Bill Thompson, aka “Wallace”

More from this show

Former kids show host Bill “Wallace” Thompson has died. Thompson created the “Wallace and Ladmo Show,” which reigned for 35 years on local television. One of the show’s co-stars, Pat McMahon, will talk about the man he calls his brother.

Ted Simons: Well, for decades Arizona kids would literally run home from school to watch "Wallace and Ladmo," a local show that was a blend of cartoons and skits with humor often aimed at adults. Yesterday the creator and star of the show Bill Thompson passed away. Pat McMahon was one of the costars of the "Wallace and Ladmo" show for most of its 35-year run. Pat is here to talk about a man he calls his brother. He was kind of your brother, wasn't he?

Pat McMahon: Absolutely. And I'm an only child. They were both my brothers. I know that they would say today, were they here, that even though you invite us on to talk about the "Wallace and Ladmo" show, you still can't have a Ladmo bag, I'm sorry. I'm sure.

Ted Simons: Who was Bill Wallace -- Bill Thompson. I'm sorry. Wall-boy.

Pat McMahon: Because neither Lad nor I ever called him Bill, much less Bill Thompson. Rarely did he turn around and recognize anyone who did call him that. He was Wallace virtually the entire time. 35 years, a little bit over that. And I joined them in 1960. The show had already been on the air for nearly 6 years. I wound up being the new guy for 30 years. Can you imagine any kind of a vehicle in this business, when you already have a career that's five or six years long, and then comes the rest of it?

Ted Simons: Your initial impression.

Pat McMahon: Of Wall?

Ted Simons: Of Wall-boy.

Pat McMahon: A prankster, a quiet private person who had a -- a bizarre sense of humor. I can't think of a better word than bizarre, irreverent. Not at anybody's expense unless that anybody was full of himself. He delighted in poking holes in balloons. And that of course would include almost all the politicians, particularly those that appeared on the show.

Ted Simons: I'm sure, yeah.

Pat McMahon: It was terrific. Because Wall was a guy who was in charge but never managed things. And Lad and I would show up and then we would talk about the bits that we would do. He had a framework of the kinds of stuff that appealed to him, usually out of the news. And then we would talk about how we would do it, what character, and then we would do it. It was improvisational theater.

Ted Simons: Improvisational theatre but did Bill Thompson -- did he write stuff down? Did he have just a clear vision -- it just sounds like his vision was see, do, see, do. When you first met him did you know what he wanted to do with that show?

Pat McMahon: When I first met him, I was in the news department at channel 5, had just been hired. I didn't care that much about preparing the news. That seemed like a less than entertaining project. And so instead of putting the news together as a professional would do, I would go downstairs to Studio A and watch the "Wallace and Ladmo" show because I just fell in love with it. One day he looked over and said, I have inadvertently written a three-man comedy act, this was during a break, and we need a third guy. Would you possibly come over and join us and help us? And I would end up helping them every day for years. I had no idea what kind of -- and please know I don't use the G word that easily -- I had no idea what kind of a true genius he was. The flowing of ideas and all of these things, most of it out of contemporary topical things. And he was incredibly creative, so humble that he never wanted to be known as an actor or a comedy writer. He wanted to be known as the guy with the derby.

Ted Simons: It sound to me and you tell me, it sounds to me off screen, off stage, he was very similar to what we saw with that derby on stage. Was he that similar or a little different?

Pat McMahon: A little quieter.

Ted Simons: Quieter?

Pat McMahon: A little quieter off. Remember, as a straight man he was very disciplined. There was nothing that Wallace truly appreciated, all of the years I was with him and Lad, too, nothing he appreciated more than Lad getting a laugh or me getting a laugh. And that's one of the reasons I think the chemistry happened. Nobody was stepping on one another's lines. He was really listening. I could have walked into the set as we're talking and since did you work on the set during the Wallace show, you know this happened. I would walk in, there would be a prepared bit prompted and we thought it would be a good idea to have lines every once in a while that we had actually prepared. Then some poor guy had to follow where we were because the character would walk in and go terribly and completely off script before we even started. Wallace immediately jumped into that new -- that new possibility for laughter.

Ted Simons: Yes, yes, and the timing impeccable. People underestimate timing. That show, if you just watch it, it's like the old Odd Couple TV series. Forget about everything, just watch the timing.

Pat McMahon: And it was everything. Lad grew up as the child of a policeman in Cleveland. His talents were totally directed to baseball. He was considered for a professional contract by Hank Greenburg who sent him to Arizona to go to school and get a few of the rough edges off. Went to the wrong school. Hank intended for him to go to the U of A and he spent four years as a Letterman at ASU. Wallace came out here, part of the art department at channel 5 and one day the management said we've got these cartoons, these crazy cat cartoons and nobody wanted to touch the idea of being a kids show host because it lacked dignity. And Wallace said, that's my kind of show.

Ted Simons: That's me, huh?

Pat McMahon: Yeah.

Ted Simons: What made Wall-boy laugh? What made him laugh?

Pat McMahon: Oh, that's good, that's a good question.

Pat McMahon: The first thing I think of, us. We did. He wouldn't rig up but you could just see the joy in his face when something was working and if you would ad lib something he had no idea was coming, he loved that. He didn't like corny comedy so much like Mel Brooks. He liked cutting edge stuff that kind of thing. He loved Johnny Carson.

Ted Simons: Didn't everyone, though. Again, timing, such a factor. We've only got a couple minutes left. Was he ever surprised by the likes of a Steven Spielberg or Alice Cooper letting him know how important he was to their upbringing?

Pat McMahon: He was in awe. He was the kind of a guy that could be a huge fan. Alice was watching the show and almost memorized bits. As he grew into the superstar he was, couldn't believe that Alice still remembered the vocal show. Steven I ran into a few months ago when he was in town with the symphony. He was delighted to go over old times. I gave him a Stevemo bag.

Ted Simons: Good for you!

Pat McMahon: Last question now. The last show was what, ‘89 ?

Ted Simons: The last day of ‘89, yeah.

Pat McMahon: Does all of this seem, when you look back, does it all seem like a lifetime ago? Or does it seem like only yesterday?

Pat McMahon: It can't seem like longer ago than yesterday, because yesterday several people stopped me somewhere and said, did I ever tell you when I didn't win the Ladmo bag and the kid next to me did? Did I tell you about playing baseball on Ladmo's team?

Pat McMahon: That's yesterday, today. Seems like it'll continue to tomorrow.

Ted Simons: And the bottom line is for Bill Thompson, Wall-boy, call him what you -- what a life well lived.

Pat McMahon: Yeah, I'm grateful.

Ted Simons: We are all grateful. Thank you so much, Pat, we appreciate it.

Pat McMahon: Sure.

Pat McMahon:Co-Star, "Wallace and Ladmo Show";

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
aired May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: