It’s no secret that I’m not a TV watcher. Part of the reason is that I can’t sit still that long without doing anything. The other part is because I think the offering of shows is lousy. Reality TV makes me feel somewhat ill, as a matter of fact.
There was a time, however, growing up in Chicago, when I did race for the TV on Saturday mornings: to watch “The BJ and The Dirty Dragon Show” – first known as “Cartoon Town”. (Later, the talented Bill Jackson offered new show, “Gigglesnort Hotel”, an education-without-being-preachy program that was actually fun to watch.) Hailed by critics as “the most imaginative local children’s television series in the nation”, it is no wonder that, at a tender young age, I fell in love with the many characters presented by Bill Jackson.
Bill Jackson and The Blob. Photos courtesy of http://www.dirtydragon.com
Nowadays, one does not find programming like this for the curious and developing minds and talents of children. These shows were puppet shows, art shows, and imagination-and-character building shows, all rolled into one. BJ, the “Mayor” of the town, interacted with his puppet co-stars, drew cartoons to music, sculpted the Town Monument (aka “The Blob”), and encouraged his young viewers to create, think, and use their imaginations, right along with him.
And Bill Jackson used his imagination on these programs! Mr. Jackson built the sets, constructed the puppets, did all the voices, plus his own comedy, cartoon illustrations, and sculpting. BJ also wrote and produced the show. He won numerous awards for his fine children’s programming, and he deserved them.
Bill Jackson’s best-known puppet, The Dirty Dragon
In one particular episode that I fondly remember, Mayor BJ drew an enormous cartoon mural to the song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. That was my favorite of any TV show hands down, and I still think about it to this day. How I laughed at Dirty Dragon, the town’s Postmaster, who routinely ate the mail while engulfed in clouds of smoke. It also fixed in my mind that I wanted – no, needed – a pet dragon at home (to dispose of homework, maybe?) Like other children, I feared the puppet townspeople falling victim to “The Lemon Joke Kid”, who puckered everyone’s faces with bad jokes and awful puns.
So, you might be wondering, what prompted this trip down memory lane? It was something Jamie said.
He was telling me about a clay project that the Jr. High had to do. In doing so, Jamie squished up his face with his hands and spoke in the most silly voice, and I responded in delight, “Oh my gosh, you sound just like ‘The Blob’ from the old BJ and The Dirty Dragon Show!”
Naturally, Jamie didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about, and this necessitated a trip to YouTube to find a video, and much reminiscing, laughing, and generally, a funny half-hour trip to Nostalgia; remembering those early Saturday mornings when I stood in front of the TV, waiting impatiently for my mom to find the right channel.
However. While I busy smiling and laughing, I also discovered something: Bill Jackson was alive and well, living with his wife in California. He also has a website: http://www.dirtydragon.com, where he sells DVDs from his award-winning television shows. I was ecstatic at this discovery.
Swept up by sentiment, I sent Mr. Jackson an email, telling him “thank you” for all the wonderful memories from this side of the TV screen. I had had so much fun during those innocent times!
Dear God, the man emailed me back. With a quip and a picture! I was beside myself to hear from one of my childhood heroes, a real Chicago legend, and a personal favorite. It is with his kind permission that I am blogging about him; his wonderful puppet creations (since donated to the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications), and marvelous television show today.
Childhood can be a risky place. There are a lot of negative images and materials that kids are subjected to. There are predators and people who hurt and abuse children physically and mentally. Today’s video gaming, TV shows, and many of the movies, advocate violence, a general “cheapening” of Life itself, and reflect a coarsening of society. Although some of the graphics and animation are incredible in today’s media, many of the messages fall far short for young viewers.
Adults are supposed to protect and nurture young minds and lives. Adults are supposed to inspire, encourage, and educate children. Bill Jackson and his host of puppets did just that.
I am grateful to Bill Jackson, his fantastic imagination, The Dirty Dragon, Mother Plumtree and the Old Professor, “Weird”, The Blob, as well as all the many other TV friends I had from back in the day of Cartoon Town. Thank you, Mayor BJ. Thank you for helping me to learn to saddle my imagination and ride it into the sunset. Thank you for celebrating the creative process. Thank you for being a Saturday morning sanctuary for an impressionable kid. There are many, many, more like me who feel the same way. Bravo!
Your friend, Elizabeth