Jackson’s puppeteer work spanned two decades and five local TV stations
Even though his profile was a bit lower than other Chicago TV children show hosts, Bill Jackson made an impact nonetheless.
Jackson died in his Paso Robles, California home Monday at the age of 86. Jackson appeared on local television during the 1960s and 1970s, fondly remembered by those who grew up in those eras.
Born in Unionville, Mo. in 1935, Jackson’s first broadcasting job was at KTVO in the Ottumwa, Mo-Kirksville Ia. market in 1957 and a year later, joined the army and created his first puppets for the Armed Forces Network. After being discharged, he worked in Fort Wayne, Ind. and Indianapolis hosting children’s shows until he moved to Chicago in 1965 when CBS-owned WBBM-TV hired him to play Freckles The Clown in Here Comes Freckles, a show that ran for two years.
In 1968, Jackson shifted to Field’s WFLD-TV to host Cartoon Town, later renamed The BJ and Dirty Dragon Show, playing a mayor of a fictional cartoon town and became one of the station’s first stars. After a five-year run, the program shifted to WGN-TV in 1973, but lasted only a season. Jackson was hired in 1975 by ABC-owned WLS-TV and starred in Gigglesnort Hotel, a show that later went into national syndication. Even though Gigglesnort ended production in 1978, reruns continued to air on WLS until the mid-1980s and later released on home video.
If you count a Christmas special he did for NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (A Gift For Granny), Jackson was featured on five Chicago TV stations in his lifetime – an impressive feat.
Among the characters Jackson created for his various shows were The Blob, Weird and Wally Goodscout, Mother Plumtree, and of course, the aforementioned Dirty Dragon. Jackson wrote, produced, and built the sets himself.
Jackson left television to teach at the California Institute For The Arts in the 1980s, before retiring. Jackson later donated his puppets and props to the Museum of Broadcast Communications and appeared at Oak Park’s Lake Street Theater in 2009 for a special final live appearance titled Saturday Morning with B.J. and Dirty Dragon: Bill Jackson, Live in Person – One Last Time. At the event, many in the audience credited him for inspiring them to go into the creative arts field.
Today, you can see his work and the puppets he created on display at the museum. Jackson was inducted into NATAS Chicago/Midwest’s Silver Circle in 2005.