Pee-wee is charged with exposure

Published July 28, 1991|Updated Oct. 13, 2005

Children's television star Pee-wee Herman was arrested for allegedly exposing himself inside an adult theater, authorities said Saturday. The star of Pee-wee's Playhouse, whose real name is Paul Reubens, was arrested Friday night after undercover detectives raided the South Trail Cinema in a sting operation, a Sarasota County Sheriff's affidavit said.

Reubens was observed exposing himself and masturbating, and a detective arrested him in the lobby, the affidavit said. The theater is showing the movies Nancy Nurse, Turn Up The Heat and Tiger Shark, according to a recorded message there.

Reubens, 38, was charged with exposure of a sexual organ and released from the county jail Friday night after posting $219 bond. Three other people were arrested on similar charges, said a booking officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

If convicted of the misdemeanor, the Studio City, Calif., resident would face up to 60 days in jail and $500 fine, said Lt. Bill Stookey, a Sarasota County sheriff's spokesman.

Reubens' Sarasota attorney, Dan Dannheiser, said his client would not comment. But he said the charge would wreck Reubens' career.

"He does a lot of things with kids over the world and his career will be over when that story runs," Dannheiser told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Dannheiser said Reubens had been in town vacationing. Reubens' parents live in Sarasota.

The attorney said detectives didn't realize they had arrested a celebrity until after Reubens was taken to the jail and he told them.

Reubens' Saturday morning comedy show, Pee-wee's Playhouse, won Emmy awards and wide audiences among children, adolescents and even some adults attracted to the manic, nerdy character he plays. CBS recently canceled the show, network spokeswoman Ann Morfogen said.

Reubens developed Pee-wee Herman, with his cherry-red lips, skinny bow ties and shrunken, fifties-style suits, as a comedian with the Groundlings, a Los Angeles improvisational group, in 1979.

At first the character was more risque than the one he has played since an HBO cable television show popularized Pee-wee in 1982 and CBS picked it up. The original character, for example, would look up girls' skirts with the aid of mirrors attached to his shoes.