PHOENIX - In the early days of television, every city with a station had a local kids show.
Phoenix had something special.
It was the "Wallace and Ladmo Show." You can get a glimpse of what it was like with the play "The Wallace and Ladmo Show" with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix.
"Wallace and Ladmo" graced Phoenix TV screens for 35 years, from 1954 to 1989. There was Wallace, played by Bill Thompson, who started the character on the "Goldust Charlie" show on KPHO-TV. He was joined by Ladmir Kwiatkowski, "Ladmo," a tall guy with a big hat and a tie painted on his tee-shirt. He joined the show when he got a job at KPHO after playing baseball at ASU.
They were joined in 1960 by Pat McMahon, who played several characters, including Captain Super, Aunt Maude, and Gerald, the rich brat who every kid loved to hate.
There were lots of cartoons, like "Popeye" and "Roger Ramjet." Wallace said that everyone in Phoenix wanted a Ladmo Bag, filled with sugary goodies.
"Ladmo told me at one time, he had given away 35,000 Ladmo bags over the course of 20 to 25 years or something," he said.
The play about the show was originally performed 12 years ago. This production is at the request of the Arizona Centennial Commission, which felt that "Wallace and Ladmo" should be part of the state's 100th birthday celebration.
Ben Tyler wrote the play.
"The hardest thing in writing the stage play 'The Wallace and Ladmo Show' was how was trying to figure out how to tell something that lasted for 35 years," he said. "Because there was just no way to fit that into two hours with a ten-minute intermission."
So Tyler focused on an event that happened in 1964. McMahon said that's when the Beatles were making it big.
"Wallace said, 'Wait a minute! We should have an overnight teenaged rock n' roll sensation,'" said McMahon. "And overnight, we did."
The group was originally called Hub Kapp and the Tire Slashers. McMahon said about five minutes later, they changed it to Hub Kapp and the Wheels. McMahon played guitar and was dressed in black with a black wig and big eyebrows. His bandmates had names like Ty Clasp and Rye Crisp. They were an instant local smash.
"And my God! Girls throwing themselves up on stage, and screaming, and going hysterical," said McMahon.
The group played before crowds of 15,000 people or more in Phoenix.
"And we made a record," said McMahon.
It was called "Work Work," and made it to number one on the Valley's record charts.
"It beat the Beatles on the charts," said McMahon.
Capitol Records heard about what was going on, came to Phoenix and signed Hub Kapp and the Wheels to a contract. They made their national television debut on "The Steve Allen Show." Women screamed as the Hub Kapp sang "Boney Maroney."
Then Allen's wife, Jayne Meadows, wanted to know if Kapp's hair was real.
"Only my hair dresser knows for sure," said Hub Kapp, played by Pat McMahon.
When Meadows said he was very funny, Hub Kapp replied "When you sing like we do, you need to have a sense of humor."
McMahon said the group appeared on Steve Allen six more times. Capitol Records also had plans for appearances on "Shindig" and on an Australian version of "The Tonight Show."
But the group grew tired, and felt that their heart was back in Phoenix with "Wallace and Ladmo," so they returned to the Valley and the show. McMahon said they realized that the "big time is whatever makes you happy." He said that that's the lesson of the play.
McMahon said that even people who never saw the "Wallace and Ladmo Show" are loving the play.
"They may have grown up in Syracuse, but that's how universal this thing is," said McMahon. "If it's funny, it's funny. I hope that people will take a chance, even if don't know anything about Wallace and Ladmo, and come to the Herberger theater. I can promise you a fun, fun time.
Performances are 7:00 p.m. Friday night, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Satuday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.
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