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Welcome back, Pee-Wee Herman

”Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” episodes are now available on VHS

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When stared at, pixie manchild Pee-wee Herman would blurt, ”Why don’tcha take a picture, it’ll last longer!” One picture he could have done without was the mug shot of Paul Reubens, the man who created and played Pee-wee, after his July 1991 arrest at a Sarasota, Fla., X-rated theater for indecent exposure. (He later pleaded no contest.) As a result, CBS pulled the last few episodes of Reubens’ Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Except for an appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards that September, Pee-wee vanished.

If you didn’t take a picture of (i.e., videotape) Pee-wee’s Playhouse, you haven’t seen it since then, either. Though Reubens has been in movies and on TV (as a weaselly exec on Murphy Brown), only now is Pee-wee poised to make a comeback. Last month, MGM/UA began airing an infomercial, overseen by Reubens, offering tapes of the 1986-91 series (in stores Nov. 5). The half-hour spot trumpets the show’s double-barreled appeal: It’s eye candy for kids (talking furniture, bizarre puppets, eccentric friends) and innuendo-laced cheese for adults. In one scene, a fix-it man, played by Jimmy Smits, brandishes a wrench as he tells Miss Yvonne (Lynne Stewart) he ”has the right tools and knows how to use them.”

In the infomercial’s quest to rehabilitate Pee-wee, cohosts Mike Rowe and Eleanor Mondale stress Playhouse‘s 22 Emmys and two Parents’ Choice awards. Parents offer testimonials about the show’s wholesome content. And clips tout familiar faces from the Playhouse, including Smits and actor Laurence (then ”Larry”) Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis. Playhouse celebs Miss Yvonne and the King of Cartoons (William Marshall) also sing Pee-wee‘s praises.

But is the public willing to forgive and forget? MGM/UA VP of market development Beth Bornhurst says that focus groups viewed the scandal as ”a nonissue, given what’s gone on in the world since. It was like, ‘Who cares?”’

”The way he was treated was horrible,” poo-poos Mondale. ”I’m happy to be part of the ‘Welcome back, Pee-wee Herman’ committee.”