Fridays With Wallace
Jimmy Magahern | Aug 1, 2013, 6 a.m.
They meet every week, at the same old restaurant.
Every Friday at around 11 a.m., they begin slipping through the sliding back door at Bobby Q’s and taking their seats around a big square of tables set up on the dance floor.
Some come with jokes, or a guitar, or a book they’ve written. Many are recognizable faces from local broadcasting history. There’s ‘70s weatherman Dewey Hopper in the corner, repeating what sounds like a bawdy joke about a nurse. Sandy Gibbons from the old “Dialing for Dollars” show is making the rounds, shaking hands. And is that Dolan Ellis in the cowboy hat?
“There’s so many years of experience and media savvy sitting around here,” says Jonathan Abel, himself a former KTAR news director and voice-over artist for radio and TV commercials who knows many in the room from their behind-the-scenes work in Arizona broadcasting.
“There’s writers and publishers, actors and stunt people. There’s wanna-bes, used-to-bes. There’s several geniuses floating around here, too.”
A few are only loosely connected to the industry, like Tom Ethington, a home improvement contractor who once chaired some fundraiser telethons featuring then-stars Hopper and Gibbons.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, anybody who was on local TV was a celebrity,” Ethington says. “People who, in another state, would have been just newscasters. To us, they were like movie stars.”
A few faces around the tables actually made it to the movies. Linda Rae Jurgens had some choice screen time with Tom Cruise in “Top Gun;” her mustachioed husband, Ron Garland, has been a go-to gunslinger type for decades in TV movies and commercials.
Most of them say they come for the camaraderie. Some, toting business cards and headshots, claim they come to these gatherings to “network.”
But really, there’s only one thing that could draw such a big group of extroverted old-timers, some who drive in from Tucson and Prescott, to a weekly lunch in the heat of the Phoenix summer.
“Him,” says Ethington, nodding his head in the direction of the man slowly making his way to the head of the table, with a little help from his wife. “He’s the reason they all come.”
“Him” is Bill Thompson—“Wallace,” to generations of Arizonans who grew up watching the local legend on the “Wallace and Ladmo Show,” which ran on then-independent KPHO-TV for an incredible 35 years, beginning with its humble 1954 debut as “It’s Wallace?” through the show’s local-celebrity-studded, tearful finale in 1989. By the end, “Wallace and Ladmo” was seen all over Arizona, and could even be tuned in from a few neighboring towns in northern Mexico and eastern California.
“I don’t think I’ve ever called him anything but Wallace, or Wall-boy,” says Steve Hoza, a longtime local museum archivist who curates the official exhibition of Wallace and Ladmo memorabilia and also runs the biggest fan website dedicated to the show, WallaceWatchers.com. “I’ve known Wallace 26 years now, and I’m still just in awe of him, of his tremendous talent.” About a decade ago, Wallace personally gave Hoza the legal rights to manage the Wallace and Ladmo name and merchandise, an honor the überfan says he sometimes still feels unworthy of. “I go over to his house now to have him sign something, and it’s still the same feeling, after all these years.”