Bill Thompson died a few days ago. That wasn't the name most people of my generation, growing up in the Phoenix area in the 50's, 60's, 70's and even 80's, remembered him by. To us, he was "Wallace", lead performer of (original title) "It's Wallace", though probably most widely known as "The Wallace and Ladmo Show."
Wallace & Ladmo was a locally produced kids' show that began in early 1950's Phoenix, Arizona. Like a lot of local kids' shows, cartoons were the bait to draw kids into watching. Where Wallace & Ladmo differed, though, was in the material between those cartoons. Thompson was creative and inspired and, well, kinda goofy. He produced skits and other things far beyond what one would expect from a pocket-change budget and mid-century tech. (W&L was the first place where I saw stop-motion special effects made using Thompson and other living people in place of Harryhausen-style manipulated models.)
With the introduction of the rubber-faced, even goofier Ladmo (Ladimir Kwiatkowski, previously a cameraman at station KPHO) a year or so into the show, the show's popularity grew even larger. In 1960,local radio personality Pat McMahon joined the cast, bringing an ensemble of outrageous characters (spoiled brat Gerald, superhero Captain Super, and others) with him. The three men were the linchpins for the show's remarkable 36-year run on tv.
|Thompson, McMahon, and Kwiatkowski|
in character as Wallace, Gerald, and Ladmo
Wallace & Ladmo could be silly, and goofy, and, yeah, sometimes dumb. But the skits and recurring characters could also be a bit subversive, poking holes in institutions and characters that took themselves too seriously. Sometimes they could be absurd to almost Beckett-like proportions. Sometimes, yeah, they fell flat. Audiences tended to age and drift away (I was a daily watcher for the last half of the 1950's, and a frequent viewer through a lot of the 1960's, before things like college and the military drew my attention away as I got older.), but one reason for the show's longevity was that there was always a new audience coming up. By the show's final episode, there were a lot of second-generation and even third-generation watchers.
But thousands and thousands of kids, over nearly four decades, were kept amused and out of their parents' hair because of Thompson's love and dedication to his show and vision.