Long-time Arizonans were saddened this week by the death of Bill Thompson, the genius who created "Wallace and Ladmo," probably the longest-running television show for children in the nation's history.
He was 82 years old, and even though he had retired from his legendary telecast long ago, his character and his persona are embedded in the memories of all of us who treasured his Wallace character, his sidekick Ladmir Kwiatkowski as Ladmo, and Pat McMahon, who played bratty Gerald and saucy Aunt Maud.
You had to love them all.
Thompson was born and raised in New York City, but it's hard to think of him as a transplant. He was a solid Arizonan.
He inherited his penchant for delivering humor from both his parents. His father was slow in setting up for telling a joke, and his mom got right to the punchline when she told a funny story, his biography says.
Thompson acted in school plays from the time he was in the first grade and began crafting a stage presence unique to him. He rightfully earned the title "class clown" by the time he was in the sixth grade. In his biography, Thompson said, "I never knew my lines and never hit the spot on stage, but I always managed to get a laugh."
When Thompson was in the seventh grade, he wrote a vocational report that began with the sentence, "I want to make people laugh," and he went on to say that he aspired to be a cartoonist, a comedy writer or a funny guy on the radio. He got a C-minus on the report and an admonishment from his teacher that he needed "to get serious" about his life.
He did. He attended DePauw University and took every course he could on art, writing and performing. And he wrote stories for children, featuring a character he named Wallace Snead.
In 1952, Thompson and his wife and kids headed to Arizona, where he landed a job in the circulation department of a now defunct newspaper, The Phoenix Gazette. But, periodically he would pester KPHO Channel 5 for any opportunity it might have for him. Two years later, the station hired him and gave him two objectives: create his Wallace Snead character and appear on the "Goldust Charlie Show." In 1955, "It's Wallace" premiered, and Thompson, Ladmo and Gerald became an integral part of Arizona's entertainment culture.
What a ride this was with Wallace, Ladmo and Gerald - until 1989, when the Emmy award-winning show went off the air.
Grandparents and parents who had grown up with the show cried along with their children and grandchildren when what had become "The Wallace and Ladmo Show" bid its farewell to its very faithful audience.
All we can think of to say today is, "Wall Boy, you were the best ever."