Before “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons,” Arizonans got their satire from an unexpected source: “The Wallace and Ladmo Show,” the longest-running children’s show in history, featured cartoons and slapstick humor that poked fun at adults.
“Yes, they showed cartoons, but the humor was so over the head of the kids,” says Steve Hoza, a fan and collector of Wallace and Ladmo memorabilia. “It was hip, it was funny, it was satirical. They got away with stuff you couldn’t get away with today.”
“They” were the comedic trio of Bill Thompson (Wallace), the late Lad Kwiatkowski (Ladmo) and Pat McMahon (who played a bevy of characters, including snotty 12-year-old Gerald). See what they got away with when the exhibit “Thanks for Tuning In: The Wallace and Ladmo Show” opens Saturday at the Mesa Historical Museum.
“I wrote the exhibit for the nonfan,” says Hoza. “It’s a complete history of the show.”
The exhibit covers Thompson’s move to Arizona, the concept behind the Ladmo character, the addition of McMahon to the cast and the characters who made the show special to three generations of Arizonans. The show ran on KPHO-TV (Channel 5), then an independent station, from 1954 to 1989.
“It will show how they lampooned and satirized what was going on at the time,” says Hoza.
For instance, the Captain Super character played by McMahon was an ultrapatriotic “hero” who wore shoulder pads and kept his mother locked in a trailer.
“He couldn’t break a Twinkie in two, but he was always there to protect us from ‘the commies,’ ” says Hoza. “He was a satire of the Red scare.”
Or Gerald, who routinely railed against “tract-home-buying twerps” and attended a private school so exclusive he was the only student.
“I didn’t know what a tract home was, but I knew he was talking about me,” says Hoza, who admits to hating Gerald passionately.
Nonfans sometimes have a hard time understanding why the show still has such a hold on legions of fans, known as “baggies” (named for the Ladmo Bags given out during the show).
“The reason people roll their eyes is because it’s often called a kids show,” says Hoza, who hopes nonfans will discover the show through the exhibit and his Web site, www.wallacewatchers.com.
A lot has changed in the Valley since the show went off the air 18 years ago, yet the show continues to captivate its original audience.
“No matter where you grew up (in Arizona), mention Wallace and Ladmo and you have a sudden bond,” says Hoza. “It’s something that really unites Phoenix.”
‘Thanks for Tuning In: The Wallace and Ladmo Show’
What: Exhibit celebrating the children’s show
When: Opens Saturday, runs through Aug. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Where: Mesa Historical Museum, 2345 N. Horne
Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children
The legacy of Wallace and Ladmo continues in cyberspace. Shop for memorabilia, see clips from the show or connect with other baggies at www.wallacewatchers.com.