Home » Alan Bodner: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Mid Century Mod Art, & The Nostalgia of Classic TV

Alan Bodner: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Mid Century Mod Art, & The Nostalgia of Classic TV

So, why talk about Alan Bodner, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Mid Century Mod Art, and the nostalgia of classic TV? Because there’s NEW ART to show and discuss! YAY! As many of you know, I love nostalgia. That’s how I wound up both owning a film and animation art gallery and writing about movies. My knowledge of the art of film and the history of movies comes from a deep love of vintage movies, animation, and TV, and my love of art comes, in part, from a love of all things Mid Century Modern, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Several of those loves come together in the work of Alan Bodner.

I’ve loved old TV shows since I was old enough to turn a TV on (back then we had to actually get up and down to do that!). I remember watching Star Trek and Mission Impossible in Italian and French when I lived in Europe, before we moved to the US. I also watched the James Bond movies in those languages, as well as in English. When I got a bit older, I loved what are considered to be cheesy shows, and I mean I am TOTALLY unapologetic about it, including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Wonder Woman. From there, I fell in love with the 60s Batman, and other 60s shows. A lot of what I loved and still love about them is watching old classic film actors in guest starring roles. For example, with Batman, unlike a million other kids, I already knew Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Anne Baxter, and Eartha Kitt from movies. **I was not a normal kid**. The aesthetic of designs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s was something I was drawn to because of the colors and shapes. I mean, I listened to exotica as a child.

I’m sure, even from conversations with a lot of my collectors and readers, that I’m not alone in all of this.

Anyway, Alan Bodner has a whole “Fan Boy Series” of art that includes several collections, and because of my love of vintage TV, the first one I want to tackle is “The Art of Stage, Small Screen, and Cinema“.

The art is FANTASTIC, and I was drawn to a number of images, but for some reason, one of my very favorites was his “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”. He said,

“I had a small part in the Pee Wee’s Playhouse series. What fun and what an amazing world was created. My contributions were the paintings behind Pee Wee in his telephone booth.”

So of course I had to ask him more about that, and about his interest in creating images of classic TV, using his Mid Century Modern style. You’ll remember, if you read my blog regularly, that I interviewed Alan about his career and life in art. Of course, he has tons of IMDB bone fides, including as the art director of the wonderful and award-winning film The Iron Giant. He had a fascinating childhood where he was completely immersed in a world of art and toys and music and tv. As is often the case with the production artists I work with, his experiences in terms of his career far exceed those listed in any CV or website. So that’s how as part of his response, he informed me that not only did he WORK on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, when I asked if he got to go onto the set, here’s what he said, along with explaining how he wound up working on the show:

“As a matter of fact I visited the set on numerous occasions and it was wondrous. A true work of art in every direction. Colorful, playful, pop art at it’s finest.

Alan Bodner did the background in this photo!

In the early 80’s I moved to New York and was hired at ABC news in their graphics dept. That was the closest thing to working for the Daily News in Superman. People yelling out directions, under the gun to get the art out for that days stories. TV monitors on the ceiling showing all the news broadcasts from the other studios and the stench from cigars being smoked by the leads of the department.

Alan did the pictures in the background behind Pee-Wee!

One of my new pals in the department was Ric Heitzman. So talented and always creating his own art on the side. Little did I know that he was about to become one of the art directors for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. His 2 long time friends Wayne White and Gary Panter got together as a team to create those fabulous sets and characters. They all moved out to LA. I came back home and started at Warner Bros. Animation. Soon Ric called me and asked if I wanted to do a project for Pee-Wee.

And that is how it all happened. To see how the filming was done and how serious a person Paul Reubens was in real life is so inspiring. He truly morphed into that character. He was very quiet-spoken and reserved in real life. It’s a great memory of mine.”

I mean, how cool is that? And of course in terms of Mid Century Modern influences, he worked with Maurice Noble while he was at Warner Brothers, and you can’t ask for a stronger impact than that genius’s design.  You can see Noble’s influence on all his work if you look at it all together.

I also asked him to explain his inspirations in creating this collection:

“My art truly reflects the 1960’s and that classic mid century influence. My family was in the toy distribution business and hosted many events for the local department stores and small toy shops in Portland.

There I saw the most colorful and creative art through toys that influenced me artistically at a very young age.

Hanna Barbera Tribute, by Alan Bodner and Bob Singer. Says Alan Bodner of the piece, “I was quite honored to create a piece of art based on the drawing of Bob Singer. His contribution to Hannah Barbera is enormous.”

Along with that my father was at one time president of the Portland Opera Association and there I was seeing those magnificent sets, costumes and acting.

The Addams Family by Alan Bodner

Right around the age of 15. James Bond appeared along with The Man from Uncle, and I was truly inspired by the style and look of those sets and stories.

It is no wonder that my art is so inspired by that time period. I created the Fan Boy series in tribute to some of these magical shows from that era.

The Munsters by Alan Bodner

The Adams Family, The Munsters. Batman. They all came right out of that most stylish and creative time period.”

So many wonderful TV shows, and I’m so thrilled Alan had decided to give them his artistic spin for all the fans of these shows, including me!

There are more images from his Fan Boy: Art of Stage, Small Screen, and Cinema collection, and here are just a few of my favorites, and why I love them:

Wonder Woman has been a favorite of mine since before the 70s TV show, because beyond being a superhero, she represented an empathetic, compassionate woman standing in her power. Then Lynda Carter, who had been crowned Miss World USA in 1972, won the role of Wonder Woman for a new TV show in 1975, over other hopeful Joanna Cassidy. She had been working fairly steadily as a singer and actor, but on the day she got the role, she had only $25 left in her bank account. There was just something about that costume, that character, and the actor that played her, that little old me just fell in love with, so much so that I watched all her variety specials…Now, people, I had to SCOUR the internet for this, but I remember seeing her singing “Rubberband Man” on her show and thinking it was AMAZING, but you decide for yourselves. Let’s just say it didn’t travel as well in time as it did in my memory (I mean…It’s WONDER WOMAN! Singing! yeah, no). Here’s the whole special:

I mentioned I loved the Batman TV series, which I watched way after it was on in 1966. What was most exciting about that show was all the guest stars, and the way it leaned into how “hip” it thought it was. In retrospect, it WAS hip. I mean, it featured both Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt, two of the coolest chicks ever, as Catwoman!



Michael informs me (who WAS old enough to watch it as a kid when it came out) that it played two consecutive nights a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which explains why they were always 2-parters.

By the time I watched the show, I got to see it whenever I wanted, but mostly I was obsessed with the secondary characters. I especially loved Alfred, who was played by Alan Napier and the first to be cast in the show. I knew him from old movies, and from being in Random Harvest, one of my favorites. I knew Yvonne Craig, or Batgirl, from an Elvis movie, It Happened At the World’s Fair.  So of COURSE I loved this piece by Alan, inspired by a promotional trailer for the series:

Batgirl by Alan Bodner. Yvonne Craig never looked so fabulous!

and then there were all the cameos of famous people who appeared when Batman and Robin were scaling buildings. Most of those people were from my favorite movies or were performers I admired, including Jerry Lewis, Edward G Robinson, and Sammy Davis Jr. Did I mention I wasn’t a normal kid? As the years go on, I love these scenes even more:

To see all of Alan Bodner’s art from his Fan Boy: The Art of Stage, Small Screen, and Cinema, you can go HERE.

And remember, I’ll be posting more images from his other collections, including The Art of Pop, Rock and Soul (which includes the cutest image of Taylor Swift for Swifties of all ages!), and Travel: Mid Century Modern Style, in the very near future, so check back often!

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