Theatre actor José do Rego Barreto Júnior was born in the municipality of Cabo de Santo Agostinhoin the metropolitan area of Recife, Pernambuco, on 5June 1903, to José Emanuel do Rego Barreto and Maria Francisca do Rego Barreto.
He studied at the Salesian College in Recife, where his father kept a house for him and his six siblings to live while studying in the city.
From an early age, hewas interestedin the circuses and rickety shows that appeared in Cabo. He started performing theatre in high school, often playing the leading roles and directing some of the plays.
After completing high school, he got a job as a telegrapher in the Western Telegraph, but his main interest was the theatre. At the age of eighteen, he began to attend the Helveticatheatre every night, situated at 59 Imperatriz(Empress) St, where he attended the plays and made friends with actors. Owned by Girot& Co., the Helvética, “a family casino” as its owners liked to proclaim, adjusted its schedule by playingmovies on week-ends, as well as variety shows.
Forbidden by his father to continue going to the Helvética, he left home, quithistelegrapher job and went to work in theatre.
Despite the different versions presented by Barretohimself about his early career, his debut most likely happened in 1923 withthe Leonardo SiqueiraCompany from Pará, playing the role of a chicken thief in the playEu Vi(I Saw), staged at theHelvética.
That same year, he landed the role of a heartthrob in the film Retribuição(Retribution), the first film produced in Pernambuco by Aurora Filmsin the so-called ‘Ciclo do Recife’(Recife Cycle). He also starred in the 1925 film Filho sem Mãe(Son without a Mother), produced by PlanetaFilme.
He travelled through the interior of Pernambuco and other states with various groups and theatre companies. A self-taught actor, he consecrated himself as an irreverent and comic actor from the beginning of his career, becoming known nationally as O Rei da Chanchada(The King of Slapstick).
On 20February1932, he married Maria Anunciada Ferreira,an actress from an amateur theatregroup from the city of Moreno, Pernambuco, whom he met in his travels to the interior of the state. They had two children:Marilourdesand Luciano. They began performing together in plays. Thinking that ‘Maria Anunciada’ was not an appropriate stage name, Barretochange itto ‘Lenita Lopes’.
From 1931, both of them belongedto the cast of Gente Nossa(Our People), created and directed by Samuel Campelo. In Gente Nossa, Barreto Jr.acted in the playsO interventor(The Interventor)by Paulo Magalhães,Sangue de gaúcho(Gaúcho Blood) byAbadieFaria Rosa, Casa de Gonçalo(Gonçalo House)byLuciloVarejão, and in the operetta A rosa vermelha(The Red Rose), by Samuel Campelo and Valdemar de Oliveira.
Eager to travel and not just be waiting in Recife for the Gente Nossatours, he left the group and created the Barreto Junior Regional Company of Comedies and Burletas [light comedy], taking with him his wife Lenita Lopes, his sister-in-lawGina Lopes and began travellingwith other actors and actresses through the interior of Pernambuco and other Brazilian states.
In 1933, he debuted at the Belo Horizonte Municipal Theatre, Minas Gerais, with the ‘burleta’Flor agreste, umromance de amor nos sertões do Nordeste(Wild Flower:ALove Story in the Backlands of the Northeast) and also O homem chegou(The Man Arrived), where he played a backwards North-easterner.
In 1936, with the group now known as the Companhia Brasileira de Comédias(Brazilian Comedies Company), he presented the play Compra-se um marido(Buy Yourself a Husband)by JoséWanderley at the Arthur AzevedoTheatre in São Luiz do Maranhão, to great critical acclaim and audience.Heis considered a trailblazer and a pioneer of Brazilian theatre due to his travels through Brazil from north to south.
In the mid-1930s, Barreto Jr.travelled to Rio de Janeiro, bought a house in Jacarepaguá and made the city his base of operation for ten years.
In Rio, having disbanded his theatre group, he worked as a leading actor in the Companhia de Revistas Otília Amorim (OtíliaAmorim Variety Show Company) and was manager of the Jaime Costa Company, where his wife Lenitawas a great success in the playPertinho do céu(Close to Heaven)by José Wanderley and Mário Lago, presented at Rival Theatre, Rio, and Santa IsabelTheatre, in Recife.
Missing the life of a traveller, he once more created the Barreto JuniorNational Comedy Company in 1940, in order to travel around the country.
In 1941, under the auspices of the National Theatre Service (SNT), Barreto and his new company were alreadytravelling the country, performing regularly both in the inner cities and in capitals. In addition to original pieces, also included were texts that had been successful at the box office in Rio de Janeiro, such as O homem de cabeça de ouro(The Man with a Golden Head) by Viriato Correa, which was on show for several months in the Gloria Theatre, staged by a Rio company.
In 1944, the Barreto Junior Company returned to performing in Recife, debuting the play Tudo por amor(All for Love)byJoséWanderleyat the Santa Isabel Theatre. During the Recife season,also presented were the pieces Canário(Canary) byJoséWanderleyand Mario Lago, A cigana me enganou(The GypsyWomanDeceived Me) byPaulo Magalhães and O mundo é uma bola(Le Nid) by Frenchman Andrew Mirabeau.
In the same year, Barreto was invited by Assis Chateaubriand to present performances of his group in Fernando de Noronha, where Brazilians GIs were encamped because of the Second World War. He immediately accepted the invitation, and for that reason was awarded a gold medal by the Government of the State of Paráand a Medal of Merit by the interventor of Pernambuco, AgamenonMagalhães, who named him‘Rondon of the Brazilian theatre’.
In the late 1940s, Barreto returned to Recife, settling with his family in the district of Prado.
Due to the constant lack of space available for staging his shows, he decided to have a theatre in the city. Sometimes he used the stage of the Cine Ideal, in the neighbourhood of Torre, and that of Cine Eldorado in Afogados, since the Helvétia had already closed and the Moderno, the Politeama and theParqueonly functioned as cinemas.
Between 1950 and 1952, Barreto was able to build the ‘Teatro de Emergência Almare’ (AlmareEmergency Theatre), located in Santo Antônio. The Almare–calleda casual theatreby Barreto Junior (where the dress of those who attended could be casual, abolishing the formality that was required in the Santa Isabel, and with low ticket prices) – was inaugurated by the Barreto Junior National Comedy Company with the play Amor(Love)by OduvaldoViana. The plays Carlota Joaquinaby R. Magalhaes Junior –with BarretoJunior in the role of D. John VI – andAs três Helenas(The three Helenas),a comedy by Argentine Armando Mook,were also staged at the Almare,in addition to various variety shows from Rio that brought to Recife nationally known actors such as Oscarito, ZéTrindadeand ZezéMacedo, among others.
In 1952, the theatre was dismantled for the extension of DantasBarreto Avenue, with the Almare II being built in 13 de Maio Park, which only ran until 1954 because it did not succeed. In 1955, Barreto Junior reactivated the Helvética, but it wasn’t successful either. In 1956, with the support from the City Council,the Morocco Theatre was built, a wooden shack for about 400 places in AvenidaDantasBarreto, which ran until 1958. From there it was transferred to the Praça da República, next to the Arts and Crafts Lyceum, where it remained active withvariety shows and striptease sessions until the early 1970s, when it was demolished.
Even after the demolition of the Morocco Theatre, Barreto Junior continued mounting plays and touring the country, engaging also in the national campaign to regulate the profession of actor. He dreamed of building a new theatre, this time in the neighbourhood of Boa Viagem.
In 1978, he won the MambembeTrophyfrom the National Theatre Service, together with Paschoal Carlos Magno, and withdrew permanently from the stage.
He died in Recife on 21February 1983, at nearly 80 years of age.
In 1985, the City of Recife realised the cherished dream of his final years with the inauguration of the Barreto Junior Theatrein Pina.
Recife, 28 august 2008.
(Updated on 21 august 2009)
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
BIOGRAFIA José do Rego Barreto Júnior. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 8 ago. 2008.
FIGUEIRÔA, Alexandre. Barreto Junior, o rei da chanchada. Recife: Fundação de Cultura Cidade do Recife, 2002
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Barreto Júnior. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009