Bill Jackson, creative mind behind Dirty Dragon and the Blob, dead at 86

Jackson, who died in California Monday, brought out-of-the-ordinary characters to life through his Chicago children’s television shows, including “Gigglesnort Hotel.”

SHARE Bill Jackson, creative mind behind Dirty Dragon and the Blob, dead at 86
Bill Jackson sits with his beloved character, the Blob, on one of his shows. Well-known in Chicago children’s television, Jackson died Monday, Jan. 17, 2022 at age 86.

Bill Jackson sits with his beloved character, the Blob, on one of his shows. Well-known in Chicago children’s television, Jackson died Monday at age 86.

Sun-Times file

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Bill Jackson brought to life out-of-the-ordinary characters such as Dirty Dragon and the Blob on his Chicago children’s television shows.

His beautifully crafted puppets and artistry — he would draw cartoons during his shows to send to lucky viewers — inspired many of his fans to pursue a career in the creative arts.

After leaving Chicago television, Jackson taught at the California Institute of the Arts before retiring in 1990. But it wasn’t until years later that Jackson realized the legacy he left behind in Chicago, said Jim Engel, a cartoonist and longtime friend of Jackson’s.

“Once he met all the people who grew up watching him, it was a great joy to him,” Engel said. “I’m really glad that in his last few decades, he really understood the place he had in Chicago kids’ TV.”

Jackson died Monday at the age of 86, Engel said. Jackson lived in Paso Robles, California, a small town halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with his wife, Jo, who survives him.

In the 1960s, Jackson first became a household name in Chicago through his show “Clown Alley.” He went on to create “Cartoon Town,” later renamed “The B.J. & Dirty Dragon Show,” in the 1970s. In the show, Jackson acted as mayor of the town, with his puppet characters as residents.

That show brought Chicago children The Blob, a lump of clay Jackson molded into different objects in his show. The Blob remains a favorite character for many of Jackson’s fans, who took to Twitter after hearing about his death.

Jackson brought along the Blob and several other beloved characters to create “Gigglesnort Hotel,” an educational show rich with life lessons about an unusual hotel’s staff and residents.

After retiring from teaching in California and reconnecting with Chicago largely through the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Jackson rekindled his connection to the city and the fans he inspired, never shortchanging anyone who wanted to talk with him, Engel said.

As a kid, Engel saw his aspiration of becoming a cartoonist brought to life through Jackson’s shows, Engel said. Since Jackson wrote his script, created all the characters and acted on the show himself, his “hip,” “cool” and “likable” personality shone through each episode, Engel said.

“I really do think he had the best of the best [in Chicago children’s TV],” Engel said. “I don’t think anybody achieved more than he did in a show.”

Various events with the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the Chicago Cultural Center and others continued bringing Jackson back to the city. He performed live “one last time” on Dec. 5, 2009, at the Lake Theatre in Oak Park, said Bruce DuMont, founder and former president of the museum.

Bill Jackson’s vivid puppets were central to his hit shows, including “The B.J. & Dirty Dragon Show” and “Gigglesnort Hotel.” Jackson died Monday, Jan. 17, 2022 at age 86.

Bill Jackson’s vivid puppets were central to his hit shows, including “The B.J. & Dirty Dragon Show” and “Gigglesnort Hotel.” Jackson died Monday at age 86.

Provided

At that event, DuMont asked the crowd of “several hundred people” if they had gone into a creative arts career because they were inspired by Jackson. Half the people in attendance raised their hands, DuMont said.

“Of all the local personalities that the museum recognized over the years, Bill Jackson stood out,” DuMont said. “He was a creator who inspired a lot of young people.”

Jackson donated his puppets and characters to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, which created an exhibit about Jackson’s career and legacy, DuMont said.

The exhibit is on display at the museum, 360 N. State St., which is open Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Bill Jackson and a life-size version of one of his creations, Dirty Dragon, sometimes did public appearances. Jackson also launched a mock “Dirty Dragon for president” campaign in 1968.

Bill Jackson and a life-size version of one of his creations, Dirty Dragon, sometimes did public appearances. Jackson also launched a mock “Dirty Dragon for president” campaign in 1968.

Sun-Times file

The Latest
For the Sky, the second two games of their three-game road trip will be a signal of how far Wade’s team still has to go to reach full steam.
Cohen was a dynamic force for the Bears in 2018, but missed most of the last two seasons with an injury.
The boy was transported to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital in good condition, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt.
The seven-time Super Bowl champion will be featured first in a series of upcoming specials called “Greatest Roasts of All Time: GROAT.” Brady is the executive producer of the series, with his roast set to tape in 2023.
In addition to its performing troupe, the organization hosts the annual South Chicago Dance Festival, which is tentatively scheduled for September this year, and sponsors educational programs in 11 public schools and a youth training company.