Bill Thompson of Wallace and Ladmo Has Died

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Here is a true story about Bill Thompson, known for decades from Seligman to Scottsdale as Wallace of The Wallace and Ladmo Show: I ran into him in the lobby of the Herberger Theater Center about 10 years ago, and before I had a chance to introduce myself as someone who had interviewed him for my newspaper column several years before, he patted me on the back, shook my hand, and said, "Hey, I thought you said you were going to come over to the house to look at my soldiers!"

See also: The Last Days of Ladmo

The soldiers in question were the miniature toy soldiers Thompson voraciously collected. The warm greeting and the fact that he remembered one of the hundreds of newspapermen who'd interviewed him over a long career in local television were pure Wall-Boy, as he was known by generations of local kids. I remembered his invitation to come look at his vast collection of hand-painted tin and lead soldiers, but I'd thought he was just being polite. But Thompson, who died yesterday at age 82, wasn't that kind of guy. If he said, "Come on over!" he meant it.

He created, produced, and starred in Wallace and Ladmo, a local children's program that ran on then-independent KPHO for more than 35 years, from 1954 to 1989. (Viewers were known as "Wallace Watchers.") Where most kiddie shows pandered to its audience, Wallace, in its various incarnations, offered sketch comedy for children and parents alike. Political satire, sly commentary on civil rights, spoofs of surf music and the hippie scene -- Wallace and Ladmo was closer in spirit to Saturday Night Live than to Captain Kangaroo. If you grew up in Phoenix in the '50s, '60s, '70s, or '80s, you watched Wallace and Ladmo -- and you were changed by it.

Thompson taught generations of kids about the joys of sarcasm and the pleasure of pushing a pie into the face of some asshole. His co-stars were Vladimir Kwaitkowski, who played Ladmo, an ingratiating man-child and Wallace's sidekick, and Pat McMahon, who played everybody else, most memorably Boffo, a party clown who hated children, and Gerald, the bratty foil to Ladmo's Everyboy. The trio brought to life comic misfits that Thompson himself created, but refused to take any credit for. (McMahon's characters, Thompson confided in me, "were all based on the frailties of human nature. There was something desperately wrong with each of them.")

For 35 years, Wall-Boy and his pals raised the bar on children's shows with camp and lampoon and something that kids needed but weren't getting from pretty much anyone else: Respect. "We never talked down to the kids," McMahon told me once. "That was the secret to our success."

That, and Bill Thompson. Today, Wallace Watchers all over town are heaving a sigh, laughing about their favorite Mr. Grudgemeyer skit, and feeling pretty darn lucky that we got to spend some time with Wallace every day, not so very long ago.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.