For Reubens, all this hoarding is both a blessing and a curse. "I go into a junk store and see some antique thing, and my mind goes: Someone's going to break that in 10 more minutes." Instead, he "rescues" it, promising to love it always. There's just one problem: "You can't love the amount of stuff I have. I filled up my house three times. I have, like, multiple storage units."

That undying affection for evocative objects was part of Pee-wee's unique appeal. His beloved bike wasn't just vintage cool, it had those multicolored plastic streamers on the handlebars that just scream, with childlike immodesty, "I know this is cool!" Some of the best-loved characters on his TV show were animated inanimate things: Chairry the overstuffed chair, Globey the globe. Pee-wee made animals by sticking pencils into potatoes; he had "Fun With Tape," making scary faces by wrapping sticky cellophane around his head. Though it had admirers of all ages, Pee-wee's Playhouse was written "for 5-year-olds," Reubens says; the show's best moments were those he could imagine making "a 5-year-old fall off the couch." That made it all the more awful when police, acting on a tip, pawed through Reubens' mountain of stuff and declared he had a thing for minors.

"I don't want anyone for one second to think that I am titillated by images of children," Reubens said on Dateline NBC. "The public may think I'm weird. They may think I'm crazy. . . . That's all fine. As long as one of the things you're not thinking about me is that I'm a pedophile. Because that's not true."

But Reubens' fondness for Pee-wee never went away. "I always loved being that character," he tells me, his eyes tearing up as he recounts his previous evening's activity: introducing the annual outdoor screening of Pee-wee's Big Adventure at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. 'There were 3,000 people there,' he says. "I could feel the love." Pee-wee never seems to have been far from his mind. In the wake of Scandal No. 2, he devoted himself to finishing two Pee-wee movie scripts. The "dark" one he describes as a "sort of Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee story" about what happens when Pee-wee gets famous (hint: He becomes a monster). Reubens has tried to interest studios in that screenplay but had no luck. The second script, based closely on the TV show, is more obviously family-friendly: Pee-wee's Playhouse, The Movie. That script is "perfect," he says, admitting he's been working on it, off and on, since before his 30th birthday—before he first brought Pee-wee to the theater.