Yes, Virginia, There is a Punky Brewster
Imagine getting a phone call out of the blue, informing you that someone you barely recalled had named a television character after you and wanted to give you royalties. Nice, right? Now imagine that the television character in question is one of the most beloved children’s characters of all time.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened to Peyton Rutledge in the mid 1980s. About 20 years earlier, Peyton’s dad was a teacher at Lawrenceville School, a prestigious prep school in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, not far from Princeton. Lawrenceville has counted many illustrious alumnus among its ranks, including Michael Eisner, Malcolm Forbes and Huey Lewis (yep). But the alum that matters most to this story is one who graduated in 1966 and went on to become the President of NBC: Brandon Tartikoff.
Apparently, a teenage Tartikoff had a crush on Professor Brewster’s daughter, Peyton - better known then as Punky. Nothing happened between the two of them. In fact, Peyton seemed to admit in a TV Guide interview that she wasn’t overly familiar with him (“I’m sure he knew who I was and I knew who he was”). Nevertheless, Tartikoff found her memorable enough to create a character around the spunky, tomboy girl he remembered from Lawrenceville. He even gave his Punky a “real” first name (Penelope) that no one used, much like Peyton.
When the series was created in 1984, NBC’s lawyers tracked down the real Punky Brewster. Punky had married a lawyer and was presumably pretty excited when she heard that a kid who used to go to her dad’s school wanted to pay her for using her name.
She even agreed to make a brief appearance on Punky Brewster. Here’s Ms. Rutledge in her role as a teacher at Punky’s school. Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait long to see her cameo: