Sounds Fishy

09/04/2000 01:00AM

He's got the moves of a Backstreet Boy, the rhythm of Miles Davis and the voice of...former Leif Garrett backup singer Steve Haas. He's Big Mouth Billy Bass, a mounted fish who flaps his tail and croons "Take Me to the River" and "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Since hitting the market in January, the $19.99 motion-activated bass has become one of Amazon.com's top-selling toys and the hottest novelty item since the Pet Rock. Clinton gave one to Gore; Regis gave one to Kathie Lee; British Prime Minister Tony Blair has one hanging in his office. Billy is even considered good luck by the Philadelphia Phillies, who won six of eight recent games when they brought him along. "When Billy starts singing," says Sherrie Gaughan, 48, a Fort Worth secretary, "we all die laughing."

The idea for Billy was hatched in the fall of 1998, when jewelry designer Barbara Pellettieri, 39, and her husband, Joe, 39, a product developer at Gemmy Industries, an Irving, Texas, novelty company, were driving by a fishing-supply store. "How about a fish on a plaque?" said Barbara. "He's wiggling! He's singing! It would be hilarious!" Joe agreed, and Billy—whose lips perfectly mouth the recorded tunes, thanks to motors run by a computer microchip—was unveiled at a trade show late last year. Reaction was "incredible," Joe recalls. "We had to box the fish up at night because we thought someone would steal all of them."

The Pellettieris, who live in South-lake, Texas, with kids Tyler, 9, and Isabella, 3, have reeled in no big bucks for their creation. "Developing ideas like Billy is part of my job," explains Joe. But that hasn't dampened his creativity. Joe's latest project? Johnny the Talking Toilet.

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