Billy Bob was the primary mascot of ShowBiz Pizza Place. When the first ShowBiz opened in Kansas City's Antioch Shopping Center in 19801, Billy Bob existed only as a walkaround character. Because of the legal issues surrounding the opening of the Antioch store, which was slated to be a Pizza Time Theatre restaurant just a few months before completion, Creative Engineering, Inc was forced to hastily install an off-the-shelf show they already had ready to go, The Wolf Pack 5, since the custom show they were preparing for ShowBiz, The Rock-afire Explosion, was still in development2. As such, it would be a few months before Billy Bob was to appear on stage in animated form since he was not designed to be part of the Wolf Pack 5. Billy Bob's character however, was already beginning to take shape.
Billy Bob was based on the character Billy Wilbur from The Hard Luck Bears Show, which was another animatronic stage show developed by CEI in 1979, a year after the development of the Wolf Pack 5. Voiced by Aaron Fechter, Billy Bob was innocent, kind, and naïve. He was also jointly named after two people; David 'Billy Bob' Irvin, CEI artist and Aaron's college roommate, and Bob Brock, the co-founder of ShowBiz. At the request of Stan Emerson (a member of ShowBiz's advertising agency), Billy Bob was given red and yellow overalls -– the colors of ShowBiz Pizza. It was ShowBiz's way of claiming him as their very own3.
Billy Bob became an animatronic character in July, 1980 with the debut of the Rock-afire Explosion at the second ShowBiz location in Jacksonville, Florida2. Accompanying him was his sidekick the Looney Bird, and the Birthday Bird (who sat at the end of his guitar), both of which were inherited from the Hard Luck Bears Show, as well as the Smitty's Super Service station backdrop where they performed. In the earliest shows, Billy Bob's stage set was commonly used as a show theme. Skits were wrapped around working at Smitty's and Billy Bob's invention of a new energy source -– gasohol (sometimes referred to as Goofy Gas). Early on, Billy Bob spoke with a fairly heavy country accent and broken English which was toned down over the years.
Through the years Billy Bob continued to be heavily used. As ShowBiz's mascot, he was present in walkaround form and used in all promotional materials including commercials, posters, and print ads. He was also featured on nearly every kind of merchandise released at ShowBiz. When SPP was merged with Pizza Time Theatre in 1985, Billy Bob was featured on merchandise and in advertised promotions alongside his former rival, Chuck E. Cheese.
Toward the end of ShowBiz's existence, Billy Bob's stage was converted to the ShowBiz Pizza Campground, recycling the trees from the Rock-afire Explosion's center stage and accented by a new sign that incorporated the newer style ShowBiz Pizza logo. This change was done in response to the updated contracts between CEI and ShowBiz Pizza Time following the merger, which allowed CEI to start selling the Rock-afire Explosion to competitors4. ShowBiz wanted their shows to have a unique appearance from a restaurant across town that might also feature the Rock-afire Explosion. In 1987, as SPT was exploring different options as tensions were building with CEI, Billy Bob was removed on stage at three test locations and replaced by Yogi Bear for a period of time5. Eventually Billy Bob and the rest of the Rock-afire Explosion were removed from ShowBiz completely via ‘Concept Unification, where they were replaced by the Chuck E. Cheese characters that were entirely owned by SPT6.
Through the early 1990s, Billy Bob remained in the public eye existing at independent restaurants and smaller family entertainment chains. A few restaurants arose during this time that used Billy Bob as a mascot and several incorporated Billy Bob into the restaurant name7. Meanwhile, CEI was re-designing Billy Bob's appearance to accommodate the new 'mijjin' style animatronic.
The first usage of this new Billy Bob, now much slimmer and sporting a white and red polka-dot shirt beneath his overalls, was in the prototype Mijjins show8. He was also featured in all versions and stage variations of the New Rock-afire Explosion9. The New Rock-afire was given very limited exposure, and the other independent chains which housed the classic Rock-afire Explosion have all but vanished, with a few exceptions such as Billy Bob's Wonderland in Barboursville, West Virginia. Today, Billy Bob and the other Rock-afire characters continue to survive primarily in the online world, as most of the nearly 300 animatronic shows that once existed have been destroyed, parted out, or exist in private collections.
1 - Pizza Place Purveys Pizzazz - Kansas City Star
2 - PTT, Inc. vs. TIM, Inc.– Deposition of Aaron Fechter - March 18, 1980
3 - 1980 ShowBiz Pizza Place, Inc. Company Memos
4 - Bandwagon to Higher Profits Brochure
5 - Horizons Issue #4 (Incomplete) - Yogi Bear Article
6 - Concept Unification Article - Nation's Restaurant News
7 - Rock-afire Explosion Photos Sets from Various Restaurants
8 - The Mijjins Promotional Brochure
9 - CEI 20th Anniversary Promo Kit