By TITUS GEE
Valley Press Staff Writer
The speakers shook, the room rumbled
and the children came to their feet. The
Retro Bill Safety and Self-esteem Show was in
full stride Thursday on the stage of the
multi-purpose room at Irving Branch
Elementary School at Edwards Air Force Base,
the audience of fourth and fifth-graders rapt
with the entertainer’s antics.
For roughly 45 minutes, Retro Bill,
played by Bill Russ of Beverly Hills, took
the children on a roller-coaster ride of
silly humor and quiet intensity. With the
energy evoked by the flames that emblazoned
his black clothing (even the shoes), he
gamboled through a rapid- fire succession of
ear-straining oral sound effects, slapstick
comedy, and serious topics.
“Do your homework or you will NOT GET
SMART!” he said. “Am I right?” His body
language demanded a response and the children
did not disappoint. “Yeah!” they yelled, but
Retro Bill was already moving on, searching
for his next gag among the props that
littered his table. No child talked, giggled
or squirmed except in response to the man on
When he sat down on a folding chair and
spoke earnestly, the room went quiet, every
“Respect your teachers,” Retro Bill
said. “They care about you…or they would
never pick this job.”
A hundred heads turned to their
teachers as if for confirmation. The teachers
looked proud but a little embarrassed and
told the kids to face front. When, an instant
later Retro bill turned the chair into a
quick sight gag to keep their attention, the
children roared with laughter.
Retro Bill’s messages ranged from
simple manners to the serious issues of
growing up. He used a Mr. Potato Head to
teach them not to stick out their tongues and
to “Wear a helmet. Protect your brain!” The
much advertised Hula Hoop embodied for him
the message, “What goes around, comes
around,” so children ought to be kind to
He asked them all what they wanted to
be when they grow up, calling on individuals
to shout out their dreams and then
pantomiming their choices as encouragement.
He got a special round of applause for the
boy who wanted to be a school principal.
As he went, Retro Bill often quoted his
grandmother as a sage of wisdom and morality,
with adages such as, “Everyone has a nose on
their face, so everyone ‘nose’ the difference
between right and wrong. And you do too!”
A dog leash inspired another serious
moment. I hate to have to talk about this,”
Retro Bill said and then warned the students
of the “dog leash trick,” which he said was
used recently by a stranger to lure children
into the man’s car by asking for help finding
a lost dog.
Retro Bill won the hearts of this
particular crowd with the question, “How many
of you have family members in the military?”
Every hand went up. “My dad was in the
military,” he said. “My dad…was a drill
sergeant.” He paused, listening to the
muffled “whoa” from the children. The
American flag was his final prop, used to
represent patriotic pride and the sacrifices
of the military. “Your parents deserve
respect,” he said, “and you deserve to be
happy and safe, and make your dreams come
true. Then he ended with his signature Silly
This was the second assembly of the
year for Branch Elementary, which has a
special event about once per quarter.
Principal Shari Zimmerman said she was very
pleased with the program.
“They love to laugh out loud,” said
Zimmerman of the children. She especially
appreciated the way Retro Bill’s program fit
into the school’s Character Education Program
and with this months them of “Respect.”
“I thought, ‘Yes! Someone else is
pushing this besides me,’” Principal
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