Serving the Fox Valley
since 1846

October 20, 2002
Aurora, Illinois

West High graduate:
Producer of safety
video has had success
in several arenas
By Tiffany Sanders

           When “Retro Bill” brings his award-winning Safety Show to Fox Chase Elementary School in Oswego on Thursday, it will be a triumphant and colorful homecoming for Retro Bill’s creator and alter-ego- writer/director/producer Bill Russ.
        It is a fitting return, since Russ cites growing up in the heartland as the key to his outlook on life and his success.

“Retro Bill”
returns to Fox Valley
for Red Ribbon Week

        Russ is a graduate of West Aurora High School and made his filmmaking debut as a student at Waubonsee Community College and Chicago’s Columbia College.  The decade that followed would be the envy of anyone with creative tendencies.
        With a little help from Steven Spielberg, Russ transferred to USC School of Cinema-Television.
        While still in school, Russ produced The Last Ride, starring Academy-Award Winner Ben Johnson, and shortly after saw the film introduced by Charlton Heston at the AFI/LA Los Angeles International Film Festival.  The same film won the prestigious American CINE Eagle Award and landed Russ a high-powered agent.
        After writing and selling screenplays to Warner Brothers, Disney and Gaylord Entertainment, Russ began directing television commercials and music videos.  When he tried his hand at producing, and directing infomercials, he quickly became one of the highest-grossing infomercial producers in television.
        With the doors to fame and fortune wide open, Russ took a different turn entirely.  Building on the work he had done for charitable organizations like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, DARE America and the Sugar Ray Leonard Youth Foundation, Russ created not only the high-energy character of Retro Bill, but an entire program that teaches safety and discourages drug and alcohol abuse.  The show runs at a frenetic pace that keeps kids interested while they’re learning.
        Russ invested $250,000 of his own money in the creation of DARE Safety Tips, starring Retro Bill, and then donated the video to DARE (Drug Abuse Education) programs nationwide.
        The video bears little resemblance to the safety films of the past.  Retro Bill is featured in full retro-regalia, including an Elvis-style pompadour and a series of brightly colored, wild-print jackets.
        Russ remembered well both the educational films of his youth and the shows inspired his dreams.
        “I didn’t want the kids napping,” he said with a laugh.
        Instead of the standard educational format, he looked to the material that inspired him: the work of Walt Disney, Jim Henson and the like.
        There is no time to nap during these videos.  Retro Bill just takes off, cheerfully dodging strangers and drugs, wielding his list of emergency contact numbers like a talisman and slowing down only to make sure that he looks both ways before crossing in the crosswalk.
        In one scene, Retro Bill sits in front of what appears to be an empty school building to talk about what to do if you’re not picked up on time.  As he discusses the options, the sky darkens and a tumbleweed blows across the screen, aptly re-creating that feeling of isolation and fear that a child finds himself in such a situation unprepared.
        Retro Bill demonstrates the necessity of “buckling up for safety” in a Purple Prowler, and avoids interaction with a stranger at the foot of a mammoth dinosaur.
        The video won the title Best Educational Film/Video at the International Children’s Film Festival in 2001.
        Retro Bill was introduced as the national “Official DARE Safety Buddy” and took to the road, carrying his message into schools across the country.
        Retro Bill, whose videos have been seen by 26 million children in 350,000 schools nationwide, has garnered rave reviews not only from school children, teachers and DARE officers, but from parents like Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw, Larry King, and Jay Leno.
        Russ’ explanation for this massive undertaking is surprisingly simple.
        “I believe in the DARE program,” he says.  “I believe in it big time.”
         He believes in it so much that in addition to having donated the safety videos from the sale of the video, available through the official Retro Bill Web site at, benefit DARE.
        Being Retro Bill has become a full-time job for Russ, who trains DARE officers to work with his videos in the classroom, visits schools, speaks at DARE graduations and has a television show in the works.
        Russ says The Retro Bill Show will be a “combination of all the great kids’ shows that have come before, but yet something different.”
        The goal, as always, is to make sure that kids are learning while they’re having fun.
        “They may not even realize they’re learning,” he says, “but later they’ll be quoting something that Retro Bill taught them.”
        During Red Ribbon Week The Retro Bill Safety Show will visit schools in Oswego, Streamwood, South Elgin, Round Lake Beach, Bolingbrook, Princeton and Berwyn, before flying back to California for additional shows.

Copyright Beacon News 2002
RETRO BILL™ is a registered trademark of
Bill Russ Productions, Inc.
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