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Fridays With Wallace

Jimmy Magahern | Aug 1, 2013, 6 a.m.
Bill “Wallace” Thompson and his wife, Katie, are flanked by admirers who regularly have lunch with the long-running children’s television actor. Adam Moreno

Wallace’s laugh is still the very definition of infectious, and even long-suffering Katie is not immune. “He is so funny, and he’s that way at home,” she says. “I have to look at him twice a lot to see if he’s being serious.”

So what’s life like for Wallace these days?

“Really boring!” he says. “I still have my soldier set collection, that I probably shouldn’t still be adding to”—one of the biggest Civil War collections in the world, according to Hoza.

“We used to go to the movies a lot,” adds Katie, alluding to the lifetime movie passes — the full Willy Wonka Golden Tickets, their friends call ’em, including concessions—that theater owner Dan Harkins bestowed upon them years ago, in one of the many happy paybacks grateful fans have given them. Now they mostly stay at home and watch TV, Katie says. “He likes boxing, anything on the History Channel, and lately, ‘American Pickers.’”

He tries to stay up on comedy—he’s heard good things about Jerry Seinfeld’s Web show, “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee”—and he remains open to listening to new music. Lately Gibbons’ son, Jim, has been trying to turn Uncle Wallace on to his Irish Celtic rock band, the Biffos.

But Wallace says he lost his musical connection with the passing of Mike Condello, music director on the “Wallace and Ladmo Show” from 1962 to 1971. After years of chronic depression, Condello took his own life in 1995, just a little over a year after the death of Ladmo. “We lost a lot when Mike died,” he says, a little quietly.

No one wants to say it out loud, but everyone who keeps coming back for lunch with Wallace does it partly because no one can say how long this will last.

“Today is the most animated I’ve seen him in a while,” says Ethington. “But sometimes he’s pretty quiet.” Chebowski adds that he has to deliver Wallace a big enough audience these days to keep him coming back. “If it gets down to five or six people, he doesn’t show up,” he says. “If I can keep the count up to 20 or more, he shows up.”

He still enjoys an audience, after all these years. “I think he enjoys it, he’s sitting there smiling through the whole thing,” says Abel, who feels many come to the lunches to pay their respects to the man while he’s still around to see it. “Most of these people owe their careers to Bill Thompson.”

Mike Martin, a veteran broadcaster who did a children’s TV show in Tucson he admits was “heavily inspired, shall we say, by Wallace,” says he comes to the lunches “pretty much for the same reason everyone else does: to hang out with Wallace.”

One after another, the lunch guests sing their praises of the man they come to salute. But Wallace himself is convinced they come more for the dollar ice cream sundaes Chebowski was able to finagle for the group.

“Don’t you believe any of them!” he hollers, as he and Katie, arm in arm, begin heading for the back door. “They’re all lying!”

See you next week, Wall-boy.

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