The BJ & Dirty Dragon Show (1974) #3 (WGN News). YouTube Tips ⓘ
Bill Jackson, the host and creative director of the “BJ and Dirty Dragon Show” and other programs, died Monday, January 17, 2022 at age 86 in Paso Robles, California. Initially the cause of his death was not released, but he had recently been diagnosed and treated with COVID-19 at a hospital and released from the hospital. Bill Jackson was the last survivor of famous children’s television hosts in Chicago — far outliving Ray Rayner; Bob Bell on “Bozo’s Circus”; Ned Locke as Ringmaster Ned on “Bozo’s Circus”, and Frazier Thomas on “Garfield Goose”. In business-friendlier circumstances Bill Jackson would have gained the recognition of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) and Jim Henson.
The BJ & Dirty Dragon Show (1974) #2 (WGN News) YouTube Tips ⓘ
Bill Jackson lived near Pioneer Park near the intersection of Park Street and Fernandez Avenue in Arlington Heights. He once explained pondering his future in the sun on his tiny Arlington Heights patio.
Jackson is most well known for playing the mayor of “Cartoon Town” and later the mayor of the town of “Carefree Corner” (both towns were featured in “BJ and Dirty Dragon Show”). In the show, he was accompanied by his puppet characters known as “Dirty Dragon” (the town postmaster), “Weird”, “Wally Goodscout”, “Mother Plumtree”, “Bird” the “Old Professor”, the “Thumbtwangers” (a musical group consisting of Maynard, Myrtle, Marvin and Minnie), W.C. Cornfield, “Gus Gus the Gorilla” and “Blob” who was made of clay and sculpted by Bill Jackson to take on a variety of forms. Blob also had a partially intelligible voice that was slightly scary and disturbing to many children — but in a good way, if that makes any sense. If developing a child’s imagination and creativity was healthy for children, this programming was king.
While the character voices and changing physical expressions may have been slightly disturbing or stressful for children, the characters captured their attention, and subtly covered topics of emotional maturity — especially as the Blob’s facial expressions would take shape during the sculpting process. All of the characters had strong, stirring voices. One of the Thumptwangers, was Maynard (also known as “Bird”) had a voice that sounded like the voice of comedic singer Ray Stevens. There was also Dr. Doompuss, Frankenweird, and Werwally who were part of the “awesome army”. Dr. Doompuss would sprinkle Gloomdust on other characters in town — totally changing their mood to cause them to go on a negative rant. Dr. Doompuss’s voice was inspired by the voice of Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderfull Life” and great uncle of Drew Barrymore).
On an episode with a visit to Mars, there was another sinister character known as “Mertz, the Martian Meanie.” The “Lemon Joke Kid” was another sinister character in “Cartoon Town”. The sinister characters and sinister themes seemed to be designed to help children recognize evil or negativity, and overcome it.
“Carefree Corner” was located near another town called “Gurneyville.”
Jackson wrote and produced the “BJ and Dirty Dragon Show” which was set in imaginary “Cartoon Town” while at WFLD, and the town of “Carefree Corner” on WGN. He performed all of the puppet characters’ voices, built and designed the sets, and created the puppets. He had help from other puppet operators, and the masterful work of camera operators, who kept the puppet operators out of the camera frame during one-shot taped shows. The “BJ and Dirty Dragon Show” was broadcast for five years on WFLD, but ended after WFLD-TV owner Field Communications, sold an interest to Kaiser Broadcasting. Then Kaiser streamlined local productions on its group of stations, and chose syndicated programming in favor of local productions. Kaiser Broadcasting walked Jackson cordially out the door after the final WFLD episode (#1311) was broadcast July 27, 1973.
One month later, The “BJ and Dirty Dragon Show” (now set in a town known as “Carefree Corners”) began programming on WGN, but the show only lasted one year while the FCC was pushing education standards on children’s programming. Then Bill Jackson began commuting from Arlington Heights to Chicago and New York, where he produced and hosted another local show, “BJ’s Bunch”, featuring many of the same puppet characters.
By the fall of 1974, WGN cancelled The “BJ & Dirty Dragon Show”. Jackson later produced a one-time holiday special, “A Gift For Granny”, which aired on WMAQ-TV, Chicago’s NBC affiliate.
“BJ and Dirty Dragon Show” occasionally ran a variety of featured cartoons, including Underdog, “Out Of The Inkwell” and George of The Jungle.
While the FCC exerted its “educational standards” influence on TV programming, Jackson and his puppets were transitioned into an educationally-themed program known as “Gigglesnort Hotel” which was produced and broadcast by WLS-TV beginning in 1975. Most of the old “Cartoon Town” characters were brought back to life, along with some new characters. “Gigglesnort Hotel” was popular with critics, but the show ran early in the morning and didn’t gain popularity. The show also faced competition from other less expensive syndicated programming, and was canceled after three years in 1977.
Jackson also produced a program called Firehouse Follies — a final program using the characters in 1979-1980.
The Silver Circle Award was established to recognize and honor outstanding individuals who have devoted 25 years or more to the television industry and who have either made significant contributions to local broadcasting, or who have spent the formative years of their career in chapter region. Nominees in academic, administrative, creative, journalistic, performing, or technical roles within the television industry are eligible.
Bill Jackson won four Chicago Emmys and two Iris Awards for the Best Major Market Children’s Television in America, according to Illinois Entertainer. Jackson was also awarded a 2005 National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Silver Circle Honors award.
Jackson left television and left Arlington Heights around 1980 to teach at the California Institute of the Arts for the School of Film/Video founded by Walt Disney, Roy O. Disney, and Nelbert Chouinard. Bill Jackson moved with his family to an area north of San Luis Obispo between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He taught for 12 years, and retired in 1990.
The BJ & Dirty Dragon Show (1974) #1 (WGN News) YouTube Tips ⓘ
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“Gigglesnort Hotel” B.J. Helps Blob Prepare for a Date (The Museum of Classic Chicago Television — www.FuzzyMemories.TV). YouTube Tips ⓘ
Complete broadcast of the “Gigglesnort Hotel” episode “Following Directions” (S02E17, original air date May 9th 1976; about Dirty Dragon’s misadventures with a chemistry set, owing to his not doing as the title emphasized, trying to make liquid coal) as broadcast over its originating station, WLS Channel 7 (The Museum of Classic Chicago Television — www.FuzzyMemories.TV). YouTube Tips ⓘ
Bill Jackson/Rich Koz Stooge-a-Palooza By Request Complete (Obsolete Video). YouTube Tips ⓘ
“Please Open Before Christmas” (1968). Here’s a special FuzzyClaus Christmas gift for all you Fuzzketeers this annus horribilis – a transfer direct from the original 2″ Quad videotape master – Bill Jackson’s “Please Open Before Christmas” special as aired over WFLD Channel 32 (and thus, with no commercials or PSA’s or promos). YouTube Tips ⓘ
“Please Open Before Christmas” originally aired on local Chicago TV on Thursday, November 28th 1968 (Thanksgiving Day!) from 5:30 to 6:30pm, and was repeated on Sunday, December 1st 1968 from 5:00 to 6:00pm and then one last time the following year on Saturday, December 13th 1969 from 1:30 to 2:30pm (the TV listings had it listed as “Please *Don’t* Open Before Christmas”)