Fans and cast members paid tribute Monday night to the host of one of the longest-running, daily, locally produced children's television shows in American broadcasting.

Bill Thompson was 82 when he died July 23.

The public service was held at the Harkins Cine Capri Theatre in the Tempe Marketplace, 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, at the intersection of Loop 101 and Loop 202.

The tribute featured special appearances, performances, Wallace and Ladmo memorabilia and show clips of Thompson's greatest work.

"Wallace holds a special place in the hearts of Arizonans, and it is a great honor to celebrate the life of my dear friend Wallboy," said Dan Harkins, owner and chief executive officer of Harkins Theatres and a lifetime friend of Thompson. "He was like a second father to me, and his support was vital in Harkins Theatres' early years."

The theater will be taking donations in Wallace's honor on behalf of the Banner Health Foundation for Cardon Children's Hospital and the Arizona Humane Society.

Legions of fans remember Thompson as Wallace Snead from the Wallace and Ladmo show that aired on KPHO-TV for 36 years.

[SLIDESHOW: Historical photos from the show]

"You know, it's absolutely amazing," said former Valley TV weathercaster Dewey Hopper. "You can mention his name to anybody that's been in this area any length of time, and they know who he is and what it's all about. He's amazing."

Film director Steven Spielberg grew up watching the show. It inspired him to write a letter to the show's longtime director, Sharon Kelley, in December 1997.

"Your show inspired me, made me laugh, made me think and even raised my level of expectations whenever I looked around at things that could make me laugh," Spielberg wrote in part.

Wallace and Ladmo started in 1954, in black-and-white, with Thompson, who at that
time was the KPHO art director and studio floor director.
A new cartoon package had been acquired and the program manager needed someone to fill in between cartoons and commercials. Wallace volunteered and so began the show.
He soon talked his friend Ladimir Kwiatkowski, a KPHO camera operator, into joining him as a "sidekick." Ladimir's name was shortened to "Ladmo," and The Wallace and Ladmo Show was born.
The two performed various comic sketches in between cartoons, with Ladmo often locking the
camera and running around in front of the camera to perform the various bits.
A few years later, Channel 5 hired a young weatherman named Pat McMahon. McMahon, who grew up in a vaudeville family, often watched Wallace and Ladmo from the sidelines and was astounded at the stunts these two performed.
Soon Wallace enlisted McMahon's help, and the trio was complete.
"The show was this unique property that lasted for 36 years, unheard in television, with the same cast," said McMahon, who reflected on Thompson's death. "Even after all this time, it has remained such a solid landmark with everybody."
Lucky contest winners would be invited to appear on the show to receive a Ladmo Bag, which became a Holy Grail to Arizona kids.
Guest appearances through the years included a young Steven Spielberg (who grew up watching the show and would make occasional visits with his latest amateur 16 mm film); Jack Benny, Muhammed Ali, Steve Allen, Rex Allen, Dale Robertson, Lorne Green, Don Rickles, Red Skelton, George Carlin, The Monkees, Mel Torme, Mel Blanc, Waylon Jennings, Alice Cooper and many others.
The show won numerous regional Emmys and a host of other broadcasting honors.
When it celebrated 35 years on the air, more than 50,000 fans showed up for the party at Encanto Park. The cast and crew referred to it as a "mini-Woodstock."
After almost 36 years on the air, the last show aired in December 1989.
In his later years, Thompson spent his time going to the movies and entertaining his grandchildren.
Ladmo passed away in 1994. Pat McMahon is still one of the Valley's most well-known broadcast personalities.
Please leave your condolences on our Facebook page.
Here's what people are writing:
"Heaven is a funnier place tonight." - Lisa Cohen
"I remember as a 10 year old, (53 rears ago), at Encanto Park, I received my LADMO BAG. In it was an oil painting on velvet of a horse head. I treasured that moment. My three brothers got nothing that day, only me, just another freckled face red headed kid." - Gail Moore

"This was my after school entertainment everyday. Nothing will ever be like Wallace and Ladmo." - Susan Gregory

"Feeling like I lost a part of my family. Growing up daily with Wallace and Ladmo was a memorable part of my childhood." - Kathy Gonzales

"Part of my childhood is gone. Wallace you were amazing. Thank you for the memories." - Robin Peters

"Loved the show! Mr. Grudgemeir was my favorite! Wallace, RIP." - Roberta Westcott

"This so heartbreaking, I'm in tears. I'm a native and watched the Wallace and Lady show until it ended. May his family have all the peace and comfort they need and most sincere condolences to them as well." - Richard Gonzales

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. Retired KPHO-TV pioneer Sharon Kelley, who directed 1,700 episodes of the show, contributed the history in this report.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.