Monday, December 3, 2012

PEE-WEE'S GUILTY PLEASURE

Whether you like Larry Flynt or not... or agree with his views, it's hard to argue with his logic on this, "What is more obscene: Sex or war?"
PORNOGRAPHER LARRY FLYNT (1942-PRESENT) HAS TESTED THE FIRST AMENDMENT MANY TIMES AND WON.  WHAT HAD BEEN LABELED AS OUTLANDISH PERVERSIONS OF FREE SPEECH, EARNED HIM AN ASSASSIN'S BULLET THAT HAS LEFT HIM PARALYZED FROM THE WAIST DOWN SINCE 1978.

With that in mind, I've done some things that I'm not proud of.  So when I share one of those taboos with you, it shouldn't be viewed as bragging...I'm just reporting the news.

In 1977, my friend Harry became a projectionist at the Regis Cinema.  This "adult" theater was located near Downtown Brooklyn, in a tough neighborhood, slightly off the beaten track of the bustling business district.

The titillating subject matter got old quickly to Harry.  What was important was, he had a full-time gig, made great money, had a short commute from Canarsie and no pressure.  He set-up his "office" with a chaise lounge, an eight-inch black and white TV, a stocked mini-refrigerator and a library of reading material.  He was also clever enough to park in the same spot by a vacant lot each day, so he could utilize the one small projection booth window, to check on his pride and joy; an all black, 1976 Chevy Blazer.
THE BLAZER WAS ONE OF THE EARLIEST  SUV's.  HARRY WASHED AND WAXED THIS GUILTY PLEASURE AS IF IT WAS A STATUS SYMBOL, LIKE A  LUXURY SPORTS CAR  IN THE 70's, BLAZERS WERE RARE IN NEW YORK CITY BECAUSE THEIR FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE WAS ADVERTISED FOR OUTDOORSMEN TRAVERSING BLIZZARD CONDITIONS IN THE ROCKIES, GOING OFF-ROAD IN THE BAJA PENINSULA OR TREKKING THROUGH MUD IN THE EVERGLADES. 
Harry gave an open invitation to his inner circle of friends to come by the theater, to keep him company.  My first visit happened when I accompanied another friend to the DMV on Schermerhorn Street.  The ordeal of waiting in line took two and a half hours.  After, we were mentally and physically exhausted so we sought our own guilty pleasure, the first Hagen Daz in the city, (on Montague Street).

On our way home, we passed the Regis Cinema and decided to see if Harry was there.  Under the huge, old fashioned marquee, we approached the ticket booth.  Inside, we found a sixty-year old, gum cracking, peroxide blond lighting up a Chesterfield.  She put on the Cat Woman glasses that were dangling around her neck by a string of fake pearls to leer at us and croak, "How many?"  My friend stammered, "I-i-is Harry working today?"  She pressed down on the intercom and barked, "Harry, come down."

Harry arrived wearing a white dress shirt, black slacks, Oxford shoes, a raspberry bow-tie and a matching sports jacket. He thanked Madge and complimented her puffy fright-wig hairdo before escorting us in.  I noticed a black sheet covered the candy counter before we were taken up to his roost.  The two-minute guided tour of his claustrophobic work space included an explanation of the equipment.  Then my other friend and I watched the "film" through the little boxy cut-outs in the wall as Harry tore off his shoes, jacket and tie and returned to watching a "PERRY MASON" rerun.

When I got bored of the movie, Harry and I chatted.  He told me that sometimes, he goes downstairs with a flashlight just to piss-off the customers who are pleasuring themselves.  Harry added, "The one's who want a little privacy put a jacket or something on their lap.  Of course, we also have Stella Lugosi down there too...for guys willing to pay..."  I interrupted, "There's a prostitute here and you know her name?"  "Actually I don't," he said, "I made up Stella Lugosi because she's so ugly that it looks like after she kissed the bullet train, she came in second in an acid fight."  When I smirked he continued, "Well guess what...a lot of times, at night there's enough 'business' that a second skeeve, 'Ptomaine Mary,' comes in."

Harry peered out the window to see if his Blazer was still there and added, "Sometimes, when the theater opens (1:00PM), I wait for the first climax and stick my finger over the lens.  When the screen goes black, the businessmen who come in on their lunch hour to get their rocks off and go back to work all moan and groan at the same time."  When I smiled Harry laughed, "Who are they going to complain to?"

Before I moved to Las Vegas in 1979, I visited Harry a couple of more times.  Once, one of my friends brought his kid-brother.  While we spoke to Harry, the sixteen-year old's eyes were glued to the screen.  When we finally pried him away from the boxy cut-out, he had lines denting his face from pressing on the square frame...he never heard the end of that, (I don't know what adverse effect this coming-of-age moment had on the little brother but that 'friend' went on to such a lowlife lifestyle...including drug distribution-related jail time...that even with social networking and hi-tech communications, no one I know has any idea of what ever happened to him).

Harry was way ahead of his time.  His idea of walking through the Regis Cinema's aisles with a flashlight was cutting edge humor.  Unfortunately for someone like Pee-Wee Herman, (Paul Reubens) when he "enjoyed his own company" at a porno theater in Florida, a vice-cop was holding the flashlight.
PAUL REUBENS (1952-PRESENT) DEVELOPED CHILDLIKE PEE-WEE HERMAN INTO A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL BRAND.  ONCE HE GOT HIS ALTER EGO UP AND RUNNING, HE MADE ALL HIS PUBLIC APPEARANCES IN-CHARACTER.  SOON HE WOULD STAR IN TWO MOVIES AND HAVE A SATURDAY MORNING KIDDIE SHOW THAT WAS ENTERTAINING ENOUGH TO ATTRACT A MAJOR ADULT FOLLOWING.

My first "exposure" to Pee-Wee Herman was an appearance on Johnny Carson's, "THE TONIGHT SHOW."  At Johnny's desk, he was hilarious as he drew-out his own version of the old joke with the punchline, "I don't know this man's name, but his face rings a bell."  (I searched for that clip on youtube and came up empty).
RUEBENS WAS INSPIRED TO NAME HIS CHARACTER AFTER "PEE-WEINY MINIATURE HARMONICAS."  IN 1977,  HE STARTED IN SHOW BIZ WITH "THE GROUNDLINGS," COMEDY TROUPE WHICH INCLUDED PHIL HARTMAN.  IN 1981, HIS STAND-UP NIGHT CLUB ACT, FEATURING HIS NEW PERSONA, SOLD OUT L.A.'s ROXY THEATER, FIVE MONTHS IN A ROW AND LANDED HIM AN HBO SPECIAL.

Pee-Wee became one of my hidden guilty pleasures.  I admitted my appreciation for him only when I found out that many of my friends were "closet fans" too.

In 1985, he parlayed that success by toning down the sexual innuendo of his material and making a mediocre movie called, "PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE."  While this comedy didn't greatly appeal to its targeted pre-teen audience, in a short time, it developed a cult following among young adults.  Pee-Wee's signature laugh and some of his other lines became enduring catchphrases...many of which are in use today.  I know this because I use those lines and people get it and appreciate the reference.

Don't tell Francis but Large Marge sent me, to tell you that this movie clip was found in the basement of the Alamo.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BodXwAYeTfM


Reubens ascent to the top continued with his CBS, Saturday morning kiddie show, "PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE."  From 1986-1991, this Emmy Award winning program delighted youngsters with talking furniture, wild contraptions, puppets, unusual real people, cartoons, other special features and an occasional life lesson.  Also in 1988, he made the far less popular movie, "BIG-TOP PEE-WEE."

Paul Reubens' indecent exposure (public masturbation) arrest in Sarasota Florida squashed his career. 
THE FALL OF THE PEE-WEE EMPIRE.  BUT DID THE PUNISHMENT FIT THIS VICTIMLESS CRIME?

Despite great support from his show business brethren, the public responded with scorn and ridicule.   CBS felt compelled to cancel his contract, Pee-Wee merchandising came to an abrupt halt and Reubens sank into a deep depression.  His humiliation was so acute that it resulted in a self-imposed exile from public life.
REUBENS WASN'T SMART ENOUGH TO PROTECT THE GOLDMINE HE WAS SITTING ON .  TODAY, THE OLD PEE-WEE MERCHANDISE IS HIGHLY COLLECTIBLE.  THIS DOLL, IN USED CONDITION WOULD COST AT LEAST $50.00.

I really felt that my son Andrew missed-out on something great.  Then when he was four (1998), the "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" reruns briefly became available.  I liked the show so much that I didn't even feel it was a guilty pleasure to watch because I saw how much Andrew liked it.  Even though the "salesman" character scared my boy enough that he'd run out of the room until the skit was over.

Paul Reubens greatness still gets mixed reviews.  So it was no accident that his star on the "HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME" does not bear the perceived creepiness of his real name, it uses Pee-Wee's. Nevertheless, Reubens' fading star power still lands him plenty of small roles in movies and on TV.  For instance, I thought he was funny as game show host Troy Stevens on, "YOU DON'T KNOW JACK."  Plus there's still talk of him resurrecting his Pee-Wee franchise on TV, Broadway and the movies.
IN 2001, THIS ABC QUIZ SHOW LASTED ONLY SIX EPISODES.  I LIKED IT, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE CONTESTANTS WE DISTRACTED FROM DOING MATH PROBLEMS BY CRYING BABIES, MARIACHI BANDS AND CHILDREN PLAYING (POORLY) "TWINKLE, TWINKLE LITTLE STAR," ON VIOLINS.
I still hadn't heard of Pee-Wee Herman when I left Las Vegas in 1984 and moved back to Brooklyn.  At that point Harry was still at the Regis Cinema.  On one occasion, I dropped in on him.  This ticket lady reminded me of Madge except she had a leathery face and puffy auburn hair with wisps of gray.  When Harry came down, he greeted her as Muriel before hurrying me along...because his favorite TV show "THE PEOPLE'S COURT" was coming on.
"THE PEOPLE'S COURT," STARRED RETIRED JUDGE, JOSEPH WAPNER (1919-PRESENT).  WAPNER'S INTEGRITY AND OBJECTIVITY GAVE THE SHOW ENOUGH LONGEVITY THAT HE LASTED ON IT FROM 1981-1993 (2482 EPISODES).  MANY REALITY COURTROOM PROGRAMS FOLLOWED AND THEY ARE STILL POPULAR TODAY.  THE 1988 MOVIE, "RAIN MAN" FOREVER IMMORTALIZED "THE PEOPLE'S COURT" WITH DUSTIN HOFFMAN'S LINE, "IT'S TEN MINUTES TO WAPNER."

I noticed that Harry's job had evolved into an even more relaxed environment because he was now wearing jeans, sneakers and a beat-up, sleeveless sweatshirt with the number twenty-four hand-sewn onto the back.  When he laid down on the chaise lounge I asked if he parked his new Blazer in the same place.  He said, "Look out the window, it was still there a half hour ago."  I saw his truck all by itself by the vacant lot and said, "It is..."  Then he cut me off, pointed at the TV and excitedly said, "Here comes Wapner's bailiff, Rusty Burrell. He's the best part of the show."

Harry was not the telephone calling type.  So I was surprised a week later when he rang me up.  What was more shocking was when he called...ten after one in the morning!  Even more incredible, his whole message was, "Drop everything you're doing.  Come down to the Regis NOW!  We got a once in a lifetime movie...showtime is at two!"

The last thing I wanted to do in that neighborhood at night...was get out of my car.  I was still 50-50 on scratching the whole mission as I turned onto the theater's street.  The huge old-fashioned marquee was not lit up so I assumed that Harry was mistaken.  But when I looked down the usually empty side street, every parking space along the vacant lot was taken...with Harry's SUV in its usual spot.

I cruised past the darkened, unoccupied ticket booth.  But beyond it, I saw some people milling around, inside the dimly lit vestibule.  I drove around the corner and parked up the street from Harry.  Inside the Regis' majestic vestibule, next to a hand-made sign that read: $20, a rugged, gangster-type holding a fist full of money, stood at the theater's inner entrance  While I hesitated, two men passed me, handed the hoodlum-dude a twenty each and went in.  When we caught eye-contact, the tough guy's squinting facial gesture suggested to me; you gonna shit or get off the pot.  I advanced towards him and sheepishly said, "Is Harry around?"  The man leaned inside the door and yelled, "Harry!"

Harry hustled me inside.  He introduced me to one of his other friends, (Neil) a timid guy about my age.  I was noticing another mobster doing a brisk business selling cans of beer at the candy counter as Harry whispered, "Check this out."  He took me and Nervous Neil into the audience and it seemed like every seat was taken...even up front  Then he said, "See those guys along the wall, its all standing room from now on." 

I realized that I hadn't seen even one woman since I got there.  No Madge, no Muriel, not even Stella Lugosi or Typhoid Mary was there to service this high volume gathering.  I glanced at milquetoast Neil and started to worry about how well I knew Harry?  So I blurted out, "Harry, what's going on?"  My host looked at his watch and said, "We gotta go upstairs."

In the projection room, Harry was double-checking the reels when I said, "C'mon, what's going on?"  Neil's voice cracked as he whispered, "It's an illegal 'snuff film.'"  I said, "What's that?"  Harry said, "If there's a raid, we'll all go to jail."  I said, "But what is a snuff film?"  Neil said, "Snuff!  They really snuff someone out in the movie..."  Harry shut off the lights and said, "Okie dokie, here we go.  But if you two weasels want to get out now...it's no skin off my teeth."

The three of us advanced to the little square cut-outs in the wall and watched the movie.

Despite this low-low budget, underground "extravaganza" being made in South America and poorly dubbed into English, you couldn't hear a peep out of the audience.  For me, after the expected excitement of the first twenty minutes didn't materialize, this crappy, disorganized movie with zero production value dragged on for the next hour.  The political plot was stupid, the actors looked like cardboard figures, the trace of gun play wasn't very violent, there wasn't any nudity and the typical, big chase scene at the end...NEVER happen!

The crowd was murmuring as the closing credits came up.  There was an unhappy buzz as plenty of people left the theater.  I was saying good-bye as Harry whispered to us, "Wait, there's ten more minutes..."

When the credits were over, the camera panned 180 degrees off the actors and onto the crew.  A woman with a clipboard approached the director and said, "That was great, you're a genius..."  The director forcibly started to passionately kiss the woman and she responded in kind.  Behind them, the production staff busily moved lights and cameras as the director fondled the woman chest.  When his hand wandered under her skirt she cooed, "This is cool, but not here."  He became enraged and tore off her blouse.  She screamed.  Suddenly the crew pushed a four-posted bed behind them and the director threw her down.  The girl was gagged and her hands and feet were bound to the posts by the crew as the director savagely ripped off the rest of her clothes.

The director is handed a pair of wire cutters and snips off one of her fingers.  I really wish these were special-effects but considering the low-budget of this abomination, I unfortunately think it actually happened.  The director turned, to show off his demented grin to the camera before removing the gag from her mouth.  Her screaming worsened with each additional finger he lopped off.  Then the director snapped his fingers and was handed a surgical blade.  He sliced this poor girl straight up from her abdomen to her neck.  Memories of dissecting a frog in tenth grade biology came to my mind when like a capitol "I," he cut her across at the navel and the chest.

Other hands appeared and pulled away her skin to reveal inner organs.  When he grabbed her intestines, I'm guessing the shock forced her to pass out.  Her screams were replaced by music.  It was the opening of the "ROCKY" theme as he lifted her snake-like innards over his head in triumph.  I wished I had turned away faster but that's when I had seen enough.

I'm not proud of myself.  I haven't shared this embarrassment with many people because the snuff film has scarred me for life.

Perhaps if the Regis was raided that night, I would have needed the objectivity of a Judge Wapner or else, an over zealous arbiter seeking to make a name for them self might have ruined my
life.

So if you doubted Larry Flynt's statement about which is more obscene, I hope my experience helps you be a little more sympathetic to the many faces of Paul Reubens...because we are all capable of getting caught indulging our guilty pleasures with our pants down.

*

To brighten your mood, click on the link below and watch the "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" theme song.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKcYGOIJhqo

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your Pee-Wee's Guilty Pleasure blog was cosmic. My friend brought over a movie just like yours back in the 80's. It looked real to me and the disgusting parts you mentioned were the same...except it was part of the movie and not the crew. PS - Pee-Wee was definitely bad-rapped --- GMan the Devils Fan

Anonymous said...

Harry and Pee-Wee, I liked the tie-in. I only remember Harry at the Penway in Starrett City. Funny how you and I got hooked-up for free, at different theaters --- SLW

Darryl Jansen said...

Correction: Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 not 1949..
A really Interesting blog. These are valuable quotes to be remembered, lived by and never forgotten. Thanks for a Great article.

Anonymous said...

I wondered why you didnt use my real name, tho only my first name, lol.... Story brings back memories, do miss those days. Cant believe it seems like yesterday, and now I'm semi retired.
--- LARRY Manalapan NJ