Last night we said farewell to Paul Reubens, an iconic American actor, comedian, writer and producer whose beloved character Pee-wee Herman delighted generations of children and adults with his positivity, whimsy and belief in the importance of kindness. Paul bravely and privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit. A gifted and prolific talent, he will forever live in the comedy pantheon and in our hearts as a treasured friend and man of remarkable character and generosity of spirit.
In the concluding moments of the inaugural Pee-wee Herman Show, a stage production originated by Paul Reubens in the early 1980s, the protagonist’s ultimate desire is at last realized: the power of flight. Propelled through the atmosphere by deliberately subpar visual effects, the whimsical atmosphere abruptly takes on an unexpectedly sentimental tone. Pee-wee, genuinely overwhelmed, utters in genuine wonderment, “Remarkable! I am the most fortunate young boy in existence!
If Reubens hadn’t entered that adult movie theater on Friday, July 26, 1991, he might still have maintained his status. However, the mention of a sex scandal has the potential to completely tarnish a celebrity’s reputation. This scandal in particular involved a children’s show host being accused of indecent exposure in a pornographic theater, which would undoubtedly have devastating consequences for his career. It appeared that he would be permanently ostracized from the entertainment industry and forever remembered for this shameful incident.
However, the response from the public this time around has been noticeably distinct. There have been organized gatherings in support of Pee-wee, with both famous individuals and everyday people expressing their solidarity. Additionally, an exclusive poll conducted by Entertainment Weekly reveals an unexpectedly large proportion of individuals who believe that both the legal system and the media have treated the actor unfairly.
The endorsement of Pee-wee Herman by the typically conservative New York Times is evidence that something extraordinary is happening. This phenomenon is as extraordinary as the character of Pee-wee himself, and it reveals the unexpected fondness many Americans have had for him since the beginning.
The events of that Friday night in Reubens’ hometown of Sarasota, Fla., have become well-known. As reported by the county sheriff’s office, three detectives were assigned to observe the audience at the XXX South Trail Cinema, where a triple feature of Catalina Five-O Tiger Shark, Nurse Nancy, and Turn Up the Heat was playing. Following a sting operation, three men were apprehended and charged with violating Florida State Statute 800.03, specifically, Exposure of Sexual Organs. According to allegations, at 8:25 p.m. and again at 8:35, Det. William Walters observed a man engaging in what the official record refers to as “masterbation” in the dimly lit theater. Upon exiting the premises, the accused individual was promptly arrested. It is reported that he then provided the detectives with his well-known pseudonym and, in a manner reminiscent of Pee-wee Herman, attempted to negotiate the dismissal of charges by offering to organize a children’s benefit for the sheriff’s office. (A spokesperson for the department stated that, “at that time, the deputies did not believe they had sufficient grounds to charge Reubens with attempted bribery.”) The following day, a local journalist recognized Reubens’ name on the arrest report, and within a matter of hours, the scandal was thrust into the public eye.
Reubens’ striking mug shots, reminiscent of the infamous Twin Peaks character Killer Bob, dominated the front pages, casting a shadow over the Moscow summit. Expressing deep embarrassment, the actor issued a statement on July 29 vehemently denying any involvement in indecent exposure or any other inappropriate behavior while in the theater. Following this, he retreated from the public eye until his arraignment on August 9. If convicted, he could potentially be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail and fined $1,000.