Film and TV

Barney and Gang: a Look at the Past 30-Plus Years of the Friendly Purple Dinosaur

A press photo from the PBS TV series Barney & Friends in the early 1990s.
A press photo from the PBS TV series Barney & Friends in the early 1990s. Mark Perlstein
Carey Stinson was a 23-year-old Chili's employee in 1991 when a co-worker first introduced him to Barney, the purple dinosaur.

“One of the employees asked me, "Can you work Saturday for me because I have to be Barney?’” recalls Stinson, a Dallas native. “I said, ‘What in the world is Barney?’ This was before the TV show. This was way before the TV show.”

Barney was a character available for kids’ birthday parties and the star of home videos for rent, called Barney and the Backyard Gang, which was shot in Allen.

After that day at Chili’s, 22 years of Stinson’s life involved the lovable Barney. After hearing about the dino, he performed as Barney at children’s birthday parties all over Dallas for about a year, he says. When PBS picked up the television show Barney & Friends, the birthday parties ceased and Barney’s creator, Sheryl Leach, asked Stinson to audition for the second Barney.

While David Joyner played Barney on Barney & Friends, Stinson was busy entertaining America on national mall tours and stage shows for several years.

In 2000, Stinson took over for Joyner and stepped into the 50-pound purple costume on the television series. April 6 marked the 26th anniversary of the iconic children’s TV show, and for nine of the 17 years it aired, Stinson entertained children as the Barney brand exploded.

Today, Stinson is an art and concert photographer in the DFW area, and his former co-stars, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez, are the faces of young Hollywood.

“We always laugh, the crew and the cast. We all kind of knew that Selena was gonna be successful,” Stinson says. “It didn't really surprise any of us that she was so successful. Demi was a little quieter; she was a little shy back then. They were all really sweet and very professional, and they were fun to work with.”

Lovato and Gomez each has said she had a crush on Stinson while working on Barney.

“Barney was actually very attractive,” Lovato told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. “Inside the suit. And I’ve always gone for older guys, so even when I was younger, I thought the guy in the suit was hot.”

Gomez echoed Lovato’s thoughts on BBC Radio 1.

“You have to be very fit, right, to do that because it’s 50 pounds of a costume, so he would take it off, and he’s got his muscles and he’s sweating and we’re like, ‘OK, we are children,’” Gomez said.

Stinson, who was in his mid-30s when Lovato and Gomez were about 10, didn’t have much to say about it.

“Well, that's pretty crazy,” he says.

While Stinson’s muscles and sweat were behind the physical Barney, Dean Wendt provided Barney’s voice. Stinson says it was “physically not possible” to do both the dancing and singing. That’s where Wendt came in.

If Barney was on a live TV show, like Good Morning America or the Rosie O’Donnell Show, Wendt was in the wings, watching the monitors and speaking for Stinson in costume.

“It is very tricky,” Stinson says. “The songs were recorded, but that allowed him also to be live. I would be lip-syncing to the song, but if he saw me jump and wanted to add an ad lib, I would just go with it.”

Stinson still keeps in touch with several Barney cast and crew members, including Josh Martin, who played Barney on the stage show from 1996-98. He appeared in costume on the TV show in the summer of 1997.
While Martin was touring the world as Barney, he performed hour-and-a-half shows while wearing the 50-pound costume. He says there were fans inside the costume to help cool down the 120-degree heat, but he could only turn them on when he wasn't near the children because their microphones would pick up the sound of the fans.

"One of the fans at the time, the way that they were wired, had grounded out on one of the bolts inside the costume, and I didn't know it until [smoke] had built up inside the head and I couldn't breathe anymore," Martin says. "I ran off the stage right before we were fixin' to seat. ... That's when all the smoke billowing inside of the costume came out of the costume, and everybody on set could see it and saw me running offstage."

Today, Martin doesn't deal with any heavy costumes. Instead, he does voice acting for Dragon Ball Z and is in a Dallas-based Beastie Boys tribute band.

We love you, Barney. - COURTESY TRENTON GENTRY
We love you, Barney.
courtesy Trenton Gentry

Joyner, who played Barney on Barney & Friends from 1992 to 2000, made news earlier this year when Vice interviewed him about running a tantric sex business. Joyner declined our request for an interview. Twice.

But Rickey Carter, who played Derek on the show for 29 episodes, says Joyner was his acting coach before landing the gig as the purple dinosaur.

“He’s such a character,” Carter says of Joyner. “He’s a people’s person, and he made the perfect Barney.”

Carter was with Barney from the start in 1988, when the show shot home videos in Allen. Eventually, production moved to Las Colinas, and "from there, it was history,” he says.

In 1995, Carter retired from Barney — the TV show and the traveling live shows — and went to work at a Minyard grocery store. He says people recognized him.

“People would come in, especially those first six months I was there, and they would be like, ‘Oh, my God, Derek, what are you doing here?’” Carter says. “‘Derek, why are you sacking my groceries?’ And I was like, ‘My mom says I have to work.’”

Today, he is a hip-hop artist and actor. (When he answered the phone for this interview, he was his alter-ego, a woman named Toni.)

"The entire cast and crew were a really tight-knit group. We had a ritual before every show. We got in a circle and said a prayer, and it was genuinely a really great experience." – former Barney cast member Trenton Gentry

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Joyner was also Trenton Gentry's acting coach before Gentry landed a gig on the Barney stage show from 1996-98, playing a kid named Tony.

"The entire cast and crew were a really tight-knit group," Gentry says about the touring show. "We had a ritual before every show. We got in a circle and said a prayer, and it was genuinely a really great experience."

As a 10-year-old living in Dallas, Gentry had to leave his home and school for eight months to tour with Barney. He says when he returned, he was "the coolest kid in school."

Gentry is now a pastry chef in Dallas and says he's acted in small roles since Barney. A Barney highlight for him was performing at Radio City Music Hall.

That was also a standout moment for Stinson, who toured with Gentry. But when Stinson looks back on his years as Barney, it's not the mild fame he likes to remember. Instead, he likes to recall the kids he met during hospital visits.

“[Barney] was so real to them, and he was just a best friend,” Stinson says. “They felt so comfortable, and in some of these horrible situations, they were just amazed.”

Stinson says for the 12 years he was on the TV show, Make-A-Wish Foundation let ill children meet the giant dinosaur on set. And when the cast was on the road touring, Barney and friends visited a hospital in every city.

“I went in [to one hospital], and this child yelled, ‘Barney!’ and gave Barney a big hug,” Stinson remembers. “All the nurses were crying. Later, I said, ‘What happened?’ They said, ‘That child hasn't spoken in two years.' I saw so much of that through all the years of Barney. It was just amazing.”
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Paige Skinner has written for the Dallas Observer since 2014.
Contact: Paige Skinner