The Last Days of Ladmo

A new play raises the curtain on the off-screen life of Arizona's favorite TV clown

Tyler is referring to Ladmo's changed testimony about his former employer. In his original deposition, the actor indicated that he felt that Meredith Corporation did nothing wrong and hadn't tried to prevent him from promoting Ladmo Cookies. But in the courtroom, attorney Robert H. Oberbillig, who represented Meredith, pointed out that this deposition contradicted Ladmo's testimony against Meredith. To which Ladmo replied, "I don't know what that means."

Oberbillig apparently felt KPHO's case was strong enough that impeaching Phoenix's favorite clown for perjury was unnecessary. (Oberbillig, now a Superior Court judge, could not be reached for this story.) Thompson remembers the Meredith attorney telling him that the only way that the TV station could lose was if the jury sympathized with Ladmo and didn't listen to the testimonies.

To ensure that this didn't happen, Oberbillig called Thompson to the stand to extol the virtues of working for KPHO. "All I knew was that I was subpoenaed to testify against my best friend, and I had to do it. I was at the mercy of the court. It was a bad experience, all the way around."

"We don't want to see these guys as flesh-and-blood people," says Steve Hoza, curator of the Arizona Historical Society Museum and its massive Wallace & Ladmo exhibition. "We want to think of them as one big happy family, always."
Kevin Scanlon
"We don't want to see these guys as flesh-and-blood people," says Steve Hoza, curator of the Arizona Historical Society Museum and its massive Wallace & Ladmo exhibition. "We want to think of them as one big happy family, always."
"Wallace and Ladmo were bigger than life to kids back then, and they still are for me today," says fan club president Chris Williams, 40.
Kevin Scanlon
"Wallace and Ladmo were bigger than life to kids back then, and they still are for me today," says fan club president Chris Williams, 40.

"It was utterly heartbreaking," Kelley remembers. "But Wallace was under oath, so he had to tell the truth. He got up there and he said something like, I love Ladmo like a brother, but he's wrong.' It was hard for him to say that; it tore him apart. But he really did feel it was wrong for Ladmo to go after Channel 5 when we'd always been good to the guys from that show."

McMahon was also called to testify on behalf of the station, and did his best to appear neutral about the situation. McMahon did allow that KPHO was not unfair in its treatment of its employees, an opinion that Ladmo didn't love.

"Testifying against Ladmo was the toughest thing I've ever done," McMahon says. "I've gone through a divorce that was very tough, and this was even more painful. It's the only time I've ever been heartbroken, the only time I had to make an ethical value judgment that would deeply hurt someone who was close to me. But you get a subpoena, and you have to go."

In the end, the jury reached its conclusion in half an hour: The Great American Consortium had no case against KPHO, which was within its rights when it had declined to promote Ladmo Cookies. Although the famous plaintiff charmed the judge and glad-handed a jury full of his fans, Ladmo had lost. The revelation that KPHO had given Ladmo use of the character bearing his name, and had handed him a $100,000 annuity when Wallace left the air, probably helped tip the scales against him.

"A lot of people were surprised when Lad didn't win," Tyler concedes.

Kelley thinks no one was more surprised than Ladmo himself. "The cookie company was banking on his popularity, and I think they'd convinced him that any jury would side with Ladmo. They took advantage of his childlike naiveté."

Kelley is still bugged by the fact that, to this day, most people think that her TV station sued Ladmo. "Every couple of years I'll read an item in the paper that makes reference to the time Channel 5 sued Ladmo.' It's unfair. Anyway, it wasn't Ladmo but that cookie company he was working for who was suing us. It's an annoying rumor that just won't die. . . . I hope Ben's play will go a long way toward clearing all this up in people's minds."

Tyler's tale may set the Ladmo record straight, but some friends and fans of the show are worried that news of a rift among its players will be enough to damage the memory of their childhood heroes. "It's one thing to talk about a conflict in a courtroom," Hoza says. "But it's especially sad that there was some fallout that affected the friendship beyond that. We don't want to see these guys as flesh-and-blood people. We want to think of them as one big happy family, always."


In Tyler's rewrite of this Ladmoesque farce, it's neither Ladmo nor his former employers who are the Grudgemeyers. Tyler's Ladmo is a clown at loose ends, one half of a pie-in-the-face routine with no audience to play to.

"In my script, the bad guy is the guy who owns the cookie company, who finds Ladmo at a very vulnerable time in his life. It's a story about a guy who put his faith and trust in the wrong person, and the real-life fallout from that."

Tyler says he wrote about the trial with a tremendous amount of sympathy for Ladmo. "Hey, he was an actor who was out of a job, and I've been there: an actor looking for my next paycheck. Also, I grew up watching Wallace and Ladmo and Pat, and even though we became colleagues and friends, I'm still in awe of these guys."

Tyler, who was a Wallace writer during the show's final years, is eager to set the record straight about what really happened between his old friends. "Ladmo wasn't a businessman; he was Ladmo. When you read his testimony, it's easy to see how simply he perceived the whole thing. He wanted to sell cookies, and KPHO seemed to be saying he couldn't. He got mad."

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1 comments
emac
emac

HoHo, HaHa, HeHe, HaHa!

 
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