It was on 11 January 1974 — every fan of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure knows — that Large Marge died in the worst “accident” that many had ever seen. The sound of the crash was evocatively compared to that of “a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building.” Ten years later, an apparently quinquagenarian truck driver with a gravelly voice and a Bride of Frankenstein ‘do picked up Pee-Wee Herman as he was hitchhiking and recounted to him the events of that horrible crash before dropping him off at a roadside restaurant next to the Prehistoric Museum.
It’s one of the most memorable scenes in a film packed with memorable scenes. Watching it as a child, I would rewind, play, and pause… over and over, just to take in the truck driver’s face as she conveys the appearance of the wreck’s victim with facial expressions. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was the first film that I owned on both VHS (and years later, DVD). I watched it over and over until it was seared in my brain.
My proper introduction to Pee-Wee Herman had only occurred a few weeks earlier when Pee-Wee’s Playhouse began airing on Saturday mornings. Pee-Wee Herman made perfect sense to me. I loved characters like Willy Wonka, Harry Langdon, Divine, Jesus Christ, and Klaus Nomi. My mother, for her part, not only approved of the program, but she actually watched it along with my siblings and me. In retrospect, it’s not really surprising. She also loved Alfred Hitchcock, Dallas, John Waters, The Golden Girls, David Lynch, and The Sweeney Sisters.
It’s revealed in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure that 11 January 1984 is the tenth anniversary of Marge’s death. There’s even an altar. The plaque doesn’t provide much information. “Marge” was born on 5 December 1937. She died on 11 January 1974. There’s a photo of “Marge” in the center. Although she was only 36 when she died, years of hard work and probably harder living had by the time of the photo’s taking given her the appearance of a 57-year-old. She looks upward, her face illuminated like that of a saint in a Raphael painting. The lit altar candles underneath the plaque suggest that, ten years after her passing, Marge is still revered by the employees and patrons of the restaurant on every anniversary, making it something of a holiday. It’s now been 49 years since Marge’s death. Seems like the Vatican might want to consider sainthood.
I’ve chosen the occasion of Marge’s tragic end to share a map that I made of Pee-Wee Herman’s Los Angeles (and if you zoom out, beyond) because were it not for Pee-Wee, most of us outside of Cabazon wouldn’t have any idea of who Large Marge was — and because there’s no more obvious day to celebrate Pee-Wee Herman than today since it’s also the anniversary of his search for the best bike in the whole world. Oh yeah, and it’s Francis Buxton‘s birthday, we’re informed, which is the whole reason he pays a greaser to steel Pee-Wee’s bike in the first place!
Just to be clear — this map is not official. It’s just a labor of love from a fan. It is not, in any way, endorsed by or affiliated with Pee-Wee Herman’s creator, Paul Reubens. Nor is it a map of Paul Reubens’s life or career, so please, if you have suggested additions, make certain that they’re related to Herman and not Reubens. And if it’s not too rainy, light an altar candle, hop on your Schwinn Western Flyer (or bicycle of choice), and go out there and celebrate Large Marge and Pee-Wee Herman. Oh, and don’t forget to tell ’em Large Marge sent ya!
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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and the 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject and/or guest in The Los Angeles Times, VICE, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Office Hours Live, Spectrum News, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, Notebook on Cities and Culture, KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles.
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