Gilbert Lewis, the Original King of Cartoons on 'Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,' Dies at 79

Courtesy of Pee-wee's Playhouse
Lewis as the King of Cartoons in 1986 on 'Pee-wee's Playhouse.'

The veteran character actor introduced classic toons on the first season of the CBS Saturday morning kids show.

Gilbert Lewis, the character actor who played the kindly King of Cartoons on the first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, has died. He was 79.

Lewis died May 7, according to a paid obituary. Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman) on his website noted his death, calling Lewis “a terrific actor and wonderful man — very nice and very serious about acting. I liked him very much.”

Sporting a gold crown, ascot and regal coat, Lewis’ character — one of the quirky supporting players on the CBS Saturday morning show — would trumpet, “Let the cartoon begin!” before switching on an old-school film projector that ran a clip of a vintage toon.

Lewis portrayed the King of Cartoons during the first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, when it was filmed in New York. When production shifted to Los Angeles for its second season in 1987, Lewis was dethroned in favor of William Marshall.

A native of Philadelphia, Lewis earlier had appeared in such films as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), The Hot Rock (1972), Across 110th Street (1972), Fort Apache the Bronx (1981) and Body and Soul (1981).

Later, the actor showed up on such TV shows as Spenser: For Hire, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, China Beach, Cheers and Law & Order and in the films Candyman (1992) and Don Juan DeMarco (1994).

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