Walter Williams (Creator of Mr. Bill)
| Mr. Bill's Biography
From his humble Super 8 beginnings that smashed him upon TV screeens nationwide, to the unique spot he now occupies in the nation's consciousness, Mr. Bill has, in 20 short years, become a legend. Like other great entertainers of the modern age, he's done it all: network, cable, movies, home videos, music videos, nightclubs, a best selling book -- even lectures on the college circuit and a tribute at the Smithsonian.
Was it really 20 years ago that Mr. Bill was born? Oh, Nooooooo! Fresh from the can, he got his big break via "Saturday Night Live's" home movie contest. Submitted as a parody of bad animation, he took the prize and, with creator Walter Williams, went on to spend five years at SNL, a period in which his role on the show grew to 10 appearances a season. A USA Today survey found his popularity among SNL's characters excelled only by the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Like them, Mr. Bill left in 1980 with creator Lorne Michaels and the original cast.
But he hasn't spent the last 15 years in the freezer. Mr. Bill has amassed a body of work and honors any thespian would be proud to call his own. Most important, the Mr. Bill Collection video sold more than 100,000 copies. His book, "The Mr. Bill Show," instantly rose to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
He's starred in TV specials with Dick Clark and Bob Hope, appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman," and worked with Shelly Duvall in Showtime's "Mr. Bill's Real Life Adventures." He was a regular host on USA-TV's "Night Flight" show, a guest correspondent on "Not Necessarily the News," and cut a comedy album with Rich Little. He starred in a music video for critics' faves the dB's and more recently, did promos for Comedy Central and anti-substance abouse spots for Knight-Ridder. Mr. Bill even had his own line of cards and gifts in Hallmark stores.
Last year he visited our nation's capitol to film "Mr. Bill Goes To Washington," a short subject that screened with"Ernest Rides Again." Not bad for a star who's never even actually moved on screen.
Some say Mr. Bill's cousin, Pizza Head, has stolen his act, but Mr. Bill reveals no bitterness. Nor does Williams, whose commercials for Pizza Hut have made him a successful commercial director and created a new young audience for Mr. Bill.
Now, in the Mr. Bill 20th Anniversary special (Anchor Bay Entertainment), the world's best loved Play-Doh presence reveals his career and other important events of the last twenty years with the help of his friends and co-stars. You'll see his faithful dog Spot, Ms. Sally, his "friend" Mr. Hands, and some surprise guests, all of whose finest moments of the past 20 years blend together in a dizzying montage of memories. More dizzying to Mr. Bill is his discovery -- too late -- that not only is his old nemesis Sluggo directing the show, but the cameraman is also Sluggo, as is everybody in the audience. Looking back on the show's footage (85% of which is post SNL), Williams says "Mr. Bill appears in nearly every format: Super 8, 16 mm, Panavision, video and computer animation. I'm sure we'll have Mr. Bill in virtual reality any day now. Oh, Noooooo!
Walter Williams' Biography
Innovations in comedy and technology have been the hallmarks of Walter Williams career. That' s as true of his first Mr. Bill short (made for under $20 in 1975) as it is of the digital desktop studio he's now using to create the Mr. Bill 20th Anniversary special. "It's so cutting-edge I'm bleeding," he laughed.
Williams, a New Orleans native, was 18 when he discovered Super 8 film. "I had no aptitude for anything, but I started working on a friend's low budget film, and it got me totally excited." He started making his own movies and showing them in clubs and bars, which led to his own UHF TV show in New Orleans. When "Saturday Night Live" in '75, still in its incandescent infancy, put out a call for home movies, he submitted his reel and launched Mr. Bill on national TV.
Williams followed his mutilated little creation to New York, where he made more films for SNL and did stand-up at the Improv. After three seasons, Lorne Michaels hired him as a fulltime staff writer, responsible not only for the 20-plus Mr. Bill skits he did in 1978- 79, but for other sketches as well, including the well-known "Elvis Presley's Coat." Williams left when Michaels and the rest of the cast exited in 1980.
Since then, he's continued to build his own career and Mr. Bill's, working with live actors whenever possible to establish himself as something other than our premier Play-Doh director. He's written screenplays and directed hundreds of shorts and shows for television. He also directed the pilot of "TV," a show conceived by fellow SNL alum Michael O'Donoghue starring Brian Keith and Rutger Hauer.
In the last 10 years, Williams has built a fully computerized video and animation studio in his home. Taking advantage of the dramatic advances in consumer computers, he can now create all digital, broadcast-quality shows entirely on-line, doing the editing, video, audio sound mix, music, animation, titles, graphics -- even "Forrest Gump"-style digital composing effects -- all on his desktop. The finished product emerges directly onto one- inch videotape.
This system has allowed Williams to create work that would ordinarily be impossible without significant funding, from segments he's created for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," FOX's "House of Buggin'," and ABC's "Into the Night," to projects closer to his heart such as programs for the National Audubon Society and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Building on Mr. Bill's success, Williams has launched a successful commercial career with the "Pizza Head" character he invented for a national and ongoing Pizza Hut TV campaign. They've been so successful, in fact, that Williams recently sent a Mr. Bill tape to a friend whose son claimed it to be "a Pizza Head take-off."
William's next goal is to write and direct live-action feature comedies starting with the screenplay he's now finishing. Says Williams, "My career of the last 20 years has been learning all the different skills involved in making films -- and preparing for the next stage --feature films."