April 13, 2008

Ho Ho Ha Ha Hee Hee Ha Ha

If you were a kid in the Phoenix area between 1954 and 1989, a good chunk of your afternoon (and probably morning) was occupied watching The Wallace and Ladmo Show. If you were to meet someone from the area, you wouldn't even bother asking, "Hey, do you remember Wallace and Ladmo?". You can just take it for granted that it was just as much a part of their childhood as it was yours.

I originally became acquainted with Wallace and Ladmo from visiting my cousins in Mesa. When I was 8, we moved to Casa Grande for a year and had Phoenix TV stations, so I watched the show enough during that time to have some pretty fond memories.

My mom's cousin, Mark Arnett, is the producer of a little gang of folks that call themselves the "Citrus Valley Playhouse". What they do is perform on stage in the style of a taping of an old time radio show. Think Prairie Home Companion, but with a focus on Arizona culture and history. All the people involved are top notch, and it's really funny stuff.

Last night, they put on what they billed as "An All-Star Tribute to Wallace and Ladmo". They covered the history of the show and its impact on Arizona. And, they gave out their first ever "Citrus Valley Lifetime Achievement Award" to Bill Thompson (Wallace), Ladmo's widow, Patsy, and Pat McMahon (the utility player best known as "Gerald"). I never got to see them at Legend City or anything, primarily because I never got to go to Legend City, so getting to see Wallace and Gerald live last night was kind of a big deal for me.

Besides Wallace and Gerald, there were a lot of other notables there: Tempe mayor Hugh Hallman, former Attorney General Grant Woods, Dan Harkins (president/CEO Harkins Theatres). They had video appearances from Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon, current Attorney General Terry Goddard, and a handful of newscasters and DJs and things. The most exciting VIP for me, though, was Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio. When I first saw him before the show, he was flanked by four deputies, ostensibly for security, but most likely to check everyone's citizenship papers.

For the big grand finale last night, they gave away Ladmo Bags. On The Wallace and Ladmo Show, kids who attended the tapings could get their seat number picked to be the lucky recipient of a Ladmo Bag, which was a brown paper bag labelled "Ladmo Bag" and filled with junk food, an autographed picture, and sometimes small prizes from the sponsors. To get a Ladmo Bag was a big huge deal. Most everyone knew someone from their school or church that had received a Ladmo Bag. If you had never got one yourself, though, you never quite got over the resentment.

They gave away 50 bags last night by delivering them to the seat numbers they had previously randomly drawn. You could try to argue that these weren't the real thing since they weren't given away on The Wallace and Ladmo Show, but I don't buy that. The bags were endorsed by Wallace and Pat, and each bag was hand-lettered by Wallace himself, so I'm pronouncing them bona fide. I didn't get one, but the middle-aged woman three seats down from me did. I had overheard the woman saying that she had gone to school with Ladmo's daughter, and Ladmo was her brother's coach, so she had some personal connection that brought her there that night. When I first sat down, she had expressed her envy of the paper Ladmo tie that I had picked up at the VIP reception before hand. When she got that Ladmo Bag, though, the shoe was definitely on the other foot.

When the usher handed her that bag, she was stunned and shocked, which quickly transformed into this joy the likes of which I haven't seen before. It was clear within the first two seconds that receiving this Ladmo Bag was the highlight of her whole year, if not the whole decade. She pulled a couple of things out of the bag to look at, but I think she was afraid to dig into it too much for fear the whole bag would run off or something. She held it tightly to her chest, and when she was walking out of the theater, she had both arms wrapped around it like it was the most precious possession anyone could ever own. So, I was pretty bummed that I didn't get a Ladmo Bag, but seeing just how happy the bag made her took a little bit of the edge off of my resentment.


Captain Emus said...

You are totally right. In the years since its been off the air, I've heard and read countless stories of how much that show meant to people. For two generations, it is a part of the metro-Phoenix cultural core. Everyone watched the show and everyone loved it. By the way, it wasn't even that good, but in the day and age of limited cable channels and even more limited kids shows, it was the uncontested top dog.

I never got to go to a live taping so I never got a Ladmo Bag. If I could get one - even today - I would have the same reaction as that middle-aged lady. Getting a photo with Gerald would also be amazing. Gerald!

Good for you for showing up to such a cool thing.

Jennifer Burke said...

NO WAY! My sister GOT a Ladmo bag when our Brownie troop viewed a live taping. She was petrified. I wonder if there is any way to find tape of a Wallace and Ladmo show recorded somewhere around 1983.

Aaron said...

There are a couple of clips of the show on YouTube, and this guy's web site has a few clips. Chances are slim you'd find the right show among a small handful of clips, though.

The story goes that the station kept the master tapes for about a week after broadcast, then reused them, so there is no master archive anywhere. There are a few people somewhere who recorded a bunch of episodes at their homes on something called a Video Cassette Recorder. I read somewhere that someone donated their collection of tapes to the Arizona Historical Society. So, if there's any hope for you at all, that's where I'd start.

Jennifer Burke said...

OK, so get this karma.

I just reminded my sister of this and here is the story she recounted. We were seated in the audience with me sitting between Heather and her best friend. She asked me to trade seats with her and, just to be stubborn, I said no.

Fast forward to the Ladmo bag delivery...