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High School Sports

Growing up in Phoenix: Thanks, Wal, for the joy you gave us

Author’s note: This story doesn’t have a lot to do with sports, but everything to do with growing up in Phoenix and the joy and energy a kids show gave us that carries on to this day.

It was in late July and August, about like it is now.

It seemed like every late afternoon, the monsoon wind would churn dust into the desert air and it would smell like rain.

I was like many other aspiring/perspiring high school football players across the Valley, preparing for the upcoming season. I would go down to the school and sweat it out by running laps and wind sprints.

But not until I finished watching . . .

Wallace and Ladmo.

Yes, I was a teen-ager, but I watched that kids’ show religiously as I had done for many years throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. How could you resist? The show, which ran from 1954-89, was an awesome brand of comedy, adult at times, all of it fun. Bill Thompson (Wallace), Lad Kwiatkowski (Ladmo) and Pat McMahon (Gerald, Aunt Maud, Captain Super, and so on).

Thompson died Wednesday (July 23), 20 years after Kwiatkowski, leaving McMahon as the lone survivor.

The show was at its best in the 1960s, before it became more mainstream and known as the Wallace and Ladmo Show. It was on from 4-5 p.m., and kids of all ages would race home to see it. It later moved to mornings and was cut to a half-hour, but it just wasn’t the same.

In the 1960s, the show was called “It’s Wallace?’’ Before the late Mike Condello recorded the 1970s-era well-known theme song (Ho-Ho-Ha-Ha-Hee-Hee-Ha-Ha), the music was a simple honky-tonk piano accompanied by a few sound effects.

Instead of a jacket and derby, Wallace wore polka-dot shirts and a straw hat. Ladmo was the same with his top hat and tie.

There were no Ladmo Bags then. Kids got to come on, sit on stools at a counter, similar to the ones people have now in their kitchen and pick a toy from a shelf behind the counter. Toys were provided by the Toy Cottage, on 7th Avenue.

I never got to go on the show, but a friend did. I was jealous.

The trio also appeared all around the Valley and state, at Saturday morning movies, malls, Encanto Park and the old Legend City amusement park. They were like rock stars.

I liked all of the regular characters and even a few off the beaten path.

A few that come to mind were Mr. Grudgemeyer, who with Ladmo were constant irritants to each other; the Losers, a beatnik-type group that used vegetables for instruments (snapping celery, grating cabbage, etc.), Acqua (Wallace dressed in drag, usually a sun dress and black wig but still with his man’s watch on his hairy arm, making fun of local B-movie and TV car salesperson Acquanetta Ross, a Dorothy Lamour-type), and Boffo the Clown, whose original name was Ozob.

I also liked the cartoons, from Popeye to the Warner Bros. classics voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

It was especially good Wal, Lad and Pat when they would crack each other up, as well as some of their guests. There were many famous people who stopped by the studio, which was near the Westward Ho Hotel in downtown Phoenix. Even some of the sponsors were lampooned.

I attended a play at the Herberger Theater a few years ago. It was about the show and they had actors playing the major roles. But Bill Thompson and Pat McMahon actually showed up for a cameo. The crowd stood, applauded and cheered for several minutes. I have to admit, I was starting to get misty.

It seems a bit silly, but those of you parents and even grandparents of current student-athletes can relate if you grew up in Phoenix. You know how I felt, how I still feel.

So long, Wal-Boy. It’s a good thing today’s newspaper came wrapped in plastic, so it wouldn’t be soaked by our tears when we read the sad news. Thanks for everything, for being a friend.

 



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