Merry Christmas! Merry Merry Christmas!
In 1988, the Writers Guild of America had a strike
, the longest in its history, lasting 155 days. The strike had some fallout -- both Moonlighting
and Kate and Allie
lost audience members due to long hiatuses during the strike, which may have led to their cancellation. And while it generally did not affect children's television, one show, in particular, was hard-hit by the strike: Pee Wee's Playhouse
, which had a season of only two episodes, plus a Christmas special
But what a special! Scripted by Paul Reubens
, the actor behind Pee Wee, and John Paragon
, the actor who played the genie Jambi (and, I think, an underrrated comic actor; see his turn as Ramone Azteca from his own Showtime special), the show was both inspired by and parodied the traditional Hollywood holiday variety show.
Oh, sure there were the big name guests, and, in the tradition of holiday specials, they were all sort of past their "best when used by" date. Cher
showed up for the secret word. Magic Johnson
revealed his is a cousin to Magic Screen. Beach movie stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello were repeatedly abused by the manchild, who repayed their presence by singing "Surfin' Bird
" in their film "Back to the Beach." Charo sang "Feliz Navidad
But better still were the unexpected guests. I suppose Little Richard
wasn't that far off the beaten path, but a very young K.D. Lang showed up
, as did Grace Jones
, performing in an avant garde dress and a hat made from packing material. And then, of course, there were the Del Rubio Triplets
Who? Just three sisters
who dressed the same and performed musical variety performances. Find a Death offers a loving tribute
, and YouTube has samples of their mind-blowing performances of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead
," "I Will Survive
," "Neutron Dance
," "Whip It
," and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?
The episode was nominated for three Emmys, including Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences (Prudence Fenton, also responsible for this
, and Joel Fletcher
), Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program (including Gary Panter
, the show's production designer, and who was also responsible for the classic punk comic Jimbo
), and Outstanding Costume Design for a Variety or Music Program (Max Robert, who was also a writer on the show, and Robert Turturice
The show is available in entirety on YouTube, starting here
. Feliz Naviblah!