Before ‘Law and Order’ Fame, This Michigan Actress Made Her TV Debut on ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’
In the wake of the tragic news of actor Paul Reubens a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman's passing I can't help but look back on all the fond memories myself and my fellow '90s kids share with him.
Obviously Pee-Wee's Playhouse, which ran for 5 seasons from 1986 to 1990, is one of the first thing's that comes to mind but did you realize it was a launching pad for one of Michigan's most notable actors?
Known for her longstanding roles on shows like Law and Order and Chicago Med, actress S. Epatha Merkerson of Saginaw landed her first TV gig as a recurring character on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Do you remember which role she played?
Of course characters like Cowboy Carl (Laurence Fishburne) and Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart) are iconic, but until I started watching old clips on YouTube I totally forgot about Reba the Mail Lady!
From what I can recall, Reba was the mail carrier who was simply trying to do her job but every time she tried to deliver the mail she'd get caught up in whatever shenanigans were going on at the playhouse that day. According to her character description on the show's Wikipedia page Reba the Mail Lady was, "... often confused by the rules of the playhouse."
That sounds about right!
After appearing in 16 episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse Merkerson booked roles on The Cosby Show, Here and Now, and even made a one-off appearance on Law & Order in 1991 as "Denise Winters" before she became a series regular appearing in 388 episodes of the crime drama as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, in probably her most notable role.
These days when she's not filming episodes of Chicago Med, S. Epatha is busy being a spokesperson and advocate for Type 2 Diabetes. She also has numerous Golden Globes, NAACP, and Emmy awards, and holds several honorary doctorate degrees including one from her alma mater Wayne State University.
As of this writing Merkerson has not commented publicly on the passing of Reubens. RIPee-Wee!