PHOENIX – For over three decades, Pat McMahon brought joy to children across the greater Phoenix area on KPHO’s hit TV kids’ program, “The Wallace and Ladmo Show.”
But it wasn’t the McMahon name that necessarily drew in his young fans. Rather, it was the range of goofy characters that they knew him by, from doddering Aunt Maud to inept, spoiled rich kid Gerald.
Turning 90 this year, McMahon is still working part-time, but it was his days as the character actor on “Wallace and Ladmo,” which taped its last episode in December 1989, for which he is sure to be best remembered.
“He’s a broadcast legend in Arizona,” said Brian Cisek, creative services director of AZTV7, where McMahon is a guest host on the “Arizona Daily Mix” morning show.
To this day, Emmy Award-winning “Wallace and Ladmo” remains one of the longest-running locally produced children’s show in America, according to the Arizona Republic.
McMahon was the sidekick to hosts Bill Thompson, who played Wallace, and Ladimir Kwiatkowski, who was Ladmo.
After the show ended, McMahon took his talents elsewhere.
Besides appearances on AZTV7, he hosted “The God Show” at local station KTAR 92.3 starting in 2005. It airs now as a podcast. The show takes on topics like antisemitism, racism and the relationship between various religions.
Sure, McMahon has garnered numerous accolades, including seven Emmys, the Arizona Broadcasters Lifetime Achievement Award and an honorary doctorate from Ottawa University, but what is he most proud of?
“Being invited back, every day,” he said as he lifted his cup of coffee one morning at AZTV7. “But the vehicle on top of everything is ‘Wallace and Ladmo.’”
It was a long road to get to that vehicle.
The year was 1933 when Adelaide McMahon mentioned to her husband that her theatrical costume suddenly wasn’t fitting. The vaudeville duo known as “McMahon and Adelaide” were on a South American circus tour when they discovered they would be adding a third member to their already iconic performance duo.
Rather than giving birth in Bogota, Colombia, Adelaide took her husband to her hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas, to welcome what would be their first and only son, John Patrick Michael “Pat” McMahon.
In no time, they loaded up their 5-week-old newborn and set out on a circus tour across the globe.
“That’s all I ever knew – magicians, comics, and dancers,” Pat McMahon said. “It was the dream childhood.”
The elder McMahon and Adelaide homeschooled their son. “I was just past 12 when I finished grade school, simply because my mom did a brilliant job,” McMahon says.
By then, McMahon says he had lived in 50 states. “And that was before there were 50 states,” he added with a grin. (After Arizona in 1912, the last two to be added to the union were Hawaii and Alaska in 1959.)
From being taught at home, he attended an all-boys Catholic school in Des Moines, Iowa, the first time he had been in a classroom. Taking advantage of his already seasoned background in show business, McMahon took part in various school plays. It was at that point that he asked himself, “Do I want to be an actor? Do I want to do stand-up?”
Regardless of what the trajectory of his life was going to be, he knew he wanted an audience no matter what the medium.
As a youngster, McMahon was fascinated by radio, but his budding career on the airwaves was interrupted in 1958 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. As one might expect, he used his natural charm to pull an assignment as an entertainer.
“We would perform on bases throughout the country,” McMahon says. “I had the opportunity to bring whatever my existing career was to them. It was important to everybody.”
After leaving the Army in 1960, McMahon moved to Arizona.
“I came to Phoenix because it was May and (I) thought what a great place to jump in a pool before I go to New York,” he says.
However, McMahon stayed in the pool longer than he planned and became accustomed to the Valley of the Sun — so much so that New York became an afterthought.
“I fell in love with the town,” he said. “The first television show I ever saw when I set up my television in the kitchen was the opening credits of ‘Wallace and Ladmo.’”
Little did he know that what he was seeing on his television in his new home would become the pillar of his career.
In his early days in Phoenix, McMahon joined the news division of Channel 5 and soon befriended Thompson and Kwiatkowski. After a few weeks, the duo asked McMahon to join them on “Wallace and Ladmo.”
The move to add McMahon to the show paid off. He was the addition that they didn’t know they needed.
“In over 30 years of doing the show, we did not have one argument,” said McMahon, also noting, “There is a warmth that happens when people come up to me and say, ‘Those three guys made things better.’”
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“I’ve been invited to LA. I’ve been invited to New York. The audience that I am most attached to is all of Arizona.” McMahon said.
One child in the audience was Stewart Radawec, who grew up watching McMahon’s antics on “Wallace and Ladmo” at his grandparents’ house. Today he works side by side with McMahon at AZTV7.
McMahon “brings this sense of nostalgia with him,” Radawec said. “He’s a legend.”