Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays: Bill Barretta

Today’s Weekly Muppet Wednesday post is written by Tom Stroud.


June 19, 1964

Notable Muppets…
Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear, Johnny Fiama, Big Mean Carl, The Swedish Chef (1996-), Rowlf the Dog (1996-), Dr. Teeth (2005-), Clueless Morgan, Louie (Elmo’s Dad)

Bill Barretta was born in 1964 in Yardley, Pennsylvania. It is well known that he first became friends with Brian Henson while working with the operations department at Sesame Place. Sesame Place is also where he met Brian’s father, Muppet founder Jim Henson, when he visited the park to see the new automated characters.  After their employment at the park, Bill and Brian unfortunately drifted apart until the early 1990’s, when Brian was producing a new TV show called Dinosaurs. Bill asked Brian if there was anything he could do on the show, and soon became the body for Earl Sinclair.

Bill’s first film role was in 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island. Credited as a principal performer, he preformed the original character Clueless Morgan, an aptly named naive goat, who is one of the main mutineers helping Long John Silver to take over the Hispaniola. The film also marked his first performance of The Swedish Chef.

Bill developed his first new major Muppet characters in the TV show Muppets Tonight, where he performed Bobo the Bear, Johnny Fiama, and, his most famous character, Pepe the King Prawn. Johnny has appeared in a few Muppet projects after Muppets Tonight, however he has not had a speaking role since 2005’s The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Bobo has fared better, having a big role in both 2008’s Letters to Santa as well as 2009’s Bohemian Rhapsody viral video. Pepe is easily his most popular character, and in recent years has become one of the main Muppet characters, having a major role in almost every Muppet production since his creation. Bill has also since taken over several of Jim Henson’s other characters, including Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth and Mahna Mahna (Doo doo, do do do).

Bill has appeared as Elmo’s Dad, Louie in Sesame Street‘s “Talk, Listen, Connect” specials. In the specials, Louie has been deployed, had his wife lose her job, and helped Elmo and his cousin Jesse to cope with the loss of Jesse’s father, Elmo’s Uncle Jack. Louie has also appeared in the direct-to-video series Sesame Beginnings and various other Sesame Street video releases.

He acted as producer for two made-for-TV movies (It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz) and is performing in this November’s The Muppets, performing Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef, and, hopefully Pepe (although there have been rumors saying otherwise, since screenwriter Jason Segel wishes to focus more on the classic characters).

Bill has also performed Bobo and Pepe in videos on Muppets.com, as well as the one-shot, crazy, Topo Sticky, whose Topo Pepe pilot is unfortunately still in negotiations. Bill has been a very valuable member of the Muppet family in recent years, and one can hope that he stays with them for a long time more.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

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