Origin tales are notoriously exhausting to pin down within the humor enterprise, since solely the creator is aware of the place the joke started. Lineages, alternatively, are rather a lot simpler to hint. The comic Paul Reubens, a.okay.a. Pee-wee Herman, who died this week of most cancers at 70, belongs to an extended line of American comics stretching again to the golden age of tv and, past it, to the early days of vaudeville and burlesque.
Although Pinky Lee is an unfamiliar title at present, it will not have been to a person of Mr. Reubens’s technology. As a child boomer, he would absolutely have grown up on the televised antics of a comic famed for lots of the identical tics, bits and gimmicks that Mr. Reubens would later undertake — starting with an absurdist stage title.
Pee-wee Herman was born Paul Rubenfeld in 1952 in Peekskill, NY; Mr. Lee was born Pincus Leff in 1907 in Saint Paul, Minn. Rubenfeld, who was a gifted baby actor, would rename himself Reubens and grow to be an improv comedian. His early work with the The Groundlings in Los Angeles, notably in a Pinky parody skit, would finally kind the idea for one of many extra indelible characters in present enterprise. Mr. Lee got here up by way of the ranks as a faucet dancer on the vaudeville circuit. After turning to comedy routines, he made a tidy if minor profession for himself as a supporting participant in movies like “Girl of Burlesque” (a nutty 1943 thriller that facilities on a G-string as a homicide weapon). He additionally starred in a collection of westerns with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, together with the eminently forgettable “South of Caliente” (1951), during which Lee took fourth billing, beneath the display cowboy’s palomino, Set off.
A lot of what we consider as uniquely Pee-wee Herman could be readily traced to Pinky Lee: There was the shrunken baby’s-size hat his character wore, the rapid-fire manner of speaking. There have been additionally his goofy, mincing soft-shoe dances, his trademark lisp. And there was a signature catchphrase — a model of the slowburn comeback echoing within the thoughts of each subteen.
“Oooooh! You make me so mad!” Pinky Lee would say.
“I do know you’re, however what am I?” was the Pee-wee Herman model.
A forerunner of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” “The Pinky Lee Present” ran through the Fifties earlier than “The Howdy Doody Present,” a top-rated afterschool tv program starring a gaptoothed, flame-haired and rubber-faced ventriloquist’s dummy.
“Yoo-hoo, it’s me,” went the opening theme tune Mr. Lee carried out (sang isn’t fairly the phrase): “I skip and run and produce a number of enjoyable/To each she and he/It’s plain to see that you may inform it’s me/In my checkered hat and my checkered coat.”
After which there was the outfit.
Pinky Lee slicked down his hair and wore mismatched checkered shirts and jackets; saggy pegged trousers; a neatly knotted four-in-hand necktie; and a completely supercilious expression.
Mr. Reubens as Pee-wee Herman pomaded his hair, wore a go well with, albeit with shrunken proportions (the jacket too cosy, the pants hemmed to floodwater top, the neckwear a fussy bow-tie), and had a completely supercilious expression. The air of disbelief, the prissily crossed told-you-so arms, even the moue that Mr. Reubens affected have been all, it will seem, studiously tailored. As Pee-wee later would in his tv comedy, Pinky delighted in taking part in reverse inanimate objects, amongst them the lovable, bendable humanoid Claymation character Gumby.
And so it appears solely simply, as Instagram and the remainder of the web mourns Mr. Reubens’s Pee-wee, to offer a tip of the shrunken, roll-brimmed pork pie to his progenitor, Mr. Leff’s Pinky.