“Locally grown and raised” is the thing to be these days, particularly for fruits, vegetables and thespians.
Bill Lowry, who stars as Wallace in “The Wallace and Ladmo Show” on stage now at the Herberger Theatre, is not only an Arizona native, but is Bill Thompson’s grandson—the Bill Thompson who created and starred as Wallace in Arizona’s Emmy-award winning kids show that ran from 1954-1989 on KPHO-TV.
“It’s Wallace” or “The Wallace and Ladmo Show” was one of America’s longest running daily kids television shows and was known for its comedy sketches. The play, put on by Actors Theatre, introduces the hilarity to Arizona newcomers and lets native ‘Zonis enjoy it one more time.
The original TV show starred Bill Thompson as Wallace, Ladimir Kwiatkowski as Ladmo and later radio personality Pat McMahon as Gerald, Aunt Maud and Captain Super, among others. Unlike most kids shows, this one never talked down to it’s audience. Instead, it used humor to address cultural issues like unemployment, war, and rock ‘n roll, to the great amusement of its audience.
McMahon, who was raised in show business, joined the show in 1960 after moving to Phoenix and going to work for Channel 5. “These two guys were doing brilliant dialouge, real ‘honest to god’ comedy material,” said McMahon, who had never seen a kids show as good as this one.
Based losely on plots Wallace wrote, much of the show was improvised before they went on air each day, McMahon said. Their inspiration came from things they read in the paper or some absurdity they heard about in the news.
They’re specific brand of comedy culminated in the hit song “Work, Work” sung by their spoof rock and roll band—Hubb Cap and the Wheels. The song was so popular it outsold the Beatles for one week in Phoenix, landed the band a record deal with Capitol Records, earned them live performances on the Sunset Strip, and threated to entirely eclipse the show that produced it.
“‘Work, work, a dirty word,’ told kids don’t get a college education, don’t get a job, go on unemployment and be a bum,” said Ben Tyler, who was on the show as a child and is the writer and director of the play currently on stage at the Herberger. “Today, people would get angry about it, but we all knew they were joking,” Tyler said.
“Our audience in Arizona got it and loved it and went along with it,” said McMahon, who played the pompadour-wig-wearing band leader, Hubb Cap. “Everyone knew it was me. They didn’t care that it was the same guy who played Gerald and Captain Super. Phoenix was small enough that no one ever came here, so Hubb was a good as it got,” McMahon said. “The girls were throwing things on stage and there were banners. They wanted it to be fun,” he said.
Ben Tyler’s stage rendition of the show captures that spirit of fun and offers plenty of it. “People who have never seen the show and little kids who haven’t seen it are laughing hysterically,” Bill Lowry said. “It’s pretty neat-o.”
It’s also “neat-o” that during each performance Wallace and the gang give away six Ladmo bags—brown paper sacks filled with snacks and goodies that were wildly popular on the TV show and are equally popular now.
“Gosh, last night this lady was in tears,” said Bill Lowry. “She had waited her whole life to get a Ladmo bag. It was like she’d won the lottery and all she got was a pop and potato chips.”
Like her, Bill Lowry has waited his whole life for this moment. Playing his grandfather is a dream come true. “I’ve always been looking for the perfect part and I think I found it,” Lowry said. “I’ve been him my whole life and hung out with him my whole life,” Lowry said. “He’s my best friend,”