Wallace and Ladmo entered the decade of the 1980's with the show still strong in the ratings. The format remained essentially the same. However, a crop of new cast members and regular guests would soon join the show.
Boffo the Clown
"Boffo Meal" (1986)
“Fireman Bob” Walp
Wallace expanded the public service aspect of the show with the addition of Fireman Bob.
Bob Walp tells the story of how he came to be on the show: The [Phoenix] Fire Department started the Learn not To Burn program back in the early ‘70s. Actually the late 70s. They had all these instructors who were firefighters. They brought us on the show one at a time. Wall says ‘We’ll do a safety bit.’ So we did a safety bit. Then they’d bring somebody else on. About a month long it took all the people to get through. They went on as firefighters and did their talk. Wall picked me out and says ‘Let’s call you Fireman Bob.’ They put it on my helmet. So I had a helmet that said Fireman Bob on it. Over the years the helmets changed so we just kept putting the name on the helmet.
I did the show from ’79 to ’89. The first two, three years I was on every day. The department let me go. I’d give a different tip every day. We’d go over different things. If we had drownings happening we’d talk about drownings. CPR classes. Just all the different things you could talk about. Stop, drop and roll. Never-ending things. Always move over to the right when the red lights are coming. So the kids are bugging their parents ‘I saw Fireman Bob say to do this, mom, dad. Pull over to the right.”
Then later on, probably in the mid ‘80s, they changed the format to twice a week and towards the end, the last couple of years, just once a week. But no matter what I’d go down and do the show and just enjoy it. I’d call people up and the last minute and say ‘I need a fire truck down here.’ The guys would come down and give Lad and Wall a ride in the ladder truck. Just so many things we could do and have fun at it. It was the best job I ever had. It was great.
Final Time Slot
In September 1980, the show moved into its final slot of 7 – 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Local ventriloquist Dan Horn joins the cast.
Dan Horn (1985)
Dan explains how he became a part of the show:
In 1980 I was hired by the City of Phoenix to present a show on traffic safety to elementary schools. A couple times, to promote the program, they had made arrangements for me to make a couple of appearances on The Wallace and Ladmo Show. I noticed that when I was at the schools directly after having been on TV, the attention on me by the kids was riveted on me. Then as a little time went by, the kids would forget that they saw me on TV and they’d come in to see the show that I was going to put on and it was kind of hard to get their attention sometimes. I started thinking that if I would be on regularly where they could see me, I would no longer be some guy coming in to do an assembly. It would be Dan Horn from TV is here and I would have their attention before I ever even started.
So I called Wallace and proposed the idea of coming once a week with a safety tip using one of the puppets. He was at first ‘Thanks, but no thanks. We have Officer Harry Florian who does safety tips.’ Well, the contract that I was working under was primarily an occupant restraint program, meaning safety belts. I could talk about whatever other traffic safety I wanted, but I had to include safety belts in the discussion somewhere because that was the contract I was under. I said ‘Well, what if I only kept my comments to promoting using safety belts in cars and just come on once a week and using the puppets I would try to do a different routine every week somehow promoting safety belts. He [Wallace] was like ‘Well . . . . .. Okay.’ I didn’t think about it at the time but he was probably being bombarded with people wanting to use the show as a soapbox all the time. He can’t say yes to everybody coming on. But he said yes to me and I came on once a week, I don’t even remember what day it was, but I would write a little routine. Of course, I didn’t know how to use the teleprompter so I memorized everything. I would do a little comedy routine that somehow would work in the theme of wearing seat belts.
After about three months of being on the show once a week, Wallace approached me about being a regular on the show every day. The station would then offer me a check for my services and I wouldn’t have to be under the City of Phoenix contract so I wouldn’t have to be promoting seat belts all the time. Of course I was thrilled at the prospect. That’s how it started.
Dan Horn would use two his trademark puppets, Orson and Cassandra, as part of his daily routines on the show.
Dan remembers particularly funny incident with Ladmo:I think the first puppet we built exclusively for the show was when the movie E.T. came out. Wallace asked me if I would make an E.T-looking puppet and he called it E.P., Extra Puppet. So I created that puppet. Of course, after a while the E.T. craze kind of died down but we liked the character so we kept the puppet in the show. He would appear once every couple weeks or so. We were trying to come with a name, Craig Dingle and I were trying to come up with a name of the character. We didn’t want to call him E.P. anymore. Wallace suggested his name should be Augie. Craig and I were trying to think of a planet that would sound funny. We had both seen Saturday Night Live the night before where they did a sketch between Bill Murray and Gilda Radner where he was doing noogies on her head. We said he’d be Augie from the planet Noogie.
Well, in the first taping attempt . . . now, I was doing this thing where I was shaking my adam’s apple up and down as I spoke to give him a funny voice. So as I’m working the puppet, shaking my adam’s apple up and down, I’m reading off the teleprompter and it came out ‘Hi Ladmo, I’m Augie from the planet Nookie’ instead of Noogie. I did not think Ladmo was going to recover from that. We had to stop [taping] and when everybody, especially Wallace, realized how close the word was to Nookie, he said ‘No, we have to have something completely different.’ So he became Augie from the planet Zoggy. Ladmo just lost it. It was probably a good ten minutes. The camera people and the director, everyone was breaking up. Wallace was breaking up. Lad. Pat. I was breaking up because that’s not what I meant to say. But with the shaky voice and reading the prompter it came out ‘Nookie.’
In early 1981, the gang got a new set. KPHO art director Greg Brannan and staff artist Forrest Richardson designed an elaborate new set for the show. It features faux brick walls, an all-new Time Machine, and a staircase for the characters to make their entrance along with a door on the floor of the stage. A red phone booth with a working telephone was added for Call-a-Kid.
Wallace and the Model
of the Final Set (2005)
Wallace on the Final Set (2007)
Dave the Scientist
In 1982, Dave Harbster began making regular appearances as “Dave the Scientist” on the show.
Dave tells how it came about:
I was in the doctorate program up at NAU [Northern Arizona University] and I started my dissertation and I was doing another research project in the Grand Canyon. I just basically got burned out so we came down here [Phoenix] and I was a science coordinator for a school district.
There was a museum called the Arizona Museum of Science and Technology in downtown Phoenix. I was on the ground floor of getting that started. That was in 1982. I volunteered my services down at the emerging museum. I would do workshops for them on the weekend. It was community service work. One day I get a phone call from one of the [museum] directors down there and said ‘We were at some sort of fund-raising party and we met someone from Channel 5 and they’re looking for somebody to do a science program as kind of a PSA. Kind of a public service thing. Would you be interested?’ I said ‘Well, sure. Yeah.’ They said ‘Well, it’s for The Wallace and Ladmo Show.’ I said ‘You’re kidding?’ You know, the typical response ‘you’re kidding?’
I don’t know how much time elapsed. I think I had just forgotten about it and I get a phone call and a secretary comes up to me and says ‘Dave, Channel 5 would like to speak with you.’ I picked up the phone and here is this exuberant and direct voice. ‘Hey Dave, This is Wallace.’ I’ll never forget that phone call. Oh my God, I was stunned because I had this enormous flashback. Watching the show and Legend City stuff. It hit me to be that close even though we were that far on the telephone. [Wallace said] ‘Would you be interested in trying out for this science bit for us?’ I said ‘Oh sure.’ Wallace said ‘What would you like to do?’ I said ‘Well, I got a lot of stuff I could do.’ ‘Well, come on down. Can you come on down on such-and-such a date?’ and I said ‘Oh yeah.’ Wow, I was on cloud nine. I was just so excited and nervous as all get out.
So I came down with what I was going to do and if those little stinkers down there; I came down and thought I was going to do an audition. I came and figured ‘When do I go on for this audition because this looks like a show to me.’ They said ‘OK, Dave, time for you to come on.’ They were taping me on the spot. [Wallace] said ‘Do you have a name for yourself?’ just before I’m ready to walk on. ‘No, I’m Dave Harbster . . . ‘ He said ‘Well, from now on you’re Dave the Scientist.’ That’s what Wall gave me. I get on and I do this thing and Lad was there. Oh my God, they were just so incredible. They knew how to bring the best out of somebody. I just walked out of there thinking how wonderful to be with these people and they were not these snobby-type people you think celebrities are. They were just so nice to everybody. I was just so impressed with that. I said to Wallace ‘Did I pass?’ and he said ‘Of course. See you next week.’ It was for about five years I did the show.
Sunday Morning Movies
In the summer of 1982, Wallace and Ladmo began hosting a Sunday morning movie series called Comedy Greats. The duo would introduce classic comedies from some of their favorite comedians Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton.
30th Anniversary Show/New Cast Members
Another milestone was reached in 1984 with the 30 th anniversary of the show. KPHO aired a 90-minute prime time special hosted by Ken Kennedy (Gold Dust Charlie), Mike Condello, Rita Davenport (former host of KPHOs Open House) and Dan Horn.
The special featured a local comedy group, the Ajo Reparatory Company. The group would soon join the show.
Cathy Dresbach explains:
I started on the show as a member of the Ajo Repertory Company. Ajo was a sketch comedy group formed at Phoenix College and consisted of me, Jeff Payne, Duke Shirlaw and Ben Tyler. We performed at various places around town, but spent most of our career at the NFL Club (Nineteenth Avenue Food & Liquor). Our act was decidedly adult in nature, so performing for kids seemed a stretch. But we soon discovered it wasn’t all that different. You create an interesting character and write her some jokes. It’s still set-up/punch line . . . you just leave out the blue part.
Dresbach’s character, Jodi of the Pink Berets, becomes a regular character and begins to make personal appearances with Ladmo and Gerald. Other characters that she brought to life was Dottie Flube (an Aunt Maud type), Penny Dauberfall (the show’s answer to Martha Stewart), and the Science Lady. Certainly the most annoying character she brought to life was Perky the Clown. She was Boffo’s rival whose trademark annoying laugh would drive everyone crazy.
In 1985, the show underwent a budget trim by management. Cathy Dresbach was the only member of Ajo Reparatory Company to remain.
In September of 1987, Park Central Mall held a 30th anniversary celebration. A bunch of friends from the past showed up; Ken Kennedy, Mike Condello, Brian Donohue, Gerald’s Monster, Ray Traynor and Rich Post (members of Mike’s band). Even Aquanetta made an appearance. Both Hub Kapp and Mr. Grudgemeyer made appearances to the delight of the standing-only audience.
Arizona Hall of Fame Museum
On Saturday, October 15th, 1988, the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum opened an exhibit honoring Wallace, Lad and Pat and the history of the show. The exhibit opening was the largest that the museum had ever received. Ladmo Bags were given away. The exhibit was curated by David Read, who was a frequent visitor to the show. Read even reconstructed a portion of Wallace’s office at Channel 5. Senator Paul Fannin was there as a guest speaker. The exhibit was enormously popular, and remained there for nearly two years.
35th Anniversary Show
The show reached yet another milestone in April of 1989. Channel 5 held a huge stage show at Encanto Park that was attended by an estimated twenty thousand people. Many friends of the show came to celebrate. Hubb Kapp made an appearance. Mr. Grudgemeyer fought Ladmo for one last time. Ken Kennedy showed up as Golddust Charlie. Mike Condello was on hand as well. The stage show was supplemented by a prime time special.
Ladmo & Captain Super Crowd Ladmo and Harvey
It was during this time that Wallace began to consider retiring. The strain of having produced a show daily, almost non-stop for 35 years was beginning to take its toll. It was announced in late November 1989 that the show would have the final episode at the end of December of that year.
The Final Wallace & Ladmo Show
The Wallace and Ladmo Show ended its remarkable 35 ½ year run in December 1989. It still holds the record for the longest-running daily television show (with the original cast) in US history. A fan recalls:
I remember exactly where I was when I heard the program was going off the air. I, at the time, was an attorney in private practice. I can remember being in the car at Guadalupe and Gilbert Road in Gilbert, Arizona when I heard on KTAR Radio that Wallace and Ladmo was going to go off the air in December of 1989. That shows you how important these guys were to all of us.
Pat McMahon remembers the end of the show:
After the twenty-fifth year, we began thinking ‘One of these days, one of us is going to leave. One of us is going to die. One of us is going to get sick’ or else the show will simply fade into the distance and it’ll be time or whatever. After the thirty-fifth anniversary, because all that time, how long can a show last? It was five days a week, 10,000 shows. I think it happened in the best possible way because what would have happened if one of us really would have had an illness, or [in] the newspaper that the kids pick up the next day, all of sudden says ‘Somebody killed in an automobile accident’? That’s a hell of a way to close a memory.
When you close it the way we did, and people are taping the shows, in fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into people since that taped the show and kept it. I have a tape of it. We all did. But you know that I watched it for the first time last month [June 1991]? Not because of a sense of loss, because my attitude was ‘Wow, what a run! What terrific laughs.’ I’, so busy doing other stuff, it’s only time I’m looking for right now. And besides, the guys, I wouldn’t miss them if I didn’t see them. They all have other outlets and you never think about ‘Gee, I wish I could be there at 4 o’clock .’ This was the first [Arizona] State Fair that I didn’t go to, not because I avoided it, I never thought that it was on. That was the first one in 30 years. I didn’t go because we didn’t do a show.
It was the best way it could end. When I didn’t watch it, I think it was because I had no abiding need to, and finally somebody wanted to see it and I watched it with them. It was moving. It was funny, it was every kind of wonderful spoof at ourselves that Wallace would have included. You see, we never, never allowed the show to get too serious about itself or take itself too . . . you can take comedy too seriously and thinking ‘Hey, we’re big stars.’ The furthest thing from everybody’s mind. And so even the last show, Captain Super talking about his next career. Gerald is talking about breathing a sigh of relief because we’re finally, after all these years, after 35 years (and he’s onlytwelve), he finally got rid of these nemesis of his. Marshall Good just wanted a place to live under the stairs. Everybody is looking out for themselves. Isn’t that real life? Bottom line is ‘Yeah, but what’s going to happen to me?’ And that was the plot of the last show, and so I laughed and laughed until the Gerald bit. That got to me.
Wallace wrote the words. I don’t recall ad-libbing around them that much because the words were so perfect. Wallace allowed him a certain level of sensitivity that he normally wouldn’t do. He didn’t feel terribly comfortable about exposing those kinds of inner soul elements of himself. He didn’t mind if you did it, but I would like to tell you that it was the result of Stanisloski training and that I called on my sense of memory about something that happened with a puppy once or something. But no, I think the real question is, how did I get through the whole rest of the show? You know, you’re an actor, and then all of a sudden when you’re called upon to express that kind of emotion, well, it was close enough to me to real feelings that Gerald spoke for all of us. Listen, if he had been building up for all those 28 years that Gerald had been in existence, and you can only be a little son-of-a-bitch for so long.
“Dave the Scientist” Harbster:
It was hard to be at the last show. Pat, Wall and Lad and the rest of them, they’re professionals. They can put on that mask of formality. They’re in that business of entertaining. They know how to genuinely act. I couldn’t do it. I had these feelings of anger and hurt. I just had these strong feelings . . . I was sad. Greatly sad. That’s probably one thing I didn’t learn from the guys was to hide my feelings because something incredibly special was coming to an end.
I have a [cast] picture of all of us. I hate that picture. I hate that picture. I thought many times to throw that away because my face actually shows the tension. It was really hard to hide my feelings. I tried. I really tried. I don’t think I did a successful job. So, I was sad, angry and hurt.
On the surface I tried to be happy throughout the whole thing. In my heart I was very, very sad. I broke up going home. I had my wife Patsy drive because I couldn’t drive. I was holding it all back then all of a sudden the tears just came flying out. It was very, very sad for me the next few days.
Bill “Wallace” Thompson:
In 1989, the show was going off the air and after the last show a reporter came up to me with a cameraman from Channel 3 and he said ‘Well, all done. What kind of memories do you have?’ And I said ‘Well, actually, the show wasn’t very good. I know that my kids were not allowed to watch it. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch it.’ The guy believed me up to the last part there. He was writing it all down.
A fan remembers:
When Wallace and Ladmo finally went off the air, I can’t remember afterwards how long that it had been after the show went off the air, I worked for Chambers Mayflower [moving company] and was sent out to go move their stage at KPHO. A personal friend of mine who happened to just start working with us, George Roer, also grew up here. So he’s going to the same place I was going. We knew Wallace and Ladmo quite well. We knew them for 35 years, watched them daily for a long time. To go to the set and tear it down was heart-breaking to me. It really was.
We moved the set out of KPHO and down into a warehouse in downtown Phoenix at the [Arizona] Historical Society. Why were we picked to move the stage that day? We were just one out of 20 people that worked down there. Anybody could have been sent. They sent us down there and so we moved the telephone booth, everything out of there. The walls, everything. Sharon Kelley was there. She offered me two [video] tapes of the 35th Anniversary Show and of the final episode. I thought that was so neat that the director of the Wallace and Ladmo Show would say ‘Hey, you want a couple of tapes?’ We told them how big of fans we were.
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