Any child living in Phoenix, AZ between 1954 and 1989 knew the names Wallace and Ladmo. They were the titular characters played by Bill “Wallace” Thompson and Ladimir Kwiatkowski on Phoenix’s longest running children’s program, Wallace & Ladmo. We said good-bye to the latter 20 years ago, the former passed away this week. He was 82.
Wallace & Ladmo aired daily on KPHO Channel 5, showing classic cartoons in between comedy sketches and contests. Children in the Phoenix area had endless opportunities to be invited on the show and win “Ladmo Bags,” coveted paper sacks filled with candy, coupons, and a can of Pepsi. Most of the G-rated comedy bits were collaborations with Phoenix news and entertainment icon Pat McMahon. The familiar radio personality portrayed numerous colorful characters opposite Wallace and Ladmo, most notably Gerald, the spoiled rich kid with the Prince Valiant haircut and Lord Fauntleroy wardrobe.
The show originated during the infancy of television. In 1954, Thompson created the character Wallace for KPHO’s Golddust Charlie program. Before long, Wallace began headlining the show. Camera operator Kwiatkowski began joining Wallace in front of the camera as his goofy side-kick, Ladmo. Resources limited, “Ladmo” would lock the camera in place and perform his sketches with Wallace in a static shot, only to return to operating the camera for the duration of those early programs.
Over the decades, the show experienced some name changes and format modifications. In 1968, the show was renamed Wallace and Company, followed in 1973 by the more enduring name Wallace & Ladmo. The transition from live broadcast to tape delay enabled the station to invite children to the program for afternoon tapings without interfering with their school attendance. The pre-taped shows aired the following morning before most children had to leave for school.
I was one of these kids. When I was seven, I drew a picture of Gerald being pursued by Godzilla. The memories are fuzzy after more than 30 years, but I can recall the gentle kindness of the funny old men in the top-hat and derby. They were adults, but had as much fun with the show as the kids. As Stephen Spielberg recalled in a 1982 interview with KPHO’s Bill Rose, “they never talked down to kids. They always treated them as peers.”
The show wrapped production in December of 1989. After 36 years on the air, Wallace, Ladmo, Gerald, and all of the other characters touched the lives of generations of children. Ladmo lost his battle with cancer in 1994. Bill “Wallace” Thompson has been retired since 1989, occasionally emerging in public in support of local arts and educational interests. He passed away Wednesday. He is survived by his wife, brother, five children, ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.