People mistake Bruce Barry for a wrestler, a rock star, somebody famous. They shove scraps of paper in his hand and ask for his autograph. He scribbles something illegible.
"They think he's somebody because of the look," said his wife, Vivian.
These days, it's more than Barry's I-never-left-the-80s hairdo that turns heads. Barry, 49, is the star of cable's newest nationally televised reality show.
The Wacky World of Bruce Barry debuted this month on FamilyNet, a family entertainment network that airs in approximately 350 markets and reaches more than 26 million homes. Locally, the station is available to Verizon FiOS customers.
Since spring, cameras have followed Barry and his team as they design amusement park rides, colorful murals and themed environments for churches, museums, restaurants, schools and shelters.
While Barry's clients span the globe, the artistry happens at an 18,000-square-foot warehouse on Douglas Road.
"You'd expect a company like this in L.A.," Barry said, "not in Oldsmar, Fla."
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Outside, it looks like any other office along the row of plain brown industrial complexes.
But inside, a giant fiberglass roach reclines in a sofa chair, a walrus sits in a souped up 1932 Deuce Coupe and a mechanical brain hangs on a wall and makes gurgling noises.
Barry calls the place, appropriately, Wacky World Studios.
Here, more than 26 artists, craftsmen, designers and other employees draw, paint, construct and test Barry's larger than life concoctions.
Recently, Barry and his team worked on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, an exhibit scheduled to open at the Great Explorations Children's Museum in St. Petersburg on Dec. 5. Each section of the exhibit will feature an oversized, three-dimensional book opened to a page of the novel L. Frank Baum wrote and W.W. Denslow illustrated. One page will allow children to tend the corn field and harvest the crops outside of Dorothy's house.
"If you come to me," Barry said, "you come to me for that whimsical, Disney, Dr. Seuss feel."
He said he gets his inspiration from Disney music.
"People think I'm rocking out and I'm listening to It's a Small World (After All)," Barry said. "It makes me think like a kid. It's not jazz, the blues. It's happy, uplifting. It takes you back to being a kid."
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The show gives viewers a glimpse of Barry, the person.
Barry was a kid in New Jersey when he started doodling and creating. His dad, Dick, did background illustrations for Disney, most notably Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He died when Barry was 16.
After high school, he joined the Navy, then bounced around as a struggling artist. He started Wacky World in 1986 in Hudson. Back then, it was called Wild and Wacky Wonderful Rooms for Children. After a week, Barry figured that the name was too long and shortened it. The company moved to Tampa in 1990, then to Oldsmar in 2001. His 78-year-old mother lives in the area.
He got one of his major breaks in 1999 when First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., paid him $279,000 to transform a room once used for funerals into an interactive space for the youth ministry. Barry installed 26-foot-tall buildings, cars, bells, buzzers and exploding confetti. Attendance doubled, and prosperous megachurches took notice.
A wall in his Oldsmar studio outlines the reach of his current projects: Alabama, Texas, Canada, Australia.
This year, Wacky World Studios is expected to do $2.5 million in sales.
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Barry isn't paid to do the reality show, which wrapped filming in October. The first season is a test run.
"Isn't that a bummer?" he asked, joking.
Three episodes have aired, with a fourth slated for Sunday. "We're shooting for 13," said Trish Ragsdale, the FamilyNet executive producer who pitched the show.
Ragsdale, who first met Barry in 2005, said viewers "are compelled to watch even if you aren't artistic.
"He has this charisma that oozes out of him. You want to be around him. You take that and package that with what he does, which is so unique, it's a perfect combination."
The show hasn't inflated Barry's ego. Last week, he was outside his Lutz home tending his yard. His neighbor took Barry's picture.
"What in the world are you doing?" Barry asked the neighbor.
"Hometown celebrity cuts his own grass still," the neighbor said.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.