‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’ Paved the Way to ‘Boyz n the Hood’

John Singleton knew he’d work with Cowboy Curtis one day
‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’ Paved the Way to ‘Boyz n the Hood’

If you would have showed up on the set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse in the late 1980s, odds are an unknown young man would have been waiting at the door to ask for your ID. Of course, if you fast-forwarded a few years, you might have recognized the face of John Singleton, the Oscar-nominated director of Boyz n the Hood.

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“John was the lowliest of PAs,” Laurence (Cowboy Curtis) Fishburne told Conan O’Brien in 1995. “We met on Pee-wee's Playhouse in 1988. I had just done a movie with Spike Lee called School Daze so naturally, he was a big Spike Lee fan: ‘Tell me Spike Lee stories.’” It was on the Pee-wee set that Singleton told Fishburne that he was working on a coming-of-age story and that he’d direct Fishburne in it one day.

Singleton, still a student at USC’s film school, made another Boyz connection when he met jazz musician Stanley Clarke, who composed music for Paul Reubens’ show. “John came up to me and stated that he and I were going to work together in the future,” Clarke revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m not sure what I thought at the time, but who was to know that he would later ask me to score his first feature, Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood.” 

The Pee-Wee set was known for being more diverse than most shows of its time. “I think it was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, and that was in front of the camera and behind the camera,” said Epatha (Reba the Mail Lady) Merkerson on a DVD featurette. “It was a multiracial and multiethnic group of people.” 

According to the aforementioned Hollywood Reporter piece, Fishburne agreed. “The crews were the most diverse of all the crews I’ve ever worked with, which means there were more people of color behind the scenes, there were more women behind the scenes in nontraditional roles for women,” he was quoted as saying. “It was probably the first time I ever encountered a woman working as a camera assistant or a focus puller, and I was really impressed by that, and obviously that was down to Paul.”

On that same featurette, Singleton, who passed away in 2019, revealed how influenced he was by his Pee-wee’s Playhouse experience: “Having that be my first introduction into production was a godsend because I didn’t feel alienated at all working on that set … even at my small job being a security guard-slash-PA. I felt like I was part of a family.” 

Maybe it should have been Boyz in the Playhouse?

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