Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The "Wallace and Ladmo" show kept Arizona kids glued to their TV sets from 1954 to 1989. The show is an Arizona treasure that's getting national attention from the PBS series "Pioneers of Television," which features "Wallace and Ladmo," in its upcoming episode about local kids TV That episode airs tonight at 8, right here on 8 HD. Earlier, I had a chance to talk with Bill Thompson, better known as Wallace and Pat McMahon, who is a one-man cast of characters on a long running children’s show.
Ted Simons: It's good to see you, thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Horizon."
Bill Thompson: Well thank you for having me.
Ted Simons: I have so many things to ask you guys. Bill, I want to start with you. You started this whole mess now. When you started, what were you trying to do? Did you want to do a kids show? A comedy show? What were you looking for?
Bill Thompson: I just wanted to be funny somewhere.
Video Clip: Oh, listen, we've admired you in the movies for years, you're just wonderful and really terrific. Gee, thanks, I like you, too. Here he is, the last of the 2 singing Cowboys. Would you sing a little for us? And we understand why you're the last, too, that's wonderful.
Bill Thompson: I didn't know whether it was going to be cartoon-y, motion pictures or TV or radio or what, you know, just anybody that would listen.
Ted Simons: So when they said, we've got a spot for you, how did it work? Did they say, we've got some time, maybe you want to give it a shot? What did they tell you?
Bill Thompson: The station bought some cartoons, but none of the announcers wanted to do the kids show because of the indignity of it. You know, and of course I was begging somebody to let me try.
Video Clip: Glad to see you, where have you been? Welcome home, how have you been? Welcome home. Ladmo, what are you doing? I'm shaking hands with an octopus.
Ted Simons: Pat, your initial reaction when you saw what was going on with this gentleman in his television career.
Pat McMahon: I had driven into town, I had just gotten out of the army. I was on my way to New York. I thought, wait a minute, nobody's waiting for me in New York. How about if I just spend a little time in the sunshine bask in the pool, having kept the huns away from America during my period of time in special services. So I came in… a rental place, turned the television on. As god is my witness, the theme song for the "Wallace and Ladmo" show started. That was the first thing I ever saw. 3 I thought, this has got to be my bad luck day because one of those lame local kids shows is on. Most local kids shows there's a guy with a sock on his hand and dental information. Wall and Lad started doing this fabulous material.
Pat McMahon: They were doing a satire on one of the clients that they had called Reskits Flakes. Wall turned to the camera and said, look hey gang, what are you out? They are cornflakes. There is a warehouse full of these things. That was 117 years ago and I remember it to this day. It was show business.
Ted Simons: When you were doing the show, and even before Pat got on board here, when you were doing the show with Ladmo, did you know you were doing something special? Did it feel like, this is working, this is good?
Bill Thompson: No, it was trial and error every day. We made more mistakes than we did good things.
Video Clip: The dummy would sing while Ladmo drinks a glass of water. Can he throw his voice this way? Let's find out. There's no business like show business- Really appreciate you inviting me on because I have a hobby that is the hobby of kings. I am a philatelist, I collect philatels.
Ted Simons: When you joined the crew, and it's hard to say that because you feel like you’ve been around forever, but you joined the crew. Did you realize that this was something special or was this just a thing to do as you moved your way up?
Pat McMahon: Absolutely, it was brilliant stuff. 4 Ted, you and I have worked together long enough that you know a little bit about my background because I continue to talk about myself every time I'm around you. But I grew up in show business. So I was the kid in the third row watching the comics rehearse and then perform. And after you watch people structure comedy for a while, you begin to really appreciate what good stuff is. And those guys were doing good stuff. It was like; I'd like to stick around. I had no idea I was going actually get on the show. I signed on as a newsman, weatherman, farm report man, sports guy, and anything else they happened to need. But I would always go and watch the show in the afternoon. One day Wall said, hey, we just wrote a three-man bit and there’s only two of us.
Ted Simons: And you mention there was only two of you at the time. We've got to mention Ladmo.
Video Clip: Ladmo flakes, the breakfast cereal for kids who don't like cereal! And that's the amazing part, there's no cereal at all in the box!
Ted Simons: How did Ladmo get on that program? Now, he was an athlete at ASU, correct?
Bill Thompson: Four years varsity on the baseball team. I ran out of one-man stuff fast, and he was the cameraman. I asked him to come on and do a bit. It just went from there. He was a natural, a funny guy.
Video Clip: Jane likes Tarzan. Tarzan likes cheetah. 5 Cheetah likes Jane. Jane's going get a fat lip. Stop this arguing! This wouldn't happen if you had the right lump in your shoulder where it belongs. One more chance.
Ted Simons: I was going say, how do you work timing with that? Your timing was impeccable. This guy joins in and it's even better. It's not easy, comedic timing is not easy. Did it evolve over time?
Bill Thompson: I honestly tried to do it by myself for a while and it's a mistake. You find a Ladmo, you know, and there was only one. We made it. But you know, Pat,when he came on the show and brought about 12 or 15 people with him.
Video Clip: Now a big hand for Boffo the Clown! All a part of the corporate plot. Besides that, he was going hit me with a baseball bat.
Bill Thompson: That's when the show really took off.
Pat McMahon: They knew that I was funny because they watched the newscasts that I was doing. Everybody laughed during much of the news. They figured, wait a minute, how about if we move him into the comedy part of the show.
Video Clip: Boffo, how do you personally feel about the kids? Anybody calls me, I'll show up. They need a clown, I'm it. What about the birthday parties? That's where your big bread is. As long as they keep it down, as long as they don't scream and yell and laugh and giggle, that 6 really frosts me. Little punks running around putting their cake crumbs on my suit.
Ted Simons: What I find fascinating in remembering the show and actually working on the show at one point was that comedic timing. It's vaudeville-ian. You move you move you hit. The timing was there. Was that again something you worked on? Was it something that came naturally? A little bit of both?
Pat McMahon: I had never worked with guys before. I was never a group performer; I was never in one of those comedy units on stage doing plays. It's different than ad-libing comedy sketches. And there was a chemistry that I look back on now in wonder, because it didn't matter what I said when I came out for an entrance for one of the characters, it didn't matter whether we had been talking about it before. We knew that there was a kind of a bit that Wallace had structured, and even if I began talking about something totally different than was related to maybe something that had just happened, these guys listened and that really is the story. They really paid attention. And nobody cared who got the laughs.
Ted Simons: Which is very important.
Ted Simons: Talk to us, Pat mentioned the structure of a bit, a segment. How did that work? Did you sit down and say -- was it outlined? Was it written verbatim? Was it a blank page? How did it work?
Bill Thompson: There were what I call action 7 bits and it involved props. There's no way -- you know, the physical stuff had to be ad libbed. Fortunately, he's a great ad libber, you know. and he never, ever, in the history of the show, needed prompting. You know what we really used it for was for time, to make sure we didn't run too long. But just to get -- he was just wonderful, the ad libbing. We didn't need to have a prompter.
Pat McMahon: When you were -- excuse me --
Ted Simons: This is your program, go ahead, please.
Pat McMahon: You worked on the crew.
Ted Simons: I did.
Pat McMahon: At channel 5, did you run prompter?
Ted Simons: No, I did not run prompter.
Pat McMahon: That’s one of the reasons you have not been institutionalized is those poor guys would be trying to figure out where we were. We would always go back to it, but --
Ted Simons: Let's put it in the present day. You want to do a skit on the Phoenix Suns beating the New York Knicks in New York. Do you say, I'm going to do a joke about Amare Stoudemire, you set me up with something about Steve Nash. How did that work? Was it just, we're going to do something about the Suns beating the Knicks and good luck, fella?
Pat McMahon: I don't know that Wall necessarily thought in terms of the Suns beating the Knicks. I think that to me he would probably have found real humor in the team that just found themselves in last place because three guys fell over the bench and were hospitalized for the rest of the season. 8
Bill Thompson: Now that's comedy.
Pat McMahon: The material, though, truly, the material was so much fun to do because it was whatever we saw on the news, and whatever we read in the newspaper that day. When I came down slightly before 4:00 while we were doing the show at 4:00, I knew that it was wild doing something about -- Arpaio would have been marvelous. It would have been absolutely marvelous. He wouldn't have felt as if he had to worry about how we really felt about him. We would have created a sheriff, and then Arpaio would have come down as a guest on the show because he would have felt comfortable being there.
Ted Simons: And the many characters Pat played, obviously you had the sheriff, the cowboy, the little boy -- you had the characters.
Bill Thompson: The little boy.
Pat McMahon: Well, he's laughing partly because people never heard Gerald referred to as the little boy.
Ted Simons: Among other things, he was a little boy.
Video Clip: If you're lost, there's something you should know. I tried to ask Gerald for his autograph and he kicked me. I don't know anything about it, and besides he started it. He will probably try to tell you that I started it but I didn't. I'm just a little tiny girl and my mother told me always to play nice. I'm a boy.
Ted Simons: Did you say, we're going to do something with Gerald today?
Bill Thompson: He could work off a premise. He just gave about 10 or 15 seconds, what the premise is. 9 Here it is, and here's the payoff, and you'd go.
Video Clip: Come in! [cheering] That was intense. That was your responsibility, you invited these little jerks down here, you got them out of an alley where they usually hang out. Those are Cub Scouts!
Pat McMahon: The kids during the Gerald and Ladmo bits would always scream, no, she did it! And Wallace would say, No, Gerald is a boy.
Pat McMahon: I know, she did it!
Ted Simons: It was a little boy, am I missing something here?
Bill Thompson: No, I never heard him called that, the little boy.
Pat McMahon: Because this is "Horizon" and there's a very polite kind of things. Ted used to call him other names.
Bill Thompson: He was Harold.
Ted Simons: What kind of a response did you get --
Ted Simons: Gosh, I feel so inadequate now, I called Gerald a little boy.
Pat McMahon: You've felt inadequate before.
Ted Simons: You're right.
Ted Simons: What kind of response did you get from parents? Did you ever get an angry parent saying, what are you doing to my kids?
Bill Thompson: Every once in a while. They would write in terrible letters and we'd read them. Then we'd invite them down and they came. We still hate your show, thank you. Bye.
Ted Simons: Is that pretty much the way it was?
Pat McMahon: Absolutely. He would do the crank letter of the week. And then the winner was announced. 10 And Mrs. Gottleib would come down and except the bag and then say unkind things as she was walking out.
Ted Simons: Could you do that kind of show, with that kind of satire in the political atmosphere, just the total environment of today? Could you make a governor joke, could you make a Tea Party joke today?
Pat McMahon: We could, we would.
Ted Simons: You still would do that you think?
Pat McMahon: I just don't think, quite honestly, and Wall may not agree with me, I don’t think that in the atmosphere as broadly accepting as it is with 250 or 300 channels and every word and every situation is on some channel, I don't think the "Wallace and Ladmo" show would be produced today because I think that when it comes to kids' entertainment, management tends to say, no, no, no. You know those Smurfs.
Ted Simons: Is that how you see it, as well? Could you make those kinds of jokes? Of course you could do what you wanted to, but would the audience be as open to that kind of humor today, do you think?
Pat McMahon: Sure, the audience would be. I just don't think -- I think management is far more cautious today, particularly when it comes to kids' entertainment. NBC asked us then to come over because they saw the revenue and they saw the ratings. And Wall and Lad said we'll stay here and do the show that day. You go over, bring a demo tape as they requested. We're thinking, man, this is terrific. Go to Burbank and the tape goes on and it was like one of those movie things. You're sitting in big soft recliner chairs in the viewing room. 11 Here's the vice president of kids programming and two or three other people and assistants and they were laughing, Ted, they were falling off their chairs. I kept thinking, I've got get on the phone and add more zeros other than the projected income we're talking about. As soon as it was over, and this was again back then, as soon as they auditioned the demo tape that we brought over, the guy says, oh, God, that was absolutely one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life and I wouldn't touch it with a pole.
Pat McMahon: I said why?
Pat McMahon: He said, do you have any idea how many parent committees, religious committees, educational committees that we have to go through for the little animated stuff on Saturday?
Ted Simons: And you mentioned that concern. With channel 5 did you have run-ins with management over things you did or things you should have done?
Bill Thompson: No. But they -- they seemed to not take it too well when we tried to move the show somewhere.
Pat McMahon: Would you care to tell that story?
Bill Thompson: Hey, we're in Phoenix and we're doing pretty good. What about if we went to New York?
Bill Thompson: There's a little brochure prepared that had his phone number on there, Pat's, and he sent it out. A channel in New York City liked the idea but they wanted to clear it through KPHO management here. Pat gets called into the office, 12 you're fired. He's gone and I remember Ladmo and I running up to him, can we have your parking spot? It was five minutes before the show.
Video Clip: How dare this TV station try take me off the air? Why me? I'll tell you why, because I'm on TV, dummy, that's why. It's all a part of the corporate plot, that's it.
Pat McMahon: I actually didn't want to syndicate the show and leave. I thought we'd stay here where we all want to live and do the show and Channel 5 would benefit. And of course, may I say that the management of Channel 5 here is much, much wiser and had a greater vision.
Bill Thompson: I was ready to go to New York.
Ted Simons: Really? Okay. I'm glad someone is speaking about it.
Bill Thompson: Just as we were getting there at Channel 5.
Ted Simons: We've got to kind of wrap things up and hit the home stretch here.
Pat McMahon: Wait a minute, hold it, we're on tonight on "Pioneers of Television."
Ted Simons: Right.
Pat McMahon: Can we just stay and then go right into that?
Ted Simons: No, we have formats here and we've got to hit times. I know this is unusual for the "Wallace and Ladmo" show. Funny stuff. Would you change anything? Looking back, would you change anything?
Bill Thompson: I would try to change the salary.
Ted Simons: Let me ask you that, though. People just worshiped the show 13 and you guys are literally pioneers of television, and we're finding out, as those who are not aware are finding out. Does it feel like, sheesh --
Bill Thompson: Being a pioneer means you're very, very old. I could go any minute.
Pat McMahon: Wow, wow, think of what would happen if you went now on "Horizon," on Channel 8. A huge story, it would last weeks.
Ted Simons: Just hold it, hold off for just a little while, we would appreciate that.
Pat McMahon: You know what I would change?
Ted Simons: What would you change?
Pat McMahon: I would keep some of the wigs. Look at this.
Ted Simons: The little boy wig, would you keep that?
Pat McMahon: The little boy. I will never forget that.
Ted Simons: Let me try to ask this question again. Obviously we kind of fell flat. Do you feel like a pioneer of television?
Pat McMahon: No, I feel like a guy who had the greatest job in the world, truly.
Video Clip: Ready for our vegetable serenade, one, two, three.
Pat McMahon: Who gets to live in Phoenix, gets to have that kind of fun in the afternoon, and gets people coming up 20 years after it's off the air with finite, specific memories of when they met Ladmo. What they were doing. [Applause]
Video Clip: It's the last Ladmo bag to be given away and I want to give it to my good buddy and friend for 36 years, Wallace! He never won a Ladmo bag! What's with the Ladmo bag? 14
Ted Simons: Let’s end it with the Ladmo bag because everyone seems to remember it. Either they got one or they wanted one, one of the two. How did that get started?
Bill Thompson: First we had toys from the toy cottage. But the kids took too much time to pick one out.
Video Clip: What do you see in the way of a toy that you like? Kind of hard to decide.
Bill Thompson: He says, take a bag, write Ladmo on it and put all the sponsor's products in it. It was his idea. He even had a company called the idea factory to come up with stuff like that.
Pat McMahon: I don't recall ever being paid for the Ladmo bag idea.
Bill Thompson: Right, right.
Ted Simons: It's nice to know that there are issues that still need to be resolved with the "Wallace and Ladmo" show. Gentlemen, I think I speak for a lot of Arizonans, you made for a lot of laughs and gave us a lot of laughs and made for a lot of fun. Congratulations on the pioneer of television. You guys were. It must be nice to know…you really did it, didn't you?
Pat McMahon: Can we come back?
Ted Simons: Maybe, we'll see. You can. Good to see you Wall boy, thanks for joining us. Pat, good to see you.