Journalist Alan Burdick has spent a long time thinking about TIME, pondering questions like "What is the meaning of Now?" More from his book: "Why Time Flies."
Remembering Wallace, A Special Part Of Phoenix TV History
Arizona is mourning the loss of Bill Thompson. He's the man in the familiar derby hat and suit coat who entertained thousands of kids and adults each day on the "Wallace and Ladmo Show." For 36 years it was a low budget little TV program that created a lot of memories for loyal fans.
Anyone who's lived in Arizona for a long time probably knows the beloved theme of the "Wallace and Ladmo Show." When I was a kid growing up in Phoenix in the 1960s, I'd hear that music and run over to the TV and turn it up.
That used to drive my little sister crazy, but she loved "Wallace and Ladmo" as much as I did. We grew up in a small trailer in the desert on the outskirts of town. We didn't have much. We didn't have air conditioning, only a swamp cooler, and we had a black and white TV, but we didn't care. We were all about the "Wallace and Ladmo Show." We loved the cartoons, the quirky little skits.
And then there was that spoiled rich kid, Gerald, who was so stuck up and everyone loved to hate the guy dressed in his ruffles — that Dutch Boy haircut and old-school eye glasses. Despite their goofy costumes, they managed to stay in character. Wallace started the show at KPHO channel Five when Phoenix was still a small town back in 1954.
“The station bought some cartoons, but no one of the announcers wanted to do the show because of the dignity of it, but I was begging so they let me try," Wallace said.
My sister and I would have given a pile of gold for one of those Ladmo bags full of treasures. I remember you had to mail a postcard to the TV station and they'd draw names of winners who'd get to see the show and get a Ladmo bag. We would send postcards every week but they never selected our cards. Sometimes the skits would include some adult humor and even my mom and dad would get belly laughs watching it. You know, I've heard some people complain that the show was too bold in its humor sometimes, but that didn't seem to bother Wallace.
"Every once in a while, they’d write in terrible letters and we’d read them," Wallace said. "They’d come down to get a bag, 'We still hate your show, thanks for the bag.'"
One day in the early 1970s, my dad took the family to see Wallace and Ladmo at Christown Mall. They'd do events around town and I was so excited waiting that day in the parking lot to see my favorite TV buddies. So excited, I almost wet myself. They pulled up in a big flat-bed truck and used it as a stage. Wallace and Ladmo were there in real life— I couldn't believe it. They were dressed in purple and yellow passing out t-shirts and yuckin' it up. When Gerald came on the stage that day everyone in the crowd was booing him, it was so much fun! And to this day I remember watching my dad booing along with all of the others. He might have been the loudest voice in the whole pack.
One of my favorite characters that Wallace played was Mister Grudgemeyer. It was an old guy in a straw hat with these really wild eye glasses that had these fake eyes painted across the lenses. He'd sit on a park bench and throw bread crumbs around on the ground. He'd always say "Feed the Birds...Feed the Birds." Then Ladmo would walk up chomping from a bag of chips and he’d scare away the pigeons. It always ended the same way, with Mister Grudgemeyer smacking Ladmo with his hat. That skit was on for years and it sounds so dumb, but it got to me every time. It was so funny —Mr. Grudgemeyer..."Feed The Birds."
Well, Ladmo died about 20 years ago and now Wallace is gone. I heard he passed away this week while I was driving and listening to the radio. It got me a little teary eyed thinking about good old Wallace and those days gone by. My sister died a few years ago and I know if she was here she'd be as upset as I am.
Bill Thompson, AKA Wallace, was 82 years old and to me he's a part of TV history. I actually got his autograph on a Wallace and Ladmo promotional photo for a Christmas gift a few years ago. It's one of my prize possessions.
Wallace, if you are listening, I just want you to know Arizona loved that show and you made life fun. We'll miss you.