Top 10 lists used to be a regular feature here on Kickin' it Old School. Interviews have dominated my content lately and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have. I still have many Top 10 lists just waiting to be published and here is another one that I was reminded of recently.
The leading man often gets all of the accolades and attention, but he often owes a lot to his loyal sidekick. Who is Don Quixote without Sancho Panza? Who is Batman without Robin? Who is Fred Flintstone without Barney Rubble? Who is Frodo Baggins without Samwise Gamgee? Who is Wayne without Garth? Who is Jay without Silent Bob? Who is Napoleon without Pedro? Of course 80s cinema did have its share of memorable sidekicks as well. This is not to be mistaken with partners which were also prominent in the decade. This means that the list cannot include pairs like Riggs & Murtaugh, Jake & Elwood, Lewis & Gilbert, Gary & Wyatt, Turbo & Ozone, Bill & Ted or any duo like that. For my purposes, a sidekick is a secondary character whose prominent purpose is to support a main character. I found that the sidekick seems to almost exclusively be a guy thing at least in the 80s with very few if any female sidekicks of note. So without further ado, here is OLD SCHOOL'S TOP 10 SIDEKICK CHARACTERS FROM 80s MOVIES (+ Bonus 10):
Honorable Mention. A dog can be man's best friend and in some cases can make a good sidekick as well. This is the case in 1989's Turner & Hooch where "Hooch" plays sidekick to Tom Hanks' character "Scott Turner". The dog not surprisingly steals many of the scenes and thus deserves at least honorable mention.
20. "Stoner Buds" in Fast Times at Ridgmont High (1982) - Sidekick to "Jeff Spicoli" (played by Sean Penn) Yep, none other than Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards make their film debuts and are each actually credited as Stoner Bud. "No shoes, no shirt, no dice!"
19.(tie) "Lance" in The Sure Thing (1985) - Anthony Edwards plays the sidekick to "Gib" (played by John Cusack). "George Calamari" in One Crazy Summer (1986) - Joel Murray, Bill's younger brother, plays the sidekick to "Hoops McCann" (played by John Cusack). I couldn't decide between these two Cusack films, so I decided to include them both.
18. "Ben Jahrvi" in Short Circuit (1986) - Fisher Stevens plays the sidekick to "Newton Crosby" (played by Steve Guttenberg) in a very racially stereotypical performance.
17. "Subotai" in Conan the Barbarian (1982) - Gerry Lopez, a pro surfer, plays the sidekick to "Conan" (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) after they become friends following Conan saving his life.
16. "Fred" in Valley Girl (1983) - Cameron Dye plays the sidekick to "Randy" (played by Nicolas Cage) and has his back as they crash a Valley party.
15. "Jerome" in Purple Rain (1984) - Jerome Benton plays the sidekick to Morris Day which is not much of stretch because they were more or less playing themselves. I love their Abbott & Costello-like scene trying to figure out "what's the password".
14. "Semmi" in Coming to America (1988) - Arsenio Hall plays the sidekick to "Prince Akeem" (played by Eddie Murphy) on his trip from the fictitious African country of Zamunda to Queens, New York to help find his queen-to-be.
13. "Billy Kopecki" in Big (1988) - Jared Rushton plays the young sidekick to "Josh Baskin" (played by Tom Hanks & David Moscow) whether it is playing stickball or having a silly string fight. "The space goes down, down baby, down, down the roller coaster. Sweet, sweet baby, sweet, sweet, don't let me go. Shimmy, shimmy, coco pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock. Shimmy, shimmy, coco pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock. I met a girlfriend named Triscuit. She said, a triscuit's a biscuit. Ice cream, soda pop, vanilla on the top. Ooh, shalida, walking down the street, ten times a week. I meant it. I said it. I stole my momma's credit. I'm cool. I'm hot. Sock me in the stomach three more times."
12. "Barf" in Spaceballs (1987) - The late, great John Candy plays the sidekick to "Capt. Lonestar" (played by Bill Pullman) in this Mel Brooks parody of Star Wars.
11. "Bryce & Wease" in Sixteen Candles (1984) - John Cusack and Darren Harris play the geeky sidekicks to "Farmer Ted" (played by Anthony Michael Hall) on his quest to pick up chicks in this John Hughes comedy.
10. "Grover Dill" in A Christmas Story (1983) - Yano Anaya plays the toady sidekick to bully "Scut Farkus" (played by Zack Ward) in this holiday classic. Bonus points if you knew that Anaya also played the paperboy obsessing over his two dollars in 1985's Better Off Dead. Also qualifying from A Christmas Story could be Ralphie's friends "Flick" and "Schwartz", but decided to go with the toady.
9. "Spike Nolan" in Brewster's Millions (1985) - John Candy makes his second appearance on this list playing the sidekick to "Montgomery Brewster" (played by Richard Pryor) whether it is as his catcher on the Hackensack Bulls or his friend looking out for his best concerns.
8. "Victor Prinzim" in Cannonball Run (1981) - Dom DeLuise plays the mechanic sidekick to "J.J. McClure" (played by Burt Reynolds) as they race across the country in a souped-up ambulance.
7. "Charles De Mar" in Better Off Dead (1985) - Curtis Armstrong plays sidekick to "Lane Meyer" (played by John Cusack) helping him with his girl troubles and his decision to take on the K-12 ski slope. Could have also included Curtis Armstrong as "Ack Ack" in One Crazy Summer with Cusack as well.
6. "Stiles" in Teen Wolf (1985) - Jerry Levine plays sidekick to wolfman "Scott Howard" (played by Michael J. Fox) surprisingly barely flinching when he finds out his friend is part wolf. In fact, he comes up with ways to capitalize on the situation. Did you know that NFL player Greg White legally changed his first name to Stylez in 2008 inspired by the Teen Wolf character?
5. "Short Round" in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) - Jonathan Ke Quan plays sidekick to "Indiana Jones" (of course played by Harrison Ford) even saving his life at one point and adding some comic relief along the way. Quan would then go on to play "Data" in The Goonies the following year. "You call him Dr. Jones!"
4. "Russell Ziskey" in Stripes (1981) - Harold Ramis plays sidekick to "John Winger" (played by Bill Murray) as they both join the Army on a whim. This was a difficult choice because Ramis' character is a little more important than your average sidekick, but I decided to include him anyways. His opening scene teaching Basic English always especially cracks me up, but this scene is probably more memorable to most.
3. "Cameron Frye" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - Alan Ruck plays sidekick to the title character (played by Matthew Broderick) on their adventurous day playing hooky from school. Ruck's character is much more pivotal than the average sidekick, but that's what puts him so high on my list. "Hey, batter, batter, batter, batter, batter, SWING, batter!"
2. "Goose" in Top Gun (1986) - Anthony Edwards plays RIO (radar intercept officer) and sidekick to "Maverick" (played by Tom Cruise) whether they're in the sky fighting MiGs, at Miramar vying to win the 1st place trophy, in a bar singing "You Lost That Lovin' Feeling" or playing an intense game of beach volleyball. Bonus points if you knew that the character's real name is "Nick Bradshaw". Most people remember them saying "I feel the need... the need for speed!" But I always liked when his wife (played by Meg Ryan) screams across the bar, "Goose, you big stud, take me to bed or lose me forever!"
1. "Chewbacca" in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) & Return of the Jedi (1983) - Standing 7'3" tall, Peter Mayhew plays the iconic wookiee sidekick to "Han Solo" (played by Harrison Ford) as he co-pilots the Millennium Falcon on all of their space adventures. Both C3PO and R2-D2 could also technically qualify for this spot as they also meet the definition and have become icons themselves. Is there not a better bromance than "Chewie" and "Han"? In my opinion, there was not a better sidekick in cinema during the 80s or during any decade for that matter.
There's my list. Are there any sidekicks from 80s movies that you feel I have overlooked? If so or if you'd rank any differently, please leave them in the comments section below. I debated with myself over whether to include Pretty in Pink's "Duckie", but decided he was much more than a sidekick and left him off. I also considered including "Johnny" from The Outsiders as a sidekick to "Ponyboy", but again decided not to classify that character as merely a sidekick. What are your thoughts? Anthony Edwards is king of the sidekicks, impressively appearing on the list for three such roles. John Cusack, on the other hand, appears on the list three times for having a sidekick while throwing in one role being one himself for good measure. It is often said that behind every good man is a great woman, but in the case of these guys it is better said that behind every good man is a great sidekick.
That'll wrap up this issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. If you are interested in reading more of my Top 10 lists, please click there for a summary. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Robots have made for great sidekicks in movies and television through the years. I love this new piece of artwork by Richard Sargent (via Hopewell Studios) as a take on "Where's Waldo?", featuring a huge crowd of robots from movies, television and more titled "Where's WALL-E?". Can you find WALL-E among them? More importantly, how many robots from the 80s can you find? At quick glance I see C3PO & R2D2, The Terminator, Dot Matrix from Spaceballs, Bubo the owl from Clash of the Titans, Twiki & Dr. Theopolis from Buck Rogers and Paulie's robot from Rocky IV. If you can find anymore, leave them in the comments.
Quote of the day: "Success and failure. We think of them as opposites, but they're really not. They're companions - the hero and the sidekick." -Laurence Shames
As I say each time, I am so thrilled that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Steve Lynch. He is probably best remembered as the legendary lead-guitarist for the multi-platinum selling band, Autograph. Also known by many guitar players as "the two-handed guitarist", Lynch was an early innovator of the hammer-on method as well as many other advanced guitar techniques. Considered by many to be one of the greatest guitar players certainly of our generation (and possibly of any for that matter). Autograph broke up as the 80s came to an end, but Lynch has continued to rock on and has even taken up teaching his craft to others. You will find out more about Autograph's rise to fame in the early 80s, their biggest hit song and what he has been up to since then as we get on to some selections from my interview with Steve Lynch...
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional musician? How did that end up becoming a reality for you? Please tell us what you did prior to the formation of Autograph.
Steve: I realized I first wanted to be a musician when my sister brought home the first Beatles album in 1964. All her cute girlfriends came over to listen and went crazy when they heard it. I thought...hmmmm...I can do that! It didn't become a reality until 1967 when I started playing bass, then switched over to guitar on September 18th of 1970 (the day Jimi Hendrix died). I played in several bands in Seattle and L.A. before Autograph. I also went to the Guitar Institute years before the band was ever formed.
Q: I read the following quote from you, "When [Jimi] Hendrix died, I made a promise to myself that I was going to commit my life to playing guitar and 40 years later am still committed to that promise." Please discuss what Hendrix meant to you and why his passing caused you to make that commitment.
Steve: I was really into listening to Hendrix and was trying to figure out how he was getting those wild sounds, even when I was still playing bass by borrowing my friend's guitar. I was just fascinated with him and thought he must be from another planet because no one else sounded anything like him. I think his dedication to music made me want to make the same sacrifice.
Q: You are known for your legendary 2-hand tapping technique of playing the guitar. What is the origin of that technique and how did you develop it yourself?
Steve: I was experimenting a little with it when I lived in Seattle during the mid-70s, but when I went to G.I.T. [Guitar Institute of Technology now better known as Musicians Institute] in 1978 I saw Emmett Chapman, the inventor of the Chapman Stick do a clinic at the school. Needless to say, I was absolutely amazed at the sounds he was creating. I asked him after the clinic to show me what he was talking about regarding how he had started the technique on guitar but had progressed to a point where he decided to develop an instrument that would satisfy the extent to where he wanted to bring the technique. He showed me a couple ideas using pentatonics with both hands in separate shapes. From there my mind exploded and I decided to do everything I was learning at G.I.T. and incorporate this technique. I wrote everything down so I wouldn't forget it and this became my first book. The sounds I was able to create using this technique became a signature of my style which I had not heard before. Therefore, I decided to incorporate it in most all of my solos and publish my first book to share the theory behind the technique.
Here is an example of a Steve Lynch guitar solo featuring his "hammer on" 2-hand technique...
Q: How was the band Autograph formed?
Steve: The members from what later became Autograph were all playing in bands that were signed to different labels. We only got together on the weekends to jam because we were all friends who had played in previous bands together. One day at a rehearsal/jam, Andy Johns, the English producer, came to listen to us. He loved what we were doing so much he offered to bring us into Ocean Way Studios to do a free demo. Of course we all said YES!! The demo turned out very well and after completion, Keni [Richards], the drummer, played it for David Lee Roth, who he had been jogging with every morning during that time. David loved it and asked us to open up for the Van Halen tour in 1984. We put our other projects on hold and did the tour. From that point on, we started to receive numerous offers from major labels to sign with. We ended up accepting an offer from RCA and the rest is history.
In addition to Lynch on lead guitar, the band also included singer-songwriter Steve Plunkett, bassist Randy Rand, keyboardist Steve Isham and drummer Keni Richards.
Q: It is often reported that the band name Autograph was inspired by the Def Leppard song "Photograph". What is the real origin and meaning behind the band name and how was it chosen?
Steve: It wasn't chosen from the song "Photograph". While en route to the first Van Halen opening, we still didn't have a name for the band so we decided that each of us will write down five names we liked and then pass the lists around to have the other members cross out the ones they couldn't live with. The only name left was Autograph...we picked it for our "signature" sound.
Q: What is the back story of how "Turn Up the Radio" was conceived and written? I read that "Turn Up the Radio" was a last-minute song that the label didn't even want on your album.
Steve: I was up on stage at rehearsal and started playing a riff I had made up. Everyone asked, "What is that?" I said, "I don't know, let's try something with it." So everyone got onstage and started playing around with it. Next thing you know, within a half hour we had a complete song...lyrics and all. It just happed so naturally and felt right. RCA hated the song and refused to let us put it on the album. Well, we did it anyway...and then when all was said and done they claimed it was their idea to put it on the album...yeah right!
"Turn Up the Radio" was Autograph's first single released in December of 1984 from their debut album, Sign In Please. The song would go on to be the band's biggest hit receiving lots of airplay both on the radio and on MTV as well as reaching #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. In 2009, VH1 included it at #93 on its list of "The 100 Greatest Rock Songs". Not bad for a song that was a last-minute addition and that the label thought had no commercial value. Here is the video for "Turn Up the Radio" by Autograph...
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about the song today?
Steve: I never got sick of playing it because of the audience's reaction to it. When you play a song that brings down the house and you hear the thunderous applause and screams that accompany it...well, you just never tire of it. When I hear it today, I think....wow! I remember that song! It was great...who did it?
Q: Was radio airplay something you really craved for at that time? What was the feeling the first time you heard the song played on the radio? What was the feeling when you began to hear your song get heavy radio airplay?
Steve: We would have been happy if we just would have heard it once on the radio. When we did for the first time we were all together and were extremely excited! We thought...WOW!!!...That's us!! We did that...how cool! When we started to get heavy radio play I think all of us were in disbelief...."You mean we may make money from this too?!?!"
Q: What memories do you have about filming the video for "Turn Up the Radio"? Who came up with the concept?
Steve: It was a lot of work...two 16 hour days! Olly Sassoon was the director and had most of the concept already in place. We added our tidbits along the way, while filming and in editing.
Q: Music videos really became important at that time and could make a song successful just by getting shown often on MTV. Discuss your feelings regarding the impact that MTV had on popular music back in the 80s.
Steve: I absolutely loved the fact you could put a visual to the bands that were playing your favorite songs. It gave it so much more depth and gave you an idea of what the individual personalities of the bands were like....from two dimensions to three.
Q: Please discuss what you think the "Headbanger's Ball" show on MTV meant to the genre. It really seemed to give mainstream exposure to heavy metal and hard rock. Please tell us about the episode which Autograph co-hosted along with Ozzy Osbourne. How was that experience? Please tell us a good story or two about Ozzy from that show.
Steve: I loved "Headbanger's Ball" and used to watch it all the time! When we did the episode with Ozzy he had just got out of the Betty Ford Center just a few hours earlier. When he sat down in front of the teleprompter to do the introduction he was so nervous he was stuttering and couldn't make it through the first few lines. After many failed attempts he yelled at Sharon to go get him a six pack, in which she replied by saying, "Ozzy, you've only been out a few hours"...in which he replied, "Go get me a F'ing six pack Sharon" in which she did. He downed it in about 20 minutes and said, "Roll tape!"....he got it perfect the first take! We all laughed so hard it took a while to regain our composure to resume taping!
Q: As you mentioned earlier, Autograph opened up for Van Halen on tour in 1984 for 48 shows. How was the experience of touring with Van Halen? I have heard they put some restrictions on you. Do you still appreciate the opportunity and exposure that it gave you and the band?
Steve: We very much appreciate the opportunity but despised the restrictions. No other bands we opened for put those on us, nor did we ever with the bands that opened for us.
It is reported that one of the restrictions that Van Halen put on Autograph was that Steve Lynch was not allowed to do his two-handed guitar solos. This was due to not wanting anyone to upstage Eddie Van Halen who is an iconic guitar legend himself.
Q: Autograph would later tour with Heart and Motley Crue. Please compare the experience on that tour to the previous Van Halen tour. Please tell us your thoughts on Ann and Nancy Wilson.
Steve: All the other bands we toured with showed us equal respect...a far cry from the Van Halen experience. We had such a great time touring with these other bands! Ann and Nancy were extremely down to earth and made us feel like we were touring with old friends...which is kind of true considering I had opened up for them in Seattle when I was playing in a group called Silverlode back in the mid-70s. They were consistently awesome every night on stage!
Q: Please tell us your thoughts on Vince Neil and the boys from Motley Crue. Any good stories from partying with them on tour?
Steve: We had known them from being in the local scene in L.A. so it just seemed like we were touring with our buds from home. We would wake up on their tour bus and they would wake up on ours...everything else was kind of blurry...LOL!!! We were WAY over the top on that tour...luckily we all survived...barely.
Q: You deservedly won "Guitar Solo of the Year" from Guitar Player Magazine for your fine work on "Turn Up the Radio". Please tell us about the circumstances around that award. When and how did you receive it? Was that a coveted acknowledgement back in the 80s?
Steve: That award was very coveted back then and I was extremely honored to have won it. I was on the road when it was announced so I didn't have much time to relish in the moment...but will always be grateful.
Q: How did Autograph end up appearing in the 1987 film Like Father Like Son? What memories do you have about that experience?
Steve: That was our manager Suzi Frank along with RCA that landed us that gig. We ended up playing live on recorded equipment for the taping and the film crew was absolutely amazed at how fast we got the perfect take. We were very seasoned at that time and were always very professional when working in a high profile environment. It was really great hanging out with Arthur...I mean Dudley Moore at the premiere.
Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the band's break up in 1989.
Steve: The 80s were over...what else can I say? We were in rehearsal writing new material for Epic Records who wanted to sign us for another three-album deal. We had put so much into this project over the last six years we all felt a bit burned out and also felt the music was changing and we were probably not going to be a part of it any longer. I decided to throw in the towel first at our last rehearsal and, to my surprise, everyone else followed suit rather quickly. It was the end of an era...but it was a very nice ride.
Q: Are you proud of what you created as Autograph?
Steve: I'm very proud of what Autograph did. Anyone should be proud of their achievements...especially if it made other people have a good time.
Q: After nearly four decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Steve: The music industry has changed...it is still focused on the almighty dollar but what I see as a saving grace is personal studios, independent labels, the decline of the major labels as we know it (thank God!!) and the attitude of musicians to not follow the status quo....which means freedom of artistic expression.
Q: Some 80s pop superstars "run away" from the 80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. (If at all) How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective?
Steve: I love what happened then and always will! I also look at it from the point that I am not done...and what I create and express from this point on is just another adventure.
Q: Please tell us about what you did after Autograph broke up.
Steve: I took a lot of the songs I had been writing outside of the Autograph style and signed a deal with a label that had great international distribution through CEMA. Unfortunately, while completing the last tracks of that solo CD, the label went bankrupt...such is life in the music industry. I shopped the CD to many other labels but the rockers of the 80s had a stigmatism attached to them. You were an 80s rocker and it was now the 90s. That's it, plain and simple.
Q: Please update us all about what else Steve Lynch is up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Steve: I live in Seattle now, my home town, and own a music school here. I like teaching very much because I have a lot of information to share with others along their musical journey. I also have a new online teaching site at www.lynchlicks.com and a new YouTube channel where you can view a lot of my solos at www.youtube.com/lynchlicks I'm still writing and recording all the time....can't seem to shake the passion!
I am honored that Steve took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can find out lots more at his official website www.stevelynch.info and be sure to check out his instructional site at www.lynchlicks.com. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Steve Lynch for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through Autograph's "Turn Up the Radio" and, even more, for going back to the 80s for a little while with us here as well.
That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: I came across these Typographic Movie Posters thanks to Buzzfeed.com. Designer Jerod Gibson created a bunch of movie posters that feature an iconic image from a film filled with its best one-liners and quotes. I thought I would share a couple of my favorites from the 80s that he did...
Quote of the day: "Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them." -Washington Irving
"Come on in, and pull yourself up a chair (like Chairry!)" That's how the theme song to one of the best children's programs ever made began. Yes, I am talking about Pee-wee's Playhouse which will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its first episode this September. Speaking of that theme song, did you know that it was actually sung by none other than Cyndi Lauper (only it was credited to the pseudonym Ellen Shaw who was a back up singer for Lauper)?
For those who don't remember, Pee-wee's Playhouse starred Paul Reubens as his character "Pee-wee Herman" and ran for 45 episodes (5 seasons) beginning in September of 1986. The mostly live-action Saturday morning children's program began on the heels of the surprisingly successful 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure and would go on to garner a huge weekly audience and win 15 Emmy awards during its run. Whether it was screaming when you heard the "secret word" provided by "Conky", making a wish from "Jambi" (mekka lekka hi, mekka hiney ho), having snack time in the kitchen (mmm, snack-y), watching a cartoon from the "King of Cartoons", playing connect-the-dots (la, la, la-la) with "Magic Screen" or enjoying a visit by playhouse friends like "Miss Yvonne" or "Cowboy Curtis" you always knew you would have a fun time watching Pee-wee and the gang. I recently re-watched each and every episode in order again with my young daughter. I was so pleased to see her enjoy watching them as much as I did. They sure don't make them like that anymore.
As many of you may or may not know, Pee-wee has made an incredible comeback recently concluding a Broadway run of his live The Pee-wee Herman Show, which generated over $6.3 million in ticket sales and resulted in a successful HBO special that will be released on DVD and Blu-ray this October. Pee-wee Herman's public Facebook and Twitter accounts now boast over one million fans and followers. In addition, Judd Apatow has signed on to produce an upcoming Pee-wee Herman film. Pee-wee is back!
Just in time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show and Pee-wee's pop culture resurgence, a new book titled Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon is set to be released on November 1st. It is the first and only behind-the-scenes look at the hit Emmy award-winning television show. Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse is based on interviews with over a hundred cast members, writers, producers, network executives, crew members, puppeteers, and animators who contributed to the program TV Guide recently referred to as one of the "top ten cult classics of all time," as well as over 200 rare and never-before-published full color photos. If you're anything like me, that is all you needed to hear to know this was a must-read book. You can head over to the website www.insidetheplayhouse.com to find out more and pre-order your copy right now.
I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse and believe me when I say it exceeded all of my expectations. If you're a fan of Pee-wee Herman or Pee-wee's Playhouse then you are going to thoroughly enjoy this entertaining and enlightening book! It takes you from the character's origination as part of the Groundlings to the television premier of Pee-wee's Playhouse through the show's entire 5-season run, the incident in 1991 that caused Pee-wee to remove himself from the public eye all the way through his incredible comeback story which began in 2009. It also includes a comprehensive Episode Guide taking you through each of the 45 episodes. It does not include a direct interview with Reubens himself (because he intends to publish his own memoir in the future), but it's certainly the next best thing and in some cases even better. The stories, the perspective, the pictures! I found it fascinating from beginning to end and such an easy read that I truly could not put it down.
I also had the pleasure of a brief interview with the author of Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse, Caseen Gaines. He is a pop culture enthusiast who has won awards for essays on The Flip Wilson Show and the Planet of the Apes film series. Gaines is also a high school English teacher and the co-founder of Hackensack Theatre Company, a non-profit in New Jersey. His new book chronicles some of the awesomeness of the 80s, so I say that makes him pretty awesome himself. Here are some selections from my interview with Caseen Gaines...
Q: What inspired and when did you decide you would write a book on Pee-wee's Playhouse? How did the book evolve from the beginning to the end during the writing process?
Caseen: In August of 2009, Paul Reubens announced that he would be staging a revival of The Pee-wee Herman Show, a live show that was the precursor to his Pee-wee's Playhouse series. On that very day, I began looking for information that might lead me to figure out which cast members would be returning and, in doing laps around the Internet, I found contact information for some of the original cast members of The Pee-wee Herman Show. I contacted them and asked them some questions about their time working on the show and, by that evening, I thought there may be material for a book that could come out of these conversations. I began interviewing almost immediately and had secured a book deal by Christmas of that year. Throughout the writing process, the book changed dramatically. Initially it was much more encyclopedic, in that it really was almost a giant Wikipedia entry of cast biographies and information about each of the puppets in separate chapters. There really was no narrative. However, through the writing process, and then with the amazing guidance of my editor, the book really developed into a narrative with characters and a story arc.
Q: Pee-wee Herman made a triumphant (and unexpected) return to the pop culture landscape in 2009. How did that impact your plans for the book and timing for its release?
Caseen: Paul Reubens' decision to bring back Pee-wee Herman was really the catalyst for this book, along with 2011 being the 25th anniversary of Pee-wee's Playhouse. When I started, I knew he would be doing a four week live run of his show in Los Angeles. What I didn't know, and what I think has been a blessing for bringing awareness to this book, is how successful his return has been. I could never have predicted that since I began working on the book, Pee-wee Herman would have a ten-week run on Broadway, have an HBO special, be nominated for three Emmy Awards, and have a film development deal at Universal with Judd Apatow. Who could have predicted that?
Q: How many interviews did you conduct for this book? Any of the interviews in particular stand out above the others?
Caseen: I conducted over a hundred interviews for the book. Almost half of them made their way into the book in one form or another, but a lot of the interviews didn't result in direct quotations. The interviews that stand out the most for me are the ones I did with those who worked closely with Paul [Reubens] at one stage of his career or another. I spoke to a lot of animators, for example, but for the most part, the animators weren't involved in the day-to-day interactions with Paul. However, the producers and writers, who could remember specific conversations with Paul, were the most interesting to me.
Q: What was the biggest surprise about the show you discovered while doing your research for the book?
Caseen: The biggest surprise was that I had no idea what I was getting in to when I started writing the book! While it may seem like Paul Reubens' career has been well documented, the reality is that it hasn't been. The more I spoke to people, the more questions were raised than answered. As I wrote in the book, my main question was how this show and character, that must have seemed completely bizarre on paper, managed to captivate a large segment of the population for so many years. Pee-wee Herman is an amazingly polarizing and unique character, but people went crazy for him in the 1980s and continue to today. What I found particularly surprising was that many of the people I interviewed had wondered the same thing throughout the years and have been unable to come up with an answer. It was just lightning in a bottle.
Q: Who, other than Pee-wee, was your favorite character on Pee-wee's Playhouse?
Caseen: I always loved Jambi, but I'm not really sure why. I like the Genie in Aladdin a lot, too. Maybe I have a genie thing!
Q: What was up with Miss Yvonne's cleavage? Not complaining. I just don't remember it as much from when I was younger, but it really stood out when I was re-watching them with my daughter last year.
Caseen: Haha, I'm not entirely sure! You know, Miss Yvonne was sort of a play off of actresses like Sandra Dee, but I don't really remember Sandra Dee having many low-cut dresses. Maybe Miss Yvonne just thought that wearing those outfits was the best way to secure her position as the "Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland."
Q: Do you have a favorite episode of the series? If so, which one and why?
Caseen: You know, so many of the episodes really meshed together in my head until I sat down and watched the entire series in a 24-hour marathon to write the episode guide for the book. Just so you know, I don't advise that you try that unless you really have to! Anyway, I really like the episodes that teach a moral. For example, "Beauty Makeover," from the show's first season, immediately pops into my head. The episode teaches the lesson that outer beauty begins from within, but without sounding like an afterschool special. The episode is hilarious, which is what I love. My absolute favorite Playhouse thing to watch is the Christmas special, for more reasons than I could explain briefly. I think that special was the last great television Christmas special, which is a shame.
Q: How often do you still say, "I know you are, but what am I" or "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it"? What is your favorite Pee-wee saying?
Caseen: I have to admit, I used to say, "I know you are, but what am I?" all the time when I was a kid. I suppose the Pee-wee saying I use all the time is, "I love that story!," which is particularly appropriate when you've told a story or joke that bombed or, more importantly, when someone just told you a story that you thought was boring! I also find myself doing a Pee-wee laugh more often than I'd like to admit.
Q: Any comments on the incident that forced Pee-wee and Paul Reubens to leave the public eye for so long?
Caseen: I was really young when Pee-wee's Playhouse was on TV, but I distinctly remember the 1991 incident having an impact on me. I remember it being very late (for me at the time) and my parents watching the news. I hated the news, as all kids did, but it was a weekend and I think I was watching the news with them just so I could stay up a little bit later. Anyway, a clip of Pee-wee's Playhouse came on, then the mug shot. I don't remember anything that was said really, but I do remember those images. I distinctly remember asking my dad why Pee-wee was on the news and he said, and I never forgot these words, "Get a good look at Pee-wee Herman, son. You're probably not going to see him for a long time." He was absolutely right. However, to maybe better answer your question, one thing I'm really proud of in the book is that I have Judy Price, who was in charge of children's programming at CBS at the time while Playhouse was on the air, explaining what led them to pull the last couple rerun episodes of the series from the air after his arrest. We've never heard CBS' side of the story until now, so I was really happy to have her on the record.
Q: What are your feelings regarding his surprising return to prominence? I'm personally very happy for him and glad he is being given this tremendous opportunity.
Caseen: I'm really glad that people like me, who grew up watching Pee-wee Herman and feeling like that character had such an impact on our childhoods, have the opportunity to have him back. When you're a kid, you don't understand why your favorite show gets taken off TV, so whatever happens in Paul's career, it's great that we've had the opportunity to meet back up later in all of our lives. Also, I'm obviously glad for him that he's been able to change the ending of Pee-wee Herman's story.
Q: Why do YOU feel so many of us love Pee-wee Herman so much?
Caseen: You know, I asked this question to every single person I interviewed and everyone had a different answer. It was amazing. I love how different Pee-wee is from the rest of the world -- his friends, the puppets, the viewing audience -- but no one acknowledges his differences. No one acknowledges that his clothes are too small, that his fashion is out of style, or that his voice has weird fluctuations. He's able to just exist and be accepted or rejected based on his actions, not by the way he was born. I wasn't consciously aware of that as a child, but I've certainly noticed that the more I've watched the Playhouse and Pee-wee films as an adult. Especially if you look at Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the character is interacting with so many different people, but not one person points out that Pee-wee looks and acts differently than them. If you compare that to a movie like Borat, which is another "fish-out-of-water&q uot; road story, the entire movie is premised on people pointing at that character and making fun of him being different.
Q: How would you describe your book Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse and why do you feel that fans will want to read your accounts?
Caseen: Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse is the first and only book that takes a look at the entire Pee-wee Herman phenomenon from day one until today. It's filled with over 200 color photos and will not only be a fun read, but also an informative one. I'm confident that fans will want to read the book because I set out to accomplish two goals: I wanted to write a book I would love to read and I wanted to focus on things that I didn't know prior to writing it. The more mundane facts about Pee-wee Herman, the kind of stuff you can find easily on Wikipedia or something like that, are glossed over quickly and I spend a lot of time talking about what it was like backstage, how decisions were made, and what plans Paul had for Pee-wee that never materialized for one reason or another. The feedback has been great so far, but I really think people should pick up a copy and check it out for themselves!
I have been a fan of Pee-wee's Playhouse for 25 years now, but now I am a big fan of Caseen Gaines as well. If you want to connect with Caseen directly, you can do that on Facebook at www.facebook.com/caseengaines If you want more information on this outstanding book, be sure to visit www.insidetheplayhouse.com or if you are already convinced you want to order Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse, then here is a direct link to Amazon.com to do so at a very reasonable price. I have no direct affiliation with Caseen Gaines other than our mutual fascination with pop culture and admiration for Pee-wee, but I am very impressed with this effort and wanted to be sure to share it with all of you. Hope you are inclined to support it, too.
That's all for this special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.
Quote of the day: "Quality television programming can open wide the windows of curiosity for children and enable them to share in the wonder of man's experience." -President Ronald Reagan (as quoted in Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse)
+ Bonus Quote of the day: "I'm just trying to illustrate that it's okay to be different - not that it's good, not that it's bad, but that it's all right. I'm trying to tell kids to have a good time and to encourage them to be creative and to question things." -Paul Reubens in an interviewer with Rolling Stone
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