If you grew up in the Phoenix area or lived here in the 70's or 80's, there's probably no need to read any further. You already know all about the "Wallace and Ladmo" phenomenon. But for those who moved here after the show went off the air (in 1989) you may keep hearing about these guys and wonder what the big deal was.
This is for you.Wallace and Ladmo was a "kids show" on Channel 5 that aired for over 35 years, and as far as anyone knows --it was one of the longest running shows (with the same cast) in TV history.Many adults and college students watched it, too.
It was kind of a Saturday Night Live format –with comedy sketches, live music and cartoons. It was a daily (Monday thru Friday) hour-long show, performed in front of a "live" audience. Much of the humor was political or satirical which kept the adults watching –and at other times, the humor was plain slapstick –appealing to kids and adults.It started in 1954, "LIVE" and in black and white, with Wallace (Bill Thompson) who at that time was the KPHO art director.
Lad, Pat Join The Show
A new cartoon package had been acquired and the program manager needed someone to "fill" in between cartoons and commercials. Wallace volunteered and soon talked his friend Ladimir Kwiatkowski, a KPHO camera operator, into joining him as a "sidekick."The two performed various comic sketches in between cartoons, with Ladmo often locking the camera off, and running around in front of the camera to perform the various bits.A few years later, Channel 5 hired a young weatherman named Pat McMahon. Pat, who grew up in vaudeville family, often watched Wallace & Ladmo from the sidelines and was astounded at the stunts these two performed.
Characters Take Shape
Soon Wallace enlisted Pat's help and the trio was complete. Pat took on the role of dozens of characters including a has-been cowboy star, Marshall Good (former Guy Good, last of the Good Guys), Aunt Maude , a very hip, sarcastic old lady from "Senior City," an "unfunny" clown named Boffo -- and a spoiled rich brat named "Gerald" (who kids loved to hate!) When Gerald entered, the entire audience would scream "boo!"With the characters, Wallace was able to make his own political commentary --and no subject matter seemed to be off limits.
Commercials were often done live on the show and even though Wallace and Ladmo sometimes poked fun of certain products –there was a waiting list of sponsors to get on.Music was always an important part of the show. In the 60's, Mike Condello, a talented local Phoenix musician, was hired as the show's music director.Mike recorded a series of songs to the tunes of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band --which to this day sound incredibly like the real thing. (ie. to the tune of "A Day in the Life"—"I watched the tube today, Wallboy...you can watch the Wallace show and you don't even have to pay. Why don't you turn-us-on...")Mike also wrote the now famous opening theme called "Ho Ho Ha Ha Hee Hee Ha Ha" which is still requested to this day.
A 'Who's Who' Of Talent
Aside from encouraging local musicians, Wallace encouraged a lot of other young talent, including an Arcadia high school student named Steven Spielberg, who came on the show in the 60's to show excerpts from his latest films --the first one being a SCI-FI flick starring his sisters and friends.(Side note: when producer/director Sharon Kelley was working on the 35th Anniversary Special in April of 1989, Steven Spielberg sent her a special message for Wallace & Ladmo which he filmed on 35mm during the production of Indian Jones III. He was a huge fan of the show and has said during interviews that "Wallace and Ladmo were his idols.")
A letter written to Wallce by Steven Spielberg is displayed in the lobby in the CBS 5 studios.Other guest appearances through the years included Jack Benny, Mohammed Ali, Steve Allen, Waylon Jennings, Alice Cooper and many others. When any celebrity made a trek to Phoenix for whatever reason, they were sure to appear on "Wallace and Ladmo."
Longest-Running Children's Show On TV
Over the years, the show won numerous regional Emmy's from the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences and a host of other broadcasting honors.When the show celebrated 35 years on the air –a huge celebration was held for them at Encanto Park. Over 50,000 fans showed up on that beautiful sunny day. The cast and crew referred to it as a "mini-Woodstock."After almost 36 years on the air, the last show aired in December of 1989.
Every TV station in town sent a reporter to the Channel 5 studios to cover the event. When Ladmo passed away in 1994 –it made the headline in the Arizona Republic and longtime fans mourned their favorite kids show host. Billboards went up to pay tribute to him, there were editorials in the newspaper, and the public was invited to his funeral which was standing room only.Pat McMahon (the third person in this famous trio) is still one of the Valley's most popular broadcast personalities –with a daily afternoon radio show on KTAR in addition to a morning talk show on KAZ-TV.
Wallace still makes appearances and has written a book with AZ Republic writer Richard Ruelas, called "Thanks for Tuning In" which is now in its second printing. It tells the story not only of the show –but of early Phoenix TV and much of what life was like back then.There are now numerous books, plays, videotapes and websites –even an "official" Wallace and Ladmo FAN Club –which stays current on any and all W&L anniversaries and events.