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Boxing Historian


The boxer
who fought for kids

An interview with Bill Thompson,

AKA 'Wallace' of 'The Wallace & Ladmo Show'


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Al Fenn, the legendary Arizona trainer/manager stated that the most satisfying personal stories for him were the pugilists who developed the self-confidence and discipline to quit gang life and criminal activity in favor of a job and family. Fenn’s personal reflection was that not every pugilist success story involves winning a title.


Wallace & Ladmo

August, 8th, 2005, passed a milestone that was not deemed worthy of national media attention. On that day Sesame Street surpassed Bill Thompson with the longest running children show in American history. This is an story/interview with the pugilist-turned-children television host, whose record was quietly surpassed.
 
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 By CHRISTOPHER JAMES SHELTON
www.ringsideboxingshow.com

I spoke to the late Al Fenn on December 3rd, 2008 about Bill Thompson. Fenn was the leader of the Phoenix boxing scene for the 1950s. He was considered the best amateur boxing trainer with several fighters in the Arizona Golden Gloves tournament. He also managed the local heavyweight, Zora Folley, who was the #1 heavyweight contender in 1958.

Al Fenn: “I first knew about him in the early (19)50s when I lived in East Arizona. I would occasionally see articles in the Safford Guardian and the like. I also came across this Bill Thompson, who at the time, was a writer for The Ring Magazine.”

I asked Fenn about documented Thompson opponents: Louis Lott, James Wheat, WeeWee Coronado, Mike Davis.

Fenn: “No, it was too long ago. I’ll tell you about one of his fights, though. It was against a guy by the name of Sam Pride. One of the things I did in that exhibition was to tie Pride’s gloves to the ropes without his knowledge. Well, Pride stepped out to fight Bill Thompson, but was pulled back in because he was tied to the ropes. It was one of the funniest damned things and had everyone laughing…. Bill Thompson was a good fighter. But he was also slow and awkward.”
 
The Phoenix, Arizona legend of Bill Thompson began on the night of December 29th, 1952, with 3 rounds of offensive action. He thrilled the hundreds of fans in attendance as he persistently stepped forward with powerhouse right and left punches. There were several amateur bouts that night, but the losing pugilist captured the Arizona Republic front page sports photo: “The action drew some of the loudest cheers at the the Golden Gloves tuneup program at Madison Square Garden last night.” They called the bout action ‘furious’ as Thompson appears to have lost the bout but won the heart of the crowd. Phoenix Gazette: “Biggest cheers went to a decision victory by Louis Lott, 145, of Fort Grant, over Bill Thompson, determined 144 pounder from PBSW. Thompson took everything Lott threw and kept coming, but was unable to hurt his tiring opponent.”
 
By 1956, Thompson was already a local star, not as a pugilist, but as Wallace Snead, the host of his own television show. The 1950’s were the first decade that parents could utilize an electric babysitter. Thus, children shows were in abundance throughout America. Thompson had stopped boxing so that he could concentrate on his local television job. He began as a sidekick for a western flavored Goldust Charlie program in April, 1954. A year later, Goldust had quit to pursue producer dreams which left Thompson with his own show. A television host for children did little more than act as a live transition between cartoons. KPHO Phoenix called its program, It’s Wallace, and it was Thompson standing alone in front of the camera. Thompson worked hard to write 2-3 writing bits of comedy per live show. Most of the time he joked in the allotted time with whatever prop he could buy on the cheap from antique stores. Thompson preferred when there were technical difficulties, which was common with 1950’s local television, because of the spontaneous wit that he could employ.


Bill Thompson (r) vs. Louis Lott, December 1952
 
Ladmir Kwiatkowski was the team captain and .330-plus outfielder for the Arizona State Sun Devils of 1950-53. The Cleveland Indians had drafted him, but he had landed a foothold into the world of television as a camera operator for KPHO. Kwiatkowski decided with a wife and family on the way that Major League Baseball was too risky and uprooting a venture while television had taken over America with a future that could be lucrative and secure. Kwiatkowski was the sole camera operator of the It’s Wallace show. Thompson and Kwiatkowski were immediate friends with their mutual background and love of sports. They would eat chili lunch, and talk sports, or meet at a bar after work, and talk sports. They shared an easy and comfortable rapport. Thompson felt limited as a one man act. He would encourage KPHO employees to appear on camera for short line reading bits. Kwiatkowski was immune because he suffered from serious stage fright and there was no one else to operate the camera.
The legend is that Bill asked Lad to read 3-4 lines for a comedy bit. Lad locked the camera in place so he could step in front. He read the line, which received a huge laugh and a Phoenix legend was born. Maybe that is exactly what happened! But Thompson needed a reliable partner that could read lines and not ruin the bit. Thompson knew that Lad was a funny, self-effacing easy going guy. It was only a matter of bringing out that person on camera. There is an ‘it’ quality or a charisma that separates people in front of an audience. Lad’s most obvious trait for the kids was being instantly likeable. A young person viewing television likes to think of the performers as friends. Wallace might make you laugh, but Lad was the one who might be your friend. The performers began as equals, mixing characters, but the audience began defining the two which made it difficult for them to play anyone other than Wallace and Lad. Wallace refined the characters, generously allowing Lad to receive bigger laughs, with characters that began to resemble a contemporary version of Laurel & Hardy. The process was slow with Lad as more of an adult during the latter 1950’s. They would soon be an official entertainment team. Letters were added which would dramatize Lad as the favorite of kids. Lad became ‘Ladmo’.
 
The 1957-58 Arizona Golden Gloves tournament was the peak of Bill Thompson as a competitive amateur boxer. Thompson had not fought seriously in 3 years, but convinced KPHO that it would be favorable publicity for the show. Thompson’s modest outward persona hid a competitive and cocky fighter. He felt that he could win the tournament, and if nothing else, would literally go out swinging with his all or nothing offensive approach. On October 22nd, versus James Wheat, the local celebrity television host scored his greatest victory. Phoenix Gazette: “Bill Thompson, the real life Wallace Snead of the kiddie television program, used a 1st round knockdown of Luke Air Force Base’s, James Wheat, to win a split decision. With a little more road work, Thompson could be tough to beat. He’s willing to mix it up.”
 

Bill Thompson (L) vs. Louis Lott, December 1952
 
The next 55 days were heady with dreams and excitement as Thompson was paired against the talented Native-American, WeeWee Coronado. It would be a classic slugger versus boxer confrontation, with recognizable local names. Phoenix Gazette: “Video Comic Faces Tough Gloves Foe…. Wallace Snead, TV personality, whose program is designed for the kiddies, will fight one of the feature bouts on the tuneup card of the Arizona Golden Gloves program. But Wallace (Bill Thompson) may be stepping out of his class. He’ll tangle with Arnulfo (WeeWee) Coronado in a 3 rounder…. Coronado was runner-up in the open welterweight class in 1955.” Bill Thompson had achieved a certain dream, with the packed house of 1700 sports fans curious for the match-up so intriguing on paper. But Coronado, though sidelined at times with injury, had spent much of the last three years boxing while his counter part was hosting a television show. It would ultimately be embarrassingly one sided, though a winded Thompson gave it his all offensively. Phoenix Gazette: “Arnulfo (WeeWee) Coronado had too much experience for Bill (It’s Wallace) Thompson and won an easy decision.”
 
December 16th, 1958, was quite a day for Bill Thompson. 3:30-5:00 p.m. found him hosting the #1 Phoenix time slot for 90 minutes. The competition included teenaged music by ABC, a movie by CBS, and programs entitled, Favorite Story and Easy Does It for NBC. That night had him fighting at Phoenix Madison Square Garden in an Arizona Golden Gloves tuneup. Phoenix Gazette: “Bill (It’s Wallace) Thompson, 166, Marston’s (decision over) Mike Davis, 161, Westlake.” Thompson was scheduled to fight again, but it was after the press deadline and the bout did not occur. Thompson’s opponent fought someone else. The Arizona Golden Gloves held a 28 year-old age maximum. By the time of the January, 1960 tournament, Bill Thompson was 28-years-old and one month.
 
Fast talking and ambitious, Pat McMahon, felt that he was born to conquer New York City, but a brief visit to Phoenix, 1960, while viewing It’s Wallace convinced him to temporarily alter his plans. The talent of Wallace and Lad convinced him that the act could succeed nationally. It’s Wallace was not a children show, felt McMahon, but late night absurd humor playing in the wrong time slot. McMahon talked his way onto Phoenix radio as a disc jockey, talked his way through the KPHO door, talked his way onto the It’s Wallace show set to ‘hang out’, talked his way in front of the camera when Thompson inevitably needed a body. Pat McMahon was born to be the lightweight, shallow show business hustler in which he specialized, except he backed up all his ego and fast talk by landing jobs and impressing employers. If you are a hustler, but back it up with talent while receiving an honest paycheck, are you still a hustler? These are 5 of the many characters that McMahon played on It’s Wallace.
 
MARSHAL GOOD: The ‘fake’ Arizona cowboy and show business flop. A problem in accomplishing the dream of his own western show is that he did not know how to ride a horse and was afraid of guns. Marshal Good would always hit up Wallace, “for a few bucks just to get by,” and you knew he was good for repayment, except that he never paid anyone back. Marshal Good would ask the kids in the audience: “Your parents give you an allowance, don’t they? Could you spare some change?”


Wallace, Ladmo & Gerald
 
BOFFO THE CLOWN: Bill Thompson told me during our interview that he hated clowns and had never found them to be funny. I am not sure that Boffo was funny either, but Thompson deemed him acceptable for his show. Boffo was another show business failure that was bitter about a life that had reduced him to performing at children parties. Boffo hates kids and he hates entertaining them. Boffo hates their parents even more with the non-stop fighting over fees. Every Boffo ‘extra’, from water squirting to his wearing the clown outfit and funny nose, costs additional money. Boffo does not attempt to smile or be nice to the kids in the television studio audience because he isn’t being paid.
 
CAPTAIN SUPER: The loudmouthed superhero fraud. Dressed in red costume/cape/mask, while wearing ill fitting football shoulder pads, Captain Super would prove his super strength by breaking Twinkies in half with his bare hands. The audience knows that Captain Super is a fraud, and he knows we know, but his conceit and inflated ego refuses to acknowledge the obvious.
 
AUNT MAUD: The matronly, caustic older woman and children story teller. A two person bit with Ladmo. Wallace would cheerfully welcome her: “Look who’s here? Why, it’s Aunt Maud. How nice to see you.” Ladmo would excitedly sit by her with childlike glee, clapping his hands, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, a story,” while innocently bouncing up and down with delight. An Aunt Maud holiday story would eventually conclude with an intoxicated Santa Claus being arrested for assault on Christmas Eve, so there would no presents for children that year on Christmas Day. Ladmo would be reduced after each story to wailed and exaggerated tears.
 
GERALD: The KPHO station manager’s nephew. Gerald was ordered on the show in a blatant example of nepotism, with the threat that the show would be canceled if Wallace did not comply. The animosity between Gerald and the audience was instantaneous. Gerald called the studio audience kids ‘Twerps’ as he announced that he was a permanent part of the show. Gerald insisted the show worked better with two people, not three, so his plan was to instigate Ladmo being fired. Gerald pulled pranks in front of the studio audience and Ladmo, only to see his bad behavior rewarded when Wallace would return and incorrectly punish the wrong person. Wallace would not fire Ladmo, but would reduce him to tears with a whack to the top of his head with a hat and an impatient scolding: “Why can’t you be a good boy like Gerald?” Audience shouts: “GERALD DID IT! GERALD DID IT!,” would never be heard by Wallace. The three person act of Wallace, Ladmo, Gerald would become a Phoenix live stage show phenomenon. Fans booed and hissed: “GERALD DID IT,” as they began to press the stage in an attempt to protect Ladmo and attack Gerald. Lad and McMahon were slightly concerned as kids hurled objects and even kicked Gerald. Bill Thompson liked it! The show must be on to something to incite such raw emotion. Besides, Thompson figured, they weren’t kicking or assaulting him.
 
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WALLACE and LADMO memory…. (John Domrzalski is a highly artistic web master designer): “I never met them or won a Ladmo Bag. My fondest memories of them are from a grown up perspective. I loved how they would slip double entendres into the mix of more mundane kiddie references. I assume to break it up for themselves and give Mom and Dad something to laugh at, too. Unlike Bozo the Clown and Howdy Doody, they were quite sophisticated in the humor they brought to children’s television. I am sure that they were fun to share a few drinks. Sometimes, I see Pat McMahon when I get my hair cut. He is always ‘on’ as a performer it seems.”
 
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Wallace, Ladmo, Aunt Maud & Michael Landon
 
Beginning in 1970, after 15 years on the air, the show would sustain a decade long run that would cement the permanent memory of the show’s legacy. A catchy: “Ho Ho Ha Ha Hee Hee Ho Ho,” flute dominated theme song was written by Mike Condello. The show was moved from the afternoon to the morning. The title of the show was no longer It’s Wallace, but The Wallace and Ladmo Show. It was a 3-person act: not Wallace, Ladmo and McMahon, but Wallace, Ladmo and Gerald. Kids could be highly aggressive and creative with letters, hand signals or even outright shouts: “GERALD HAS BEEN DOING ALL THE BAD THINGS, NOT LADMO!” There is a class, modesty and generosity to Bill Thompson that he allowed himself to be upstaged on his own show. With “It’s Wallace” of the mid 1950’s, he had the funny lines and characters. With “The Wallace and Ladmo Show” of the mid 1970’s, he was more the stern disciplinarian of Ladmo while playing referee to the Gerald/Ladmo feud. Ladmo Bags, and not Wallace Bags, were now a phenomenon. It is truly a dull intellectual concept. A plain brown sack, blandly imbedded with “Ladmo Bag” filled with sponsor products. By the end of the 1970’s, Ladmo Bags would be the most cherished local prize in the history of Phoenix, Arizona.
 
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WALLACE and LADMO memory…. (Matt Poindexter is a retired military veteran who bravely lives with disabling pain from his service to our country): “I appeared on The Wallace and Ladmo Show, along with my brother and sister. We had sent in a photo of our dog, Max, wearing a baseball cap. They chose it as their funny picture of the day. They invited us onto the television show to receive a Ladmo Bag. It was both exciting and terrifying to appear on the show. This was our first time on television. I was a little afraid of Ladmo. That fear melted away soon after meeting him. He was revealed to be a gentle giant. Receiving a Ladmo Bag sort of elevated a person to pseudo celebrity status, at least for a short time.”
 
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Bill Thompson was correct, though few Phoenicians wanted to agree, that the 1980’s produced an older show in decline. Wallace and Ladmo had always been viewed as a children show, but this is the only decade that the show was no longer watchable for adults. Cable and cartoons were a serious threat to its dominance and the profits the show brought to KPHO. Thompson wanted to avoid the indignity of cancellation so in 1989, he announced that the show had a great run but it was finished. Their final live performance at Phoenix Encanto Park sparked a raucous crowd that resembled a Rolling Stones concert. Pat McMahon drew applause as he entertained the crowd with his popular rock ‘n roll counterpart, Hub Kapp (backed by his band, The Wheels). Then he survived a costume change for a chorus of boos: “GERALD DID IT!”. Ladmo handed out Ladmo bags to delighted kids (as adults envied them). At the end, Bill Thompson took the stage: “35 years. Whew! We have had the greatest fans. Goodbye!”
 
The final television show, airing on Phoenix prime time, was on December 29th, 1989. No one recognized, not even Bill Thompson that it was 37 years to the day that he first gained local fame as a pugilist. Thompson hoped to avoid too much sentiment, except a Ladmo Bag for their friend, rock ‘n roll legend, Alice Cooper. Pat McMahon played Gerald one more time, alone back stage away from the animosity of a crowd of kids that booed him moments earlier. Gerald broke down and cried. Gerald’s tearful monologue stated that he would miss the show so much and that Wallace and Ladmo had been his only friends. It was surprisingly sweet and sad. Thompson wanted the show to end with a final Ladmo Bag giveaway to a random audience member. Ladmo interrupted, then stunned Thompson (but pleasing us in Television Land) by announcing: “The final Ladmo Bag is for my friend and partner. This is for you, Wall boy.”


Wallace, Ladmo, Aunt Maud & Liberace
 
Steven Spielberg is the recipient of two Best Director Academy Awards and at least one Ladmo Bag. It’s Wallace introduced the first Spielberg film, aged 16. Spielberg: “I watched The Wallace and Ladmo Show every day, even after I was an adult, and was supposed to stop watching. They were very hip and stayed abreast of the culture and times. They never spoke down to kids. Wallace and Ladmo was Saturday Night Live before there was Saturday Night Live.” Alice Cooper: “It took me 35 years to finally get a Ladmo Bag. Wallace and Ladmo introduced our band (The Spiders) to American television. I will never forgive them for it.”
 
The legacy of Phoenix’s greatest television program concluded as any entertainment success should: with a court fight over money, property rights and a Ladmo Cookie. KPHO underpaid its television performers, but allowed them to make side money while utilizing their fame. Ladmo was the most extreme and problematic because he saw no reason why he could not own a bar or openly gamble on race horses. After all, Ladmo was a television character and not an actual person. As the show ended its run, Ladmo signed a deal with a cookie manufacturer. Ladmo and the manufacturer wanted to advertise the Ladmo Cookie on the show, but KPHO balked at what it saw as someone shiftily receiving free television promotion. The dispute drifted to the property trademark. Who owned the name “Ladmo”? To everyday Phoenicians, it was obvious that Ladmo was Ladmo and that he owned his own name. Ladmo counted on the same so he sued KPHO for impeding his effort to make an honest dollar. Bill Thompson and Pat McMahon testified for KPHO. Twelve jurors, who said they loved Ladmo, ruled unanimously against him. Soon after, Ladmo was laying in a hospital bed with incurable lung cancer. Thompson visited for several private conversations. When pressed for details, Thompson would only reveal that any animosity over the lawsuit was forgotten and that their meetings were cordial. It would be nice to think that they spoke about their mutual love and respect. But they probably just talked about sports.
 
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WALLACE and LADMO memory…. (Jeff Clegg is a Harley Davidson driving tough guy who also snaps sensitive Southwest photos of flowers and landscape): “I never got to be on Wallace and Ladmo, or win a Ladmo Bag, but I loved the show anyway. I used to see them at the Arizona State Fair. They had their own special stage set-up. In 1960, the Phoenix Jaycee’s organization sponsored a car destruction derby up on South Mountain race track. My mom was one of the trophy girls. She gave out the winning trophy and kiss to no other than Ladmo. I understand that he had a big interest in the race scene back then. Later on, Ladmo used to live in Tempe near my dad and hung out at a neighborhood bar. He liked his spirits. A lot! I was deeply affected by Ladmo’s death. A part of my childhood was lost forever.”
 
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I received an October, 2008, afternoon phone call from Bill Thompson himself. Someone from KPHO had told him that I was writing an article about his boxing days and had asked about his height. We spoke for only 3-4 minutes when he suggested: “Why don’t you come over to my home and I will show you my boxing photos?” I threw myself together like the cartoon character, Dagwood, on his way to work. Within two hours I was at his modest 1-2 bedroom townhouse in a nice area of the Piestewa Peak region. I don’t think that I expected him to be living in a mansion, but it still seemed rather small. The living room was filled with hundreds (it looked like thousands) of Civil War soldiers that appeared to be thoughtfully organized for battle. There were no reminders of the legendary television show, except one, and this greatly amused me. He pulled out his boxing photos from a single Ladmo Bag sitting on the dining room table.
 
BILL: Now, why would anyone be interested in my boxing career? That was 50 years ago.
 
ME: Much of it is sentimental. I loved The Wallace and Ladmo Show. Now, I am a boxing researcher and I knew you were a boxer. I decided to research and write about you for fun.
 
Then, we get to the point of the real reason he has telephoned and invited me to his home. It is slightly mischievous because he wants to ‘goof’ on me for asking such a ridiculous boxing question. If nothing else, I would prefer to ask a dumb research question that gets me through the door than a smart one that keeps me outside.
 
BILL: (smiling) You asked about my height. (laughs) My height! Why would anyone want to know that? Boxing is about weight.

 Wallace with Muhammad Ali (top)
 
ME: The reason is that Mr. Callis wanted to search for you amongst his archives. He asked about your weight. I thought that anything off the internet would only tell me your weight in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I had photos of you from the television show from the 1950’s and felt that if I knew your height that I could sort of guess the weight. The information was only for Mr. Callis and not for the article itself.
 
BILL: You can write down that I am 5′8 – and that I was a 135 pound lightweight during the 1940’s – was a welterweight during the 1950’s – a middleweight during the 1960’s – a light heavyweight during the 1970’s – and just a fat old man in the 1980’s. (we both laugh)
 
ME: For some reason I thought you were 6 foot while Ladmo was maybe 6′3.
 
BILL: Ladmo was 5′10.
 
ME: He looked so tall on television.
 
BILL: (laughs) That’s because he wore the large hat on top of his head.
 
ME: May I ask for your vital statistics? Where and what date were you born?
 
BILL: I was born on December 18, 1931, in New York City, Manhattan.
 
ME: Could you describe your boxing career a bit?
 
BILL: I fought in the New York, C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) in 1949. I wasn’t Catholic, but they let me fight there anyway. I fought in the Indiana Golden Gloves tournament in 1950 while attending Depauw (College). I won one bout and lost the other. I moved to Phoenix in 1952 and continued to box as promotion for the television show.
 
ME: Did you ever fight any famous pugilists?
 
BILL: I fought a 3 round exhibition against Zora Folley around 1964. He was from Chandler and was the 6th ranked heavyweight of the world.
 
ME: So you fought against some tough competition?
 
BILL: Yes and no. It was promotion for the show. Folley was a fan so he was happy to help. He had no intention of hurting me. But I hate runners and refused to be one myself. Besides, the fans wanted to see action and action means fighting. I crowded him in the 2nd round. So he threw a short left hook that caught me flush to the jaw. I was really stung. I had never been hit so hard before. So I clung to him and would not go down, because we both knew that the audience would not want to see that I was hurt.
 
ME: Could you describe your boxing style?
 
BILL: If he was big I wanted to crowd him. If he was small I landed jabs. I loved to beat up the smaller guys. (laughs) I could be a bully. (we both laugh though I am not sure he is kidding) Do you want me to show you how I used to fight?
 
ME: Absolutely.
 
BILL: (Thompson rises from the dining room chair several steps to the more spacious living room) Like this! (aggressive left feint to head) And like this! (aggressive right feint to head) And then – POW! (lands hard left uppercut hook to the body)
 
ME: Thanks. That was a real treat to witness.
 
BILL: (we sit down again at the dining room table) Who is this Mr. Callis again?
 
ME: He is a former high school football star from the South. He lives and works in Virginia. He heads the history division of CyberBoxingZone. There is a group of isolated researchers from around the world. Mr. Callis coaxes us not to hoard our information and share it with everyone. He is very nice and honest about attributing research credit.
 
BILL: This is going to be on the internet? (he seems disappointed) I like books. Old fashioned books. How can anyone read anything on the internet?
 
ME: I like reading books in paper form too. The internet is not bad. If you had a computer I could show you how to view Jack Dempsey fights. I could pull up Primo Carnera knocking out Jack Sharkey in less than 20 seconds.
 
BILL: No kidding. Those are some old names. And you can watch their fights for free?
 
ME: Yes. If we published this article on paper only the people of Phoenix could read it. Now, anybody in the world will at least have access.
 
BILL: What sort of work do you do at this CyberBoxingZone?
 
ME: I mostly research and write about pre-19th century pugilists. For instance, an elusive bout is whether Champion John L. Sullivan fought a black miner circa late March, 1884, in Tombstone.
 
BILL: Why would John L. Sullivan be in Tombstone?
 
ME: He was fighting an exhibition tour. We know that he was there and likely battled Pete McCoy. We know that he fought in Tucson days earlier. If there was a black miner - he might have been named Jim (James Young) - he might have worked for rancher, John Swain – while the bout might have taken place on a Sunday at Schiefflin Hall. The proof is thus far elusive and ‘might’ is not good enough for us.
 
BILL: Have you heard of Daniel Mendoza?
 
ME: Yes. He is one of my favorite pugilists. Most people do not know that a Hispanic was once heavyweight Champion. Mendoza also wrote the first book about defensive boxing theory.
 
BILL: Mendoza was from Spain.
 
ME: Of Portuguese descent.
 
BILL: That sounds right.
 
ME: Who was your favorite professional boxer?
 
BILL: Sugar Ray Robinson. He had the best speed and could really throw combinations.
 
ME: I loved Raging Bull. Jake La Motta gained much fame and credibility by defeating Robinson.
 
BILL: (dismissive) It wasn’t much of a rivalry. Robinson beat him every time but the once.
 
ME: Can you name another favorite boxer of yours?
 
BILL: Well, I loved our local middleweight, Jerry Cheatham. He must be on your site. Another local great was heavyweight, Bowie Adams. He knocked everyone out when he first came up. A real nice guy, too. Will you do me a favor and mention Bowie Adams in your article?


Bill Thompson vs. Louis Lott, December 1952
 
 ME: I promise. A heavyweight that I love to watch on film is Ezzard Charles. He was courageous and would fight anyone.
 
BILL: Charles was definitely one of the great ones. And underrated.
 
ME: There aren’t too many 185 heavyweight Champions like Charles. Leon Spinks was another.
 
BILL: I’ll do my Leon Spinks impersonation for you. (it is very funny) It is a lot like Mike Tyson. Only with Tyson it is even higher pitched. (another funny imitation that has me laughing too hard to write down his exact words)
 
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WALLACE and LADMO memory…. (Kim Grantham is an interior furniture designer who specializes with her own hand sewn fabrics): “I was only 9-years-old when I appeared on The Wallace and Ladmo Show. It was 1973. They were holding a silly picture contest. I took a photo of my dog playing the piano and won a Ladmo Bag. So I went down to the show and was on the set with two other kids. They did a little interview with each of us asking about the picture. I didn’t say much. I guess that I suffered from stage fright. Both Wallace and Ladmo were very nice. Ladmo did most of the talking. I was scared that Gerald might come out. I did not like him. He was a big meanie! Missing a half day of school for the television taping was cool. I remember that the Ladmo Bag was filled with food and movie tickets. It was the first and last time that I was ever on television.”
 
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ME: Could you describe early television a bit?
 
BILL: The first time that I watched television was in New York. (circa 1939). All they had to show was a signal. Nothing else. But we were fascinated and willing to watch just that. Then a man came on and smoked a cigar. All he did was blow smoke and we thought that was interesting. They did not have a script or any idea what to do. A few days later, I watched his show again and I noticed a potted plant in the background. They realized then that they needed props.
 
ME: What was the first memorable event that you watched on television?
 
BILL: I watched the Army-Notre Dame game on television in 1943. Can you imagine? We were in New York and seeing the game live.
 
ME: When did you realize your show was a success?
 
BILL: Are you kidding me? We were an instant hit. Number one in our time slot right away. (laughs) Don’t forget that we were the only television channel in Phoenix so there was no competition. The show was immediately popular with kids and adults. There was no one to watch but us.
 
ME: How many shows did you do?
 
BILL: We did 9000 television shows and another 9000 live theater performances.
 
ME: I saw you, Ladmo and Gerald live at Christown during the 1970’s when they showed monster movies. We cheered Ladmo and booed Gerald. You asked us from the front stage not to throw popcorn at the movie screen or Gerald.
 
BILL: Harkins Theatres (Christown) gave me a lifetime movie pass. I still use it as a matter of fact.
 
ME: You deserve it. Wallace and Ladmo brought so much happiness to the people of Phoenix. All of us kids wanted a Ladmo Bag. I used to call it the Academy Award for kids.
 
BILL: (laughs) I have never heard that one before.
 
ME: I have noticed that Boffo the Clown (played by McMahon) on your show was similar to The Simpson’s, Krusty the Clown. Both hate kids and are always in a bad mood. And the dark humored story teller, Mr. Mike, on the 1st season of Saturday Night Live was similar to flirty Aunt Maud (played by McMahon). Both read mean stories where the kids were often eaten.
 
 

Dedicated to the memory
of Beth Butler Calhoun (1922-2010),

who also blessed the lives
of many children
 
 
 
BILL: The idea of Aunt Maud and all the McMahon characters was that people have a quality about them that is sort of offbeat and different. We wanted to capture those persons who were different and then say that they are much like the rest of us.
 
ME: You had rock star, Alice Cooper (from Phoenix), on your show and gave his band their first television appearance. That is so cool.
 
BILL: I had him on twice and I consider Alice Cooper a personal friend.
 
ME: Didn’t Muhammed Ali appear on your show?
 
BILL: Three times. He was a kind man. Warm and witty.
 
ME: Your show featured the first film by Steven Spielberg (from Phoenix) when he was just 16 years old. I think that he received a Ladmo Bag.
 
BILL: Spielberg was a big fan of the show. He wrote a generous blurb for my official biography. Have you seen it? This meant so much to me.
 
ME: I loved the Wallace and Ladmo finale with Ladmo surprising everyone by giving you the final Ladmo Bag. Gerald offered that tearful admission that you and Ladmo were his only friends. It was emotional and truly touching.
 
BILL: (big smile) Ladmo and I were laughing and goofing on McMahon backstage the entire time he was performing that weepy speech. (He impersonates the Gerald speech with exaggerated wiping of his eyes) WAHH – WAHH – Wallace and Ladmo are my only friends – WAHH – WAHH! (Oh my god, I am laughing so hard as he continues) Oh, we let McMahon have it that day. Ladmo and I were having a blast at his expense.
 
ME: It was sad when Ladmo died five years later from cancer. I think a part of Phoenix, Arizona forever died that day with him.
 
BILL: Ladmo was the kid on the show. Not the kids. Ladmo would be the brunt of humor and the kids would always protect him. They loved Ladmo and identified with him.
 
ME: It has been such an honor, Mr. Thompson, and I hope the final article does your legacy justice.
 
BILL: All I ask is that you don’t call me Mr. Thompson in the story. Call me, Bill.
 
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WALLACE and LADMO memory…. (Joy Hodesh is a homemaker who performs volunteer work at her daughter’s school): “I won two Ladmo Bags. The first one was in the 4th grade, 1976. At that time if you submitted a drawing of something bad happening to Gerald, and they chose your work, you could win a Ladmo Bag and appear on the show. I drew a picture of Gerald being kidnapped by two Martians and taken away in a space ship. Wallace (Bill Thompson) was sweet on the television set as he explained what was going to happen. Wallace and Ladmo joked around with us and the staff even when the camera was off. Even though they they made us feel at home, I still felt a sort of shell shock when the camera was on. These guys were real. What you saw on television is them in real life. Pat McMahon showed up in his Gerald costume after the show was over so we could BOO him and then he had an excuse to leave the set by running away. Wallace and Ladmo stayed and waved goodbyes as we left the studio. The second time that I won a Ladmo Bag was in 1978. I was with the Campfire Girls and was the lucky seat winner. My best friend, Gina, was sitting next to me. She had never won a Ladmo Bag so I gave it to her.”
 
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Final note: Several people from Phoenix wrote to share their memories of the show. Some who wrote the briefest notes are still hurt that they never won a Ladmo Bag. It was the status symbol of who was cool or uncool, loved or unloved, as a Phoenix child. It was the Academy Award for kids. I never won a Ladmo Bag either. It sucks to be us! One more thing. Ladmo was innocent of everything and Gerald did it all.

 

Other columns by Christopher Shelton

Down goes Frazier! 'The Sunshine Showdown'
Death of an Irish pugilist
Sharkey-Corbett: A battle of unbeatens
200 years ago ... without gloves
The final interview of legend Al Fenn, manager of Zora Foley

Johnson vs. Jeffries, the 100th anniversary
Sonny Banks, who died fighting, would have been 70

The First Lady of Mixed Martial Arts: Elizabeth Stokes

The emergence of John L. Sullivan

The Boxer President: Theodore Roosevelt 

 

 


Image by FlamingText.com
Biography


Christopher James Shelton is a product of the American West Coast. He has lived in Los Angeles and San Ysidro, California, Tijuana , Mexico, and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

Shelton was the editor of CHEEERS Soundboard, the first solely written/produced mental health recovery center newsletter in America.  He has several credits as researcher/writer/interviewer for CyberBoxingZone including: “Scandal In San Francisco (1896).” “The Last Bareknuckle Championship Bout (1889)” and “The Art and Science of Daniel Mendoza.”

His research discovery credits include 19th century pugilists George Godfrey, Professor Hadley, Tom Hyer, John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.  Family interviews, mixed with historical research, include lightweights Jack Britton and Billy Hawkins. 

Shelton conducted the final interview with legendary Phoenix manager Al Fenn, and asked candid questions about George Foreman and H.I.V. with former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison.  His favorite historical article, “124-year-old woman challenges John L. Sullivan for the title," recounts the life story of a feisty 19th-century female slave named Sylvie Dubois.




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