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Would you believe, Pee-wee Herman?

(ran GB edition)

It appears the bow-tied man-child is not dead yet. Though he currently stars in Mystery Men, Paul Reubens says he is constructing a new Pee-wee project.

Hee-hee. You can almost hear Paul Reubens giggling, in character as Pee-wee Herman _ with his too-small gray suit, military-short jet-black hair and crimson lips a pucker of surprise.

Get out your red clip-on bow ties and white patent-leather loafers. Reubens is coming back.

Navy Nurse, a porno movie at a theater in Sarasota, almost did him in, but like Mark Twain, the death of Pee-wee has been greatly exaggerated.

"I'm starting work in two weeks on the script for The Pee-wee Herman Story," Reubens says, with only a flicker of a smile. Funny, he doesn't look like Pee-wee at all. Dressed in a fashionable beige suit, Reubens, the creator and alter-ego of Pee-wee, agreed to an interview, but only if his current co-star, Ben Stiller, accompanied him.

Clearly, and understandably, Reubens doesn't want questions about Navy Nurse and the night of July 26, 1991, when he was caught up in a police sting operation at an adult-movie house in Sarasota and was charged with indecent exposure. CBS promptly canceled his popular Saturday morning kiddie show, which had run for five years and won 16 Emmy Awards.

Before you see Reubens as Pee-wee again, you can see him as the Spleen in Mystery Men. He plays one of a group of all-star superhero-wannabes in a comedy about losers who think they have special gifts to fight crime. The Spleen's specialty is, well, shall we say, gas warfare. That description might suffice. The Spleen, according to this wild script, is the victim of an old Gypsy woman's curse and is now the purveyor of noxious fumes.

"My power is when I say, "Pull my finger.' I can, let's say, clear a room if I want to," Reubens says _ deadpan, with no hint of Pee-wee childishness.

Reubens, actually, was never out of work for long after his arrest. He used his real name (or close to it; he was born Paul Reubenfeld) and played a variety of character roles that Pee-wee fans might have missed. He was the Penguin's unloving father in 1992's Batman Returns, a vampire henchman in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a macho animal-control officer in Dunston Checks In (1996). He was nominated for an Emmy for his supporting role in the TV series Murphy Brown.

It was Pee-wee, not Reubens, who was out of work. In fact, the actor says he wanted to take a break from the character anyway.

In Mystery Men, he co-stars with Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi and Pras as underdog heroes who fight to rescue Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) from arch-villain Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush).

Reubens is the first to admit that it's absurd. "It would have been a terrible experience if we didn't all get along," he says.

Kinka Usher, who has filmed TV commercials, including the Taco Bell Chihuahua series, makes his directorial debut. "I was the director's pet," Reubens says. "I got a little more attention than anyone else. Maybe Janeane Garofalo worked her way in, but I was usually the favorite."

Reubens grew up in Sarasota, where his parents owned a lamp store and his winter neighbors were circus folks. He attended Boston University for one year before taking off for Hollywood. Initially, the best job he could get in Los Angeles was as a pizza chef.

As a struggling comic, he joined the improvisational troupe the Groundlings, but got nowhere until he created Pee-wee in 1978. The character took over all the way to being given a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

For now, Reubens says, "I'd like you to see The Spleen. He's the character of the moment."