herman Show,' which premieres Oct. 26 on Broadway. And the character isn't just making a comeback on stage -- Reubens and Judd Apatow are also working on a third Pee-wee Herman film.

It's wonderful to see our favorite childhood comedian working again. It inspired us to watch a few episodes of 'Pee-wee's Playhouse,' and we were surprised to see how many faces we recognized. Not just because we remembered the characters, but because many of them have gone on to be acting stars themselves.

Listed below are the five biggest actors from the show, who were all relatively unknown at the time. Find out how they came to the show, where they are now, their characters and which member of the Apatow crew would best fill the role if needed.

Laurence Fishburne - Cowboy Curtis
Cowboy Curtis is one of Pee-wee's best friends in the show. He sings silly country songs, wears a jheri curl mullet and acts like a kid. Fans of Fishburne's film work and 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation' may be surprised that a recurring role as a black cowboy on a children's comedy show launched this dramatic actor's career. Fishburne began acting as a child in the soap opera 'One Life to Live.' After moving to L.A., he met Reubens at the famous comedy venue Groundlings Theatre. (Fishburne didn't study there like Reubens, but performed readings.) With 'CSI' still going and roles in films like 'Predators,' he unfortunately won't be growing his mullet again.

New Cowboy Curtis Pick
: Craig Robinson

Phil Hartman - Captain Carl
This gritty, but shy sea captain was in the 1981 stage show and also appeared on the TV show. He'd stop by the playhouse to show Pee-wee interesting items from the sea. Hartman began collaborating with Reubens after joining Groundlings Theatre in 1975. and together, they created 'The Pee-wee Herman Show.' The future 'SNL' star left after the first season of the TV show after the two stars had creative differences. His tragic death at the hands of his wife in 1998 will prevent him from returning.

New Captain Carl Pick: Seth Rogen

Natasha Lyonne - Opal of The Playhouse Gang
In first two seasons, three children known as The Playhouse Gang would interact with Pee-Wee for a children's perspective. One of those kids, Opal, was Lyonne's first acting role. Even though she was replaced after the first season, she kept acting and nabbed roles in 'A Man Called Sarge' and 'Dennis the Menace.' At the age of 20, she rose to fame thanks to the 'American Pie' movies. After drug and legal problems, Lyonne is making a comeback in the upcoming film '13' with Mickey Rourke.

New Opal Pick: Iris Apatow

Jimmy Smits - Conky Repairman Johnny Wilson
The Playhouse robot, Conky, regularly broke down -- hence the name. When Pee-Wee couldn't fix the problem himself, he called an authorized conky repairman. Except the lovelorn Miss Yvonne always tried to steal the sexy Latino away for herself. Smits had done a small part in 'Miami Vice,' but his career really started to take off after this role. Now that 'Outlaw' has been canceled, maybe he'll have time to make a cameo -- but probably not.

New Conky Repairman Pick: Paul Rudd

Sandra Bernhard - Rhonda the Picturephone operator
OK, so this role didn't launch Bernhard. Actually, her episode never aired but you can watch it now on the show's DVDs. She played Pee-wee's flirtatious operator. But we still wanted to include her on our list since she was a rising comedy star at the time. Before this she had become a successful stand-up comic and appeared in 'The King of Comedy.'

New Rhonda Pick: Kristen Wiig

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what about the mail lady played by S. Epatha Merkeson who the luetenant (sp) was on Law and Order.

January 26 2011 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rob Zombie was a production assistant on PWPH as well.

October 21 2010 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think most would agree that Apocalypse Now launched Laurence Fishburne's career. Or does a major role in a classic war film not rate as high as a recurring role on a kids show?

October 20 2010 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How could you forget S. Epatha Merkerson? Natasha Lyonne, Jimmy Smits and Sandra Bernhard were in only in a handful of episodes. Merkerson's Reba the Mail Lady was a regular throughout the entire series. And her 19 years on Law and Order is far more of a career than Lyonne's.

October 20 2010 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Greg's comment

Agreed. List fail.

October 20 2010 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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