With his black hair combed up into a pompadour at least four inches high, and a pink shirt collar turned over his black, checkered jacket, Bill Russ may have turned heads in the decade that inspired his look.
As television personality Retro Bill, appearing at Glacier View Elementary School Monday while on his Alaska tour, he was certainly different. He was also cool.
"I am not Elvis," he said in answer to a shout from about 170 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as he bounced out in front of a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program assembly.
"Elvis was pretty cool," Russ told them.
But what destroyed Elvis Presley wasn't cool, he added, taking an orange prescription drug bottle out of his pocket.
Later, he put beer, a couple of cigarettes and chewing tobacco into a clear pitcher and asked if anyone would drink anything so disgusting.
Russ told the students they could achieve their dreams if they work to avoid the things that could block the way - drugs, alcohol and tobacco. He discussed the importance of a good education, avoiding strangers and having good friends to help them stay safe, away from violence and pointed in the right direction.
While the kids had certainly heard the message before, Russ left them demanding more. After a boy asked him to autograph his shirt, Russ offered to sign 8-by-10 inch glossies, attracting a line that snaked toward the door.
The school's DARE officer, Chris Burke, introduced Russ as someone the kids may have seen on cable television - Nickelodeon or CNN. Russ later said he has been Retro Bill full-time for three years and is talking to Nickelodeon, Disney and the Public Broadcasting System about his own show.
The 1950s were before his time. But he liked the feel of the decade - the music, the cars, the fun colors, he said. He liked the sense of optimism and patriotism.
Russ said he is proud to be from Hollywood and believe in the DARE message. He wrote, produced and directed the Retro Bill "DARE Safety Tips Video." It cost him $250,000, and he donated it to the DARE program, he said.
The project was honored as the best educational video for 2002 by both the International Children's Film Festival and the International Family Film Festival.
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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