|Bill Jackson is a legend in the city of Chicago. Not a Michael Jordan-type legend, mind you-although there are, no doubt, many people who grew up in the city who wanted to “Be like Bill.”
A multitalented artist and sculptor, Jackson combined his talents in several children’s shows during the 1960’s and 70’s. Clown Alley was the first, airing in 1962 and featuring Jackson in full clown makeup. This was followed by Cartoon Town, which later became The B.J. and Dirty Dragon Show. When this show went off the air, Bill Jackson set about creating his crowning achievement: Gigglesnort Hotel.
The show took place in a hotel owned by old man Gigglesnort, an Admiral or Captain of some kind, who, for some reason, thought the hotel was a ship. He even had a foghorn and a ship’s steering wheel on the roof. Gigglesnort may have been named for his laugh; he would draw in air, wheezing and wheezing, and just when you thought he was finished, he’d let out a ridiculous snort.
The desk clerk was also portrayed by Jackson, in his B.J. character. He would report “ship’s morale” to Gigglesnort, and make sure that none of the characters let it slip around the old man that the “ship” was in fact a hotel. There were at least nine other regular characters on the show: Dirty Dragon worked in the hotel’s boiler room, and would yell “FIIEE!!” with smoke billowing from his nostrils when angered; W.C. Cornfield was the house detective; Maynard the Crow was the handyman; Myrtle the Crow was Maynard's wife; Wally and Weird were the bellhops; Mother Pearl Plumtree and her husband Fenster just lived in the hotel; and last but not least was Blob, who was officially titled “Hotel Statuary.”
Blob was just that, a blob of clay on top of something that resembled a Roman column. Each week, B.J. would shape Blob into something different, using a putty knife in a procedure that looked mighty painful. That perception wasn’t helped by the fact that Blob’s voice was provided by an off-screen tape track consisting entirely of moans, howls, and laughter ranging from melancholy to bawdy.
There were other recurring characters as well: Dirty Dragon’s movie star girlfriend Lila LaHotcha; Dr. Doompuss, who would throw Gloomdust into everyone’s eyes; Fufu, Weird’s alien girlfriend; and The Lemon Joke Kid, who had a lemon-shaped head and a huge grin. The Kid flew around in a lemon-shaped blimp, dropping lemons with terrible jokes and puns written on them, which, if read, would “puckerize” the poor soul who read them.
The puppets used on this series were unique. There was something almost sinister in their appearance-large heads, small eyes, and sometimes they even had legs! (No matter how old you are, there is something very disquieting about a puppet with legs).
The show always had some sort of moral lesson—be kind to strangers, it’s good to be different, etc.—and that may have been part of the show's appeal. No matter how eerie the characters looked or acted, Gigglesnort Hotel was, at its heart, a show that actually cared about kids, and tried to help them learn. And isn’t that everything good children’s television should be?