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
With a little help from Steven
Spielberg, Russ transferred to USC School of
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
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
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
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
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
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
www.retrobill.com, 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
Russ says The Retro Bill Show
will be a “combination of all the great kids’
shows that have come before, but yet
The goal, as always, is to make sure
that kids are learning while they’re having
“They may not even realize they’re
learning,” he says, “but later they’ll be
quoting something that Retro Bill taught
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
Copyright Beacon News 2002
RETRO BILL™ is a registered
Bill Russ Productions, Inc.
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is a registered trademark of D.A.R.E. America.
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