Pee-wee’s Big Digital Retouching Bill

A seven-figure sum.

Today in Wired, Brian Raftery suggests that the return of the Pee-wee Herman character is “one of the most unlikely pop culture comebacks of all-time.” He’s referring of course to the fact that tonight at SXSW and tomorrow on Netflix, the personality that seemed doomed to extinction when actor Paul Reubens was arrested in Sarasota, Fla. in July of 1991 will make his long-form return.

Reubens, 63, has outlasted Sarasota’s South Trail Cinema, which was demolished in 1995, and is back to the fore this week with interview conversations about how he met hunky co-star Joe Manganiello (at an HBO Emmys party), who was the last celebrity to sign his “Autograph Hound” stuffed animal (Warren Beatty) and more. Entertainment Weekly wins for most original Q&A approach, with Reubens-as-Herman interviewing Manganiello, while Interview magazine stakes the nostalgia claim with a reprint of their 1987 conversation.

But perhaps the most lasting conversation will turn out to be the one published in early February by The New York Times Magazine. That’s because Reubens spoke openly and specifically about a post-production technique that is otherwise very much hush-hush in Hollywood:

As [director John] Lee and [editor Jeff] Buchanan examined Holiday footage, a skin-colored strip of fabric was visible on the back of Reubens’s neck; it was something like a tiny girdle, tugging excess flesh back from his sexagenarian jawline. This would eventually vanish in post-production, thanks to digital retouchers whom Reubens had hired to pore over the film frame by frame. “I feel I’m too old to be in a Pee-wee Herman movie without that,” he explained. “Pee-wee doesn’t work, to me, with age mixed into it. So I knew I wanted digital retouching, and that was my biggest concern from the get-go, with Judd, when it came to budgeting, because it costs a fortune. I could have had a face-lift and we would have saved two million dollars.”

In the end, software intervened. Reubens called digital retouching “a huge secret in Hollywood. People aren’t really aware that stars have secret riders in their contracts” stipulating that money will be devoted to preserving their youthful appearances with computers. “I’m going to be forced to talk about it” in television appearances promoting the film, Reubens said, because “Pee-wee’s not older in the movie, but I am.” Lee agreed: “I think it would be weird to ignore it. It’s the elephant in the room.”

According to a 2014 investigation by Mashable entertainment editor Josh Dickey, this pinpoint form of digital retouching, otherwise carried out secretly to keep A-listers looking young, dates back to around 2004. To watch Richard Roeper’s St. Patrick’s Day-framed review of Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which leads the lovable guy to New York, click here.

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.