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The CBS series created by Paul Reubens, who died at 70, brought happy anarchy to Saturday morning television: ‘This was an inclusive show for all the rejects and weirdos’
As Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens paired an impish attitude and adult innuendo with his bow tie and barking laugh. CBS/Everett Collection
By guest author John Jurgensen from the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
August 2, 2023
Pee-wee Herman wasn’t originally meant for kids. So when Paul Reubens did make a Saturday-morning TV show for them, his signature character came in a package shaped by underground art, punk rock and improv comedy.
Reubens, who died Sunday at age 70, launched “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” on CBS in September, 1986. In a cartoon block populated by “The Berenstain Bears” and “Muppet Babies,” the live-action show was an eruption of creative anarchy. When Pee-wee urged children at home to “scream real loud” every time someone on the show said a secret word, it was like a mission statement.
As MTV was to cable and “The Simpsons” would soon be to prime-time, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” was a disrupter of the TV domain for kids. The show’s psychedelic absurdism also attracted an audience of teens, college students and savvy parents of the show’s target viewers. With his wild remix of the kids’ shows that he grew up with as a baby boomer, Reubens put a stamp on Generation X.
“This was an inclusive show for all the rejects and weirdos. I think that’s written all over the set,” said Gary Panter, an artist who helped oversee the design of the show.
Everything in “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” had a handmade look that mixed cute with chaotic. Many of Pee-wee’s co-stars were anthropomorphic objects. Chairry, a plush blue lounger, had big eyes and arms that hugged or tickled whoever sat down. Conky the robot talked like a hip-hop DJ scratching a record. Pee-wee had a booth for his “picture-phone” that basically predicted Zoom calls. Various nooks, from the interior of his refrigerator to the mousehole in his floorboards, revealed creatures animated with stop-motion.
Reubens introduced Pee-wee Herman in the late 1970s when the actor was a member of Los Angeles improv comedy troupe the Groundlings, a talent pipeline for “Saturday Night Live.” Pee-wee, who paired an impish attitude and adult innuendo with his bow tie and barking laugh, scored on David Letterman’s late-night show and a 1981 HBO special. Next came a 1985 feature film directed by Tim Burton, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” which turned into a surprise hit.
Eager to leverage the popularity of the Pee-wee movie, CBS gave Reubens carte blanche to create a show for children. The network saw an opportunity to inject some relevance into the “Saturday-morning ghetto,” as CBS executive Judy Price described the perception of kids’ programming at the time.
PW 2 Paul Reubens with Lynne Marie Stewart, who played Miss Yvonne on ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse.’ On the far right is the pug-nosed marionette Randy. Photo: CBS/Everett Collection
Pee-wee is widely remembered as a sort of one-man show for Reubens, but behind him was a group of artists, comedy writers and actors who helped reshape a landscape then dominated by merchandising vehicles like “The Smurfs.”
Reubens collaborated with other Groundlings who first helped him form the world of Pee-wee. They included future “SNL” star Phil Hartman (who appeared as an old salt named Captain Carl), John Paragon (as the green-faced genie Jambi) and Lynne Marie Stewart (as the coiffed Miss Yvonne). Other soon-to-be-famous denizens of the Playhouse included Laurence Fishburne (as Cowboy Curtis) and S. Epatha Merkerson (as Reba the Mail Lady). Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh contributed music.
To build the Playhouse and populate it with nonhuman characters, Reubens recruited artists who had more edge than experience.
Wayne White was a struggling but prolific artist who had been putting on “punk-rock puppet shows” at drunken parties and on the streets of New York. That work, like Pee-wee’s, was a riff on the old kids’ shows with colourful hosts that were common to local TV markets in the 1960s. White joined Panter and Ric Heitzman on the “Playhouse” staff with other hires from the New York art scene.
“We were all a bunch of downtown artists,” White recalled. “We weren’t tied down by any television tropes and Paul wasn’t either.”
In the hectic run-up to the debut season of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” the artists set up shop at Broadcast Arts, a hot production company known for animating the MTV logo.
White contributed character designs too. He made his first-ever marionette for Randy, a pug-nosed kid who caused trouble around the Playhouse. Randy’s look, including a crew cut and high-tops, was inspired by bullies of White’s youth.
“Those were the guys that used to beat me up,” said White, who also provided the voice of Randy, Dirty Dog and other characters.
‘I never set out to do a big educational show,’ Paul Reubens said to an interviewer in 1990. Photo: Everett Collection
He recalled Reubens as a calm presence behind the scenes, who paid for overruns in the show’s production budget from his own pocket and rallied behind wild ideas—like the grotesque look that White devised for Floory, a section of Pee-wee’s floor that reared up and talked.
Still, the “perfect boss” had his limits. When his collaborators yammered on too much about their ideas and anecdotes, Reubens would respond with a deadpan, “Huh, I love that story.” That line (also used by Pee-wee) translated as ”shut the f— up,” White recalled.
When “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” became a commercial and Emmy-winning hit, the show moved to Los Angeles for its remaining seasons. The misfit production team suddenly had clout and the show sprawled out with a bigger staff and sound stage.
Unlike many programs made for children today, there was no formal educational curriculum behind “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
“Oh, we didn’t think about kids for one minute. We were doing that all for our own entertainment,” White said.
But the show’s star was weighing the messages he was sending to his youngest viewers, even if they were unspoken.
“I never set out to do a big educational show,” Reubens said to an interviewer in 1990. “We’re trying to expose children to as much creativity as we can muster in a half-hour, to be entertaining and to transmit some subliminal messages like ‘nonconformity isn’t bad.’”
Reubens produced 45 episodes of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” plus a Christmas special. As he wrapped up the fifth and final season, which finished airing in the fall of 1990, Reubens told his collaborators that he planned to retire Pee-wee and experiment with other roles and projects.
But then Reubens got busted for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in 1991. The scandal effectively froze the actor in time, making it hard for the public to see him as anything other than Pee-wee.
People who grew up with “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” may first recall its zanier features, like the host signing off by catapulting out of the Playhouse on a scooter. But the show’s legacy also rests on the aesthetic it brought to Saturday mornings.
“We infused it with as much art history and pop art that we could,” Panter said. “The giant can opener. Exploding shapes. Sequined walls. Hybrid characters.”
Following other hotbeds such as MTV and “SNL,” “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” was “another attempt to be this experimental thing, and we got pretty far with it,” Panter added. “It looks like a museum.”
If You Thought the Market for Yeezys Was Dead, Think Again
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The Kanye West and Adidas partnership may be over, but Adidas reports that the rapper’s shoes drew sales of USD 437 million in recent months
By guest author Jacob Galloagher from the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
Updated Aug. 3, 2023
Adidas gen 1 BBBB
Adidas’s decision to start selling Yeezys again has officially paid off.
The German sportswear giant reported on Thursday that the first release of more than $1 billion worth of Yeezy-branded shoes—stock that Adidas had in the pipeline when it terminated its partnership with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, last October—generated revenues of around EUR 400 million, or around USD 437 million.
That surge of Yeezy sales helped Adidas shrink its expected operating loss for 2023 from EURE 700 million to EUR 450 million. “The sale of the first part of the Yeezy inventory did of course help both our top and bottom line in the quarter,” said Adidas CEO Bjørn Gulden. The company also said it had pledged to donate around $120 million of Yeezy sales proceeds to charitable causes.
It was not long ago that the market for Yeezy sneakers appeared to be on life support. When Adidas severed its lucrative partnership with Ye, following his spate of erratic behavior and antisemitic comments, there were suddenly no new releases of the highly coveted spongy slides and sock-like sneakers that were cornerstones of the Yeezy line. On the resale market, where Yeezys once reliably traded for several times their sticker price, interest in the shoes, at least momentarily, wobbled.
“I think everyone kind of just took a step back and put [Yeezys] on the shelf and just kind of gave it a break,” said Aaron “Roszko” Roszkowicz, 35, who makes streaming videos about sneakers in Orlando, Fla.
Adidas 2 Aaron Roszkowicz with his many pairs of Yeezys. Photo: Aaron Roszkowicz
“People were just unsure,” said Roszkowicz. His viewers were asking his opinion on where the market for Yeezys could possibly go from there. “I kinda cooled off on buying them,” said Roszkowicz, “I wasn’t wearing them as much as I used to.”
Yet, as we’ve gotten further from Ye’s incendiary comments, interest in Yeezy sneakers has boomeranged back with the force of a synthetic foam rocket ship.
The May restock of the first surplus Yeezy shoes meant that those brash blueberry slides and futuristic sneakers with soles that looked like oversize dumplings could now be purchased once again. And oh were they: The shoes sold at breakneck speed to shoppers who had been waiting for months to get their hands on them.
On Wednesday, Adidas released the second leftover batch, including the mesh-paneled Yeezy 500 sneaker in “bone white” and the perforated Foam Rnnr clog. They were offered via a raffle on the Adidas Confirmed app. Demand for the shoes was high enough that the app consistently produced error messages for users throughout the day.
Adidas considered donating the shoes or stripping the Yeezy branding off them. Ultimately, it decided, in consultation with antiracism groups, to sell the shoes and donate a portion of the proceeds to charities including the Anti-Defamation League, Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism and the Philonise & Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change.
“Six months ago people said we should burn, destroy the product and now we have found ways of selling it, we can use part of that revenue to actually do something good in society,” said Adidas’s CEO Gulden on a call with investors Thursday. “The Yeezy thing was something we were nervous about that worked.”
Adidas 3 The Yeezy partnership began with sneakers, but the doughy slides pull many shoppers in now. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP
On Thursday, Adidas said it recorded costs of around EUR 110 million related to donations and accruals for further donations. Ye would also receive royalties for the shoes, under the terms of his contract.
Yeezy designs in the future. “Yes legally we could but I think that would be the wrong timing,” he said, adding that Adidas’s goal was to get the existing Yeezy inventory off its books.
A representative for Ye didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
“It kind of reignited the hype and everybody is so excited,” said Gunner Tierno, 34, known online as “Yeezy God,” of the restocks. The period after Adidas distanced itself from Ye was “really scary,” for Tierno, who runs a website and Discord channel dedicated to Yeezys, having spent several years of his life providing intel on how to acquire (or cop) Yeezy shoes.
The past couple months have proved that he had nothing to worry about. “It’s like [the sneakers] almost never left,” said Tierno, who personally purchased 40 new pairs of Yeezys during the May restock and said that other members of his community purchased 650 pairs collectively.
Tierno stressed that “nobody supports what Kanye is saying, inflammatory things,” but Yeezy-ites have been able to cherish the shoes—which he said, remain “extremely comfortable” and “extremely fashion forward”—while looking past Ye’s actions. Fans, he said, “just want the sneakers.”
As Tierno sees it, by pulling the sneakers, Adidas “actually saved” the market for Yeezys. Last year, it was dropping too many styles, too frequently and people were becoming “desensitized to Yeezy drops,” he said. Regardless of the reason for the extended pause, it was “actually kind of a brilliant move,” to get people clamoring for Yeezys once again, said Tierno.
Seth Fowler, 31, a YouTube sneaker content creator, agreed that Yeezy shoppers can now “separate the art from the artist.” The restocks have given people a chance to “grab pairs they couldn’t grab before,” he said. During the May restock he purchased a box-fresh pair of Yeezy slides, having worn his pair into the ground.
Adidas 4 Seth Fowler and his Yeezy slides. Photo: Seth Fowler
The Yeezy partnership began with sneakers, but it’s the doughy slides and Foam Rnnr clogs, designs that came years into Adidas’s tie-up with Ye, that pull many shoppers in now.
“The slides and the Foam Rnnrs? Wooo they sell like hot cakes,” said the sneaker streamer Roszkowicz. During the May restock, he streamed himself attempting to purchase Yeezys, including those slides—it was his most watched broadcast of the year. Yeezy, right now, he said, “is a money making machine.”
How long that lasts is an open question. Eventually, Adidas’s stock of Yeezys will run dry. And Yeezy watchers speculated that with each new release, the hype around the shoes will land at a lower volume. Several Yeezy fans noted that rather than fresh silhouettes or models, these restocks contain “new” colorways of known shoes that look extremely similar to past colorways. “It’s like anything else, once you kind of milk it people just kind of get over it,” said Roszkowicz.
The sales have provided a short term boost to an ailing Adidas, which has fallen way behind Nike in terms of relevancy to sneaker collectors.
Overall, revenue for Adidas remained flat year over year, indicating that the Yeezy boost can’t solve Adidas’s long-term struggles. Adidas still expects its 2023 revenue to decline in the mid-single digits. Though it adjusted that forecast from a high-single-digit revenue decline in part because of strong Yeezy sales.
In a statement Thursday, Adidas CEO Gulden cited slow-moving inventory and “very cautious” retailers as drags on Adidas’s business. Adidas said it does not expect to be profitable until 2025 at the earliest, well after most experts expect the existing Yeezy stock to have run dry.
“Without Yeezy, Adidas is looking bad,” said Kenneth Gil, 26, a sneaker content creator in Fords, N.J., who purchased a pair of the Yeezy Boost 350 sneakers in the coveted “pirate black” colourway during the May restock. He went as far as to say the German sneaker juggernaut should reconsider its decision to sever ties with the rapper.
Appeared in the August 4, 2023, print edition as ‘Adidas Gets Lift as It Sells Off Yeezy Stocks’.
On Wine: What Happens When You Stop at One Glass of Wine a Day?
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By guest author Leattie Teague from the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
Our wine columnist gave it her best shot, in accordance with government-issued dietary guidelines. She was surprised by the results—and her own doctor’s opinion.
Wine gen 1 SMALL DOSES One glass of wine per day means exactly that. According to government guidelines, you can’t save up your allotment and splurge on the third day. Illustration: Mitch Blunt
READING THE MOST recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I found that women are advised to drink one glass of wine or less and men two glasses or less daily. Do many follow this advice?
I actually did, at least for a while. Ordinarily, I drink more than one glass a day—usually two. And when I took a casual poll of friends and acquaintances, I found that I’m far from alone in exceeding government guidelines. Very few said that they stop at a single daily glass; some drink more than I do.
What if I downscaled my drinking, at least for a week? What short-term benefits might there be? I decided to give it a try.
The 2020-2025 guidelines cover a wide range of topics related to food and drink and contain extensive nutritional advice. For example, the guidelines suggest that around 85% of one’s calories should come from “nutrient dense” choices like fruits, vegetables and grains, leaving the remaining 15% for “other uses.”
What if I downscaled my drinking, at least for a week? What short-term benefits might there be?
Alcohol ranks among those other uses, an Alcohol ranks among those other uses, and the advice regarding its consumption is especially stern. Consider, for example: “Evidence indicates that, among those who drink, higher average alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes compared with lower average alcohol consumption.” The list of conditions that might occur as a result of excess alcohol consumption is quite long—and quite sobering. I’ll spare you the specifics here.
I was disappointed to find that the government’s proposed one glass is a stingy 5-ounce pour of 12 % alcohol wine. If I got five ounces for a USD 25 glass of wine in a restaurant or bar I’d be tempted to object. Six ounces is generally considered the industry standard; a few restaurants I know even pour a bit more.
Furthermore, most white wines these days exceed the government’s 12% figure, and it’s increasingly hard to find any red wine that isn’t at least 14 % alcohol or more. (Warmer weather means riper grapes, which produce higher alcohol wines.)
A 5-ounce glass of 12 % alcohol wine has about 120 calories, according to the guidelines. And lest you consider forgoing that one glass a day to drink two glasses the next, the guidelines discourage that: The one drink or less a day for women and two for men, they stipulate, is “not intended as an average over several days, but rather the amount consumed on any single day.”
While I didn’t save up my wine allotment for a few days to have three glasses the third day, I did deviate ever so slightly from the official guidelines. I drank a six- not 5-ounce serving. And the wines I drank almost always exceeded that 12% alcohol figure. I like lower-alcohol wines, but they’re elusive and I didn’t necessarily want to drink a low-alcohol Muscadet or Vinho Verde or Lambrusco for several days in a row. I wanted something a bit richer and more complex.
After all, since my husband rarely drinks more than one glass at any time, once I opened the bottle, we would both have to drink the same wine for several days. That meant I had to consider the closure, too: Screwcap bottles stay fresher longer.
Additionally, there was the question of timing. When did I want to drink my one glass? I didn’t want to drink too much (or perhaps any) of the wine before dinner because I’d have nothing left by the end or maybe even the middle of the meal. Drinking my one glass of wine very slowly, however, could be a positive development: Perhaps I’d savour the wine even more. Or would I merely be eking out tiny moments of pleasure until I reached the too-soon end? And with a white, I found that the wine grew tepid over the time it took me to drink it.
With so much on my mind, I found after a few days that I was not only drinking less but also eating less food. Then came the challenge of eating out. A few days into my one-glass regimen we met friends for dinner at our favorite BYO, Divina Ristorante in Caldwell, N.J.
How would I be able to measure just one serving of the very good 2021 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis (a white wine from Piedmont, Italy) that I’d brought along? Chef Mario Carlino provided a measuring cup.
Drinking only one glass proved economical, as one bottle was enough for our table of four. Our friend Bobby, like my husband, doesn’t drink much at all. He, in fact, had been the only one of my friends who didn’t recoil when I’d announced I would be drinking just one glass. My friend Burt said he could drink only one glass of wine “as long as I have a Martini beforehand,” while my friends Robert and Tom adamantly dismissed the idea. “One glass! Never!” they declared, nearly in unison. “Not even for brunch,” said Tom. “Your first glass sets you up, mellows you, and then you have a glass of wine with dinner,” Robert added. “Your third glass could be dessert,” Tom suggested.
At the end of my one-glass week I noticed a few clear benefits. I’d lost a couple pounds and I was sleeping better, too. And yet, despite such positive developments, when the week was up I happily went back to drinking that second glass (and another half-glass on my first day back to my normal routine, to celebrate). I’d missed the sense of expansiveness, of total relaxation that comes with sitting down to a meal that begins with a glass of wine and extends to another that I don’t have to carefully parcel out. My husband even drank a second glass with me. Maybe I will go back to drinking one glass of wine with dinner from time to time. But not right now.
A few weeks later, I had a checkup with my doctor, a top gastroenterologist in New York and a non-drinker. I told him about my one-glass-of-wine scheme and asked what he thought, fully expecting some sort of commendation. “You could drink up to half a bottle of wine a day,” he replied, “and be fine.”