OFFBEAT: B.J. and Dirty Dragon remembered with new DVD documentary

Off Beat with Philip Potempa
2009-07-26T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: B.J. and Dirty Dragon remembered with new DVD documentaryPhilip Potempa - philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

You wouldn't believe how many of my assigning editors were excited about a press release they received announcing a new documentary about a 1970s cult-classic children's television show featuring puppets as the stars.

The "counter culture" show I'm referring to is "B.J. and Dirty Dragon," which was a part of so many childhood memories for those who grew up in the 1970s, during a time so often referred to as "the golden age of children's television."

The show's live star was Bill Jackson, who has just announced the release of his DVD documentary, "Remembering Cartoon Town and B.J. & Dirty Dragon."

Jackson's shows aired and were locally produced from Chicago's WLFD-Channel 32 studios originally, and, later, moved to WGN Channel 9, for just one year, before evenutally netting a syndicated contract which put them on WLS-Channel 7 by the mid-1980s.

On the original series, he played B.J., the side-burned, derby-wearing mayor and the only human in a little, cartoon-looking town populated by puppets with what he describes as "compelling personalities."

Town residents included the town's postmaster, Dirty Dragon, who sometimes ate letters, in addition to lumps of coal, while exhaling billowing clouds of smoke from his reptilian nostrils.

Mother Plumtree, the Old Professor, Wally and Weird, the Lemon Joke Kid and the Thumptwangers rounded out the group of unusual townspeople.

Probably the most unusual creation of all, was the town's park monument Blob, which was actually a large lump of "moody" molding clay that Mayor B.J. shaped anew each day.

Narrated by Jackson himself, the documentary begins with early highlights from the original show, which was launched in 1968 as "Cartoon Town."

It also shares highlights from when the series then morphed into a studio audience show called "The B.J. & Dirty Dragon Show."

This uninterrupted series began in February 1968 and ended in July 1973.

Along the documentary's journey, viewers are treated to favorite segments including: "Whozit," "Drawing to Music," "Hokey Theater Players," "Faces in Clouds" and the highly popular serials, "Blast off to Mars" and "Dirty Dragon Meets the Monsters."

A cartoonist, writer, puppeteer and performer, Jackson excelled in bringing high-quality production values to children's programming and twice received awards for the best locally produced children's television in the nation.

I remember the show in later years, when it was renamed and reimagined in the late 1970s as "The Gigglesnort Hotel," which aired on Sunday mornings.

When I chatted with Jackson by telephone from his home in California (a thrill for me, since he was a children's television hero from my youth!), he reminded me that only the two original series, "Cartoon Town" and "B.J. and Dirty Dragon" are a part of this documentary.

"Sadily, many, if not most of the prints from the first two series have been long gone or were never saved," he said.

"And of the episodes that did remain, I found that I do not own the musical rights to those shows and it would have been far too expensive to gain the rights to package and sell the entire, complete episodes. Do doing this documentary seemd the best way to answer the requests of fans to see some of these shows once again."

The DVDs are $30 plus $5 for shipping and handling (regardless of number of DVDs), with only checks or money orders accepted, made out to The Fun Co. (California residents must add 8.25 percent to the total, including shipping.) Orders and payment should be mailed to The Fun Co., P.O. Box 1086, Templeton, CA 93465. For more information, check out Jackson's great Web site, dirtydragon.com.

And for "Gigglesnort Hotel" fans, Jackson told me he DOES own the complete series of shows, all of which survive, in addition to the music rights, and many of those complete episodes are currently for sale at the dirtydragon.com Web site.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

Today's Celebrity Birthdays

Actress Marjorie Lord ("Make Room For Daddy") is 91. Movie director Blake Edwards is 87. Actor James Best ("The Dukes of Hazzard") is 83. Jackson Family patriarch Joe Jackson is 81. Singer Dobie Gray is 69. Singer Darlene Love and singer Brenton Wood are 68. Singer Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is 66. Actress Meloyde Condos (daughter of Martha Raye and Nick Condos) is 64. Actress Helen Mirren is 64. Drummer Roger Taylor of Queen is 60. Actress Susan George is 59. Ice skater Dorothy Hamill is 53. Actress Nana Visitor (Major Kira on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") is 52. Actor Kevin Spacey is 50. Singer Gary Cherone (Extreme, Van Halen) is 48. Tiny actor Danny Woodburn (Mickey Abbott on "Seinfeld," currently playing a demon dwarf on "Passions") is 45. Actress Sandra Bullock is 45. Singer Jim Lindberg of Pennywise and actor Jeremy Piven are 44. Singer Wayne Wonder is 43. Actor Cress Williams ("Close to Home") is 39. Host Chris Harrison of "The Bachelor" is 38. Actress Kate Beckinsdale ("The Aviator," "Pearl Harbor") is 36. Drummer Dan Konopka of OK Go is 35.

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