Foreword ~ This started off like an episode of `In Search Of ...' with Leonard Nimoy. I've been wanting to write a story about the deepest cactus roots of Wallace and Ladmo it seems forever, and pay homage to the man who helped make it all happen. I knew that in order to tell this part narrative as historically correct as possible, using only limited material and memories, I just had to find `Mrs. Goldust Charlie'.
The beautiful lady that danced her way into Ken's heart, giving decades of love and support.. for the man with a Midas kids show touch. Ken became enamored at first sight when he met Rubye Green in Cincinatti Ohio around 1942. Ken went overseas for a couple years, and upon his return they married on Jan. 20, 1945. Both were USO performers during the war, and as you can see.. she was a real looker! There was NO surviving film footage from the Goldust Charlie Show to inspect. With conflicting dates, and little statistics such as.. how many households back in the Arizona 1950's even possessed TV sets? Challenges in locating eye home, and stage show witnesses like fan Dave Benton who was at the studio when Wallace made his debut. A more difficult task was finding people still among us, that worked with Ken on his program... sadly we now have only one, albeit a very great one! Yes, there's dozens of GDC fans who still reside in the Valley, and spread across this country. Maybe not the throngs of todays Wallace & Ladmo watchers, but ample numbers none-the-less. Some Goldust Charlie viewers are approaching, or already at retirement age. They were the first devoted kids to make a beeline home from school, in a sparsely inhabited post WWII Valley of the Sun.
Three years ago when I began my quest to contact Kens wife, nobody had a current address or telephone number. I made several inquiries within the Wallace and Ladmo family, then placing repeated plea's on internet fansite message boards.. but no replies. Many months passed until my detective work ultimately paid off, when I discovered a telephone number for one of Ken's daughters..Pamela Kennedy Meyerhoffer. I didn't waste any time surprising Pamela where she worked at in the Phoenix area , reassuring her that I was only partially nuts.. but sincere.
I believe Pam's intial reaction was one of astonishment, that this overly enthusiastic stranger wanted to do a feature story on her late Father's KPHO career. Focusing primarily on his tenure as an early ValleyTV kid show host, that began over 55 years ago. There hasn't been a steady stream of local television, and newspaper reporters; magazine writers, or others who thought to get a story about her Dad.. especially since Ken's passing. Most Arizonans normally respond to the names WALLACE & LADMO, and their 35 year reign as kings of local kid show comedy.
I emphasized to Pamela that without her late Father's role, there couldn't possibly be a Wallace and Ladmo. At least as we know them, and the show's history today. This concept was echoed by a near identical sentiment that Patsy `Mrs. Ladmo' Kwiatkowski recently told me, but I'd like to elaborate. Bill `Wallace' Thompson, Ladimir `Ladmo' Kwiatkowski, Pat `Gerald' McMahon, and Mike `Music guy' Condello without a shadow of any doubt had "star" written all over them. They would have achieved their dreams in one form, place, or another even possibly landing jobs at KPHO. But take away the first key player of this Arizona broadcasting history story, and personally I can't see everything falling into perfect place. It's hard to visualize a bumbling nephew of Tom `The Man From Planet X' Sherlock's, visiting from the Planet S.. although it does sound plausible, and funny.
The Wallace and Ladmo show, like many earlyTV programs were based on incredible fate, or luck whatever you prefer.. and especially in the timing. For just a scary thought moment, try to imagine if we never knew a man named Ken `Goldust Charlie' Kennedy. Who worked with a rubber face, always smiling ASU grad camera man. What if another product of Vaudeville parents never saw two odd looking fellows doing a Rusket Flakes commercial? As the spoiled brat in waiting flipped through the few TV channels, within a 1960 Phoenix rental house. A future Valley rock'n roll God eating his bowl of gruel, while watching the tube at an impressionable age.. only had Howdy Doody on to inspire him.
OK kids.. here's the utmost frightening scenario, so hold-on tight to your Wallace watcher beanies. What would of happened if a Bronxville N.Y. determined dreamer never got his chance in 1954... terrifying isn't it!
I proceeded to inform Pam about the online fan clubs, and our current Wallace,Ladmo and Gerald fansite. I said.. Ken `Goldust Charlie' Kennedy still has lots of faithful fans today, expressing fond memories similar to the later Wallace & Ladmo viewers. Heart warming recollections about being kids growing up in small Valley towns during the 1950's, all tuning-in daily to see a loveable old miner. After some false starts, and those pesky unexpected life situations, a year passed since my intial contacts. But we finally struck interview gold at last on Oct. 8th, 2008.
The day before our get together would have been Ken Kennedys 90th birthday, he was born in Chicago IL. on October 7,1918. It seemed to me that the timing was right, as in 1949 when Ken had a chance encounter with John Mullins, one of KPHO's original owners. The WL&G's webmaster James Chisum, and staff photographer David Culling, met Rubye Kennedy at Pamela Meyerhoffer's west valley residence. Pam's husband John Meyerhoffer, and younger sister Mary Horvath were also there by Mrs. Goldust's side.
We heard stories of Ken's Nogales bull fighting days, and almost getting gored in the eye. Then Rubye declaring on the way back to Phoenix "OK KEN.. THAT'S IT !" Playing drums with his band `The Western Playboys' at the Silver Saddle, and using the extra money to help pay for his movie set. Kens Dixieland music ensemble..`The Desert City 6' performing at Legend City, and Phoenix SUNS games. When after a long hard days work at Kpho, Ken came home and dug by hand the Kennedys built-in swimming pool ! The Newton boys would come over and swim, like most vintage Valley families they didn't have a pool. The Kennedy's said.. in a facetious manner, they're still waiting on that invitation from Wayne to use his Las Vegas luxury cement pond. More swimming stories, of Ken wanting to be the first television station broadcasting live from underwater, in a pool atop the Westward Ho. They submerged a small TV camera with it's power wires in a wooden box inside the pool, history was made but Rubye quipped ~"yeah,and they all could had been the first to be electrocuted on live TV ". These were the days when television was new, experimental, and exhilarating..but rarely shocking. It was a wonderful evening of memories, and when the interview ended, it was quite apparent that we could never fully document all the history.
Goldust Memories is about giving the deepest appreciation for Ken, his wife Rubye and their children. Plus a very special thanks to Bill Thompson, Lad Kwiatkowski, and everyone who worked on the Goldust Charlie Show.. as the young and bold KPHOTV pioneers that they were. Ken Kennedy passed away on Feb. 8th, 1999 at the age of 80, with little public aware fanfare. Kpho news played a piece, and only a small acknowledgment in the Arizona Republic obituary column listed just a fraction, of this Renaissance man's accomplishments.
Kennedy was working on a movie called ~ `Space Angels' before his death, the uncompleted movie was typical of Ken's productions.
Daughter Mary mentioned ~"Dad had props, Nasa uniforms, even a hatch for the space ship he made from a garbage can lid, laying around the home ". Rubye added ~"Ken never retired, he was always thinking, and planning the next big thing". Paul Harvey who worked with Ken in Denver, and born in the same year as him once said ~“Retiring is just practicing up to be dead. That doesn't take any practice.” Because we are a "Wallace & Ladmo fragmentary history" website, I decided to put the main spotlight on Ken's work at KPHO, and life in Arizona. He wrote a book about his remarkable career in show, the news, and movie business called ~`I Walked Among The Stars'.
It's an amazing account that starts in Vaudeville, chronicling dozens of brushes with entertainers, political and other famous 20th century American figures. Due to his parents known as `The Dancing Kennedy's' Ken had a back, and side-stage seat to many great Vaudevillian acts of the times. How many people besides Pat McMahon, can tell stories about having Jack Benny, and Mae West as babysitters while your parents were performing on stage.. or fishing on Wolf Lake Michigan as a kid with Buster Keaton! In refering to his life with wife Rubye and their 6 children, Ken said in his memoirs that ~"he was the luckiest guy on Earth.". I can thank my own lucky Arizona brightest stars that we got to do this story about such a fascinating, and beloved local television pioneer, who launched the careers of Mr. Wallace Snead.. and a man called Ladmo. In conclusion, Ken really loved entertaining all the hundreds of kids as Goldust Charlie, and on It's Wallace?.. such a very long time ago.
~ End Foreword
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."
~Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)
It's an early Arizona Summer morning in 1952... when a lanky, bespectacled dark haired young man is pulling-up to the Valley's first, and still new TV station in a Studebaker. Eager to start another work week at KPHO he quickly grabs some props, and notes for a news story scratched prior breakfast. It's already getting hot outside as he wipes sweat off his brow, before dashing into the modest building on 631 N. 1st Avenue. This will be an extra busy week for 32 year old Chicago born Kenneth Joseph Kennedy. With balancing his time between at least 10 different on-air programs, as well numerous off camera duties. A new western musical type show is set to begin soon in studio 1. It will be shown live every Saturday night at 5pm, on a cramped way-out west flavored stage.
The project is primarily Ken's brainchild, assigned to be both it's Producer, and Director... so the heat is on.
One of KPHO's biggest sponsors back then was Stapley Hardware. O.S. Stapley made his fortune as the owner of a small hardware, and lumber store that opened for business in 1895. An early founding pioneer Morman family of Mesa, O.S. Stapley served in the first legislative body of Arizona. He was on the committee that wrote the Arizona State Constitution in 1912. Stapley won a federal contract to provide all the hardware for constructing Rooselvelt Dam, making him a very rich man. By 1950 the company had 11 outlets, as an early version of Home Depot. They were dispersed around a still small.. believe it or not, Valley of the Sun. Sponsors like Stapley Hardware with their deep pockets, was the fledgling stations life blood. The show's original considered name may have been `Western Caravan', or `Western Jamboree'.. at the least they were precursors. Kpho, and Kennedy, wanted to please the family by renaming it's brand new show, `The Stapley Caravan'.
Waiting for Ken inside the studio is an actor, hired to play a old bewhiskered gold prospector. The young producer pictures Gold Dust Charlie, as Stapley Caravan's folksy mascot of sorts. He'll dispense kindly homespun philosophy, tell old west whoppers, and attempt a few cow-poke jokes. As a child actor Ken worked with Pat Barret, an early radio personality who played a character named ~`Uncle Ezra'. In 1924 Barret performed on the `National Barn Dance', an incipient version of `Hee Haw' out of Chicago. Holding it's own in popularity with Nashville's `Grand Ole Opry', radio station WLS National Barn Dance also had a large audience. It's foot-tapping, knee-slapping listenership covered both demographics of rural, and city slickers for several decades.
People paid 75 cents to see the performance with a barn loft stage, and bales of hay for the musicians to sit on. Kenneth was fascinated by many of Barret's character mannerisms, distinctive story telling, and schticks done on NBD. A show favorite, Uncle Ezra would greet the radio listener with his trademark "Howdy, evvabuddy !" Then would follow with a second corker of, "Haint missed nuthin'.. have I ?" These kind of signiture sayings, or catch phrases which can take on a life of their own, may have made an impression on the kid-Kennedy. Later Goldust will take notice of his not so bright nephew from back east retort ~"You don't like me!". Stapley Caravan will pretty much mirror NBD with comedy routines, western acts, country singers and so forth. Joe Dana (Kent's Father) will be the host. Kpho's Kent Dana recalls ~"I just remember how excited we all were the first time the show aired. Half the neighborhood crowded into our living room to watch. I also remember how nervous my dad looked, but that faded each week. I also remember that there was a western group that sang every week. I was about 12 at the time and had a huge crush on the accordion player Loraine Wingo. That prompted me to take lessons from her for about 3 years."
Other influences that went into the birth of Goldust Charlie, as once told by Kennedy was the perennial old desert goat actor `Gabby Hayes'. With his long verbal drawl, and the squeezing together of Gold-Dust into Goldust.. must have been inspired by Gabby's non-dentured, by creative choice mouth. I want to point out the confusion ever since the shows beginning, even today of how to spell..and pronounce Charlie's glittery nickname. You'll see this Gold-Dust, to Goldust seesaw name change game on old KPHO promotional material. Especially from KBTV in Denver Colorado, where Ken attempted to restart the show. For all I know.. the different spelling versions happened from a Kpho title card mistake, and the name Goldust stuck? As for where the character's name `Goldust Charlie' originated from, we asked Rubye and Pam. Both couldn't quite recall where, but after we pointed it out to them..
they agreed with us. That it may have very well come from a 1950 Gene Autry TV show episode of the same title. Wallace say's that Ken came up with the name, and he loved watching all westerns including Gene Autry. Ken also worked on stage briefly with one of Autry's more comedic side-kicks, `Smiley Burnett'.
The actor KPHO hired to play Goldust Charlie was terribly miscast Ken felt, he just couldn't cut the Gabby gab-mustard. While demonstrating what he wanted to hear from the actor, Ken started doing his immitation of Gabby Hayes. Kpho general manager Bill Burton walked through the sound stage, in yet another instance of preordained fun to come. Burton stopped... listened.. paused.. then said ~"Hey Kennedy, you do Gold Dust, (Tom) Sherlock will direct, sorry fella maybe next time". The cactus seeds of Ho-ho-ha-ha-hee-hee history, were ready to push through the desert soil! The actors GDC costume was way too big to fit slim Ken, so a hectic hunt began for a new outfit. Ken found some tan pants, next a black vest, then what would become Goldust's most recognizable costume feature. A very good western hat that he turned up the front like Gabby's. He pierced the raised brim keeping it in place with an old rusty nail. Collectors of Wallace and Ladmo memorabilia, would pay a kings ransom to have that original old corroded nail.
Just like the success of National Barn Dance's Uncle Ezra, Ken's Goldust Charlie was fast becoming a Stapley Caravan viewer favorite. Another popular Caravan rising Arizona star, Kennedy found playing in a small Phoenix bar. He was country western singer Marty [El Paso] Robbins. KPHO first offered Robbins and his band, their own 15 minute spot sponsored by ARNOLD's pickles. Then eventually moving Marty over to the more successful Stapley Caravan, as it's barn band. Ken had a life long talent.. for spotting talent, with Robbins being just one find out of many stars to come. But the greatest Ken Kennedy discovery of all.. besides Rubye, were a local comedy duo we all cherish.
Kennedy even gave a kid holding an 8mm movie camera some filming pointers one hot day.While Ken was working on his Cave Creek 10 acre western movie set, the teen just appeared out of nowhere. He was there with several of his friends, all dressed up in cowboy outfits. They wanted permission from Ken to make a western flick. That young Academy award winner to be, later went on to shoot such Hollywood blockbusters as JAWS, E.T., Indiana Jones, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and more. Ken's ultimate dream was to make movies, like his younger brother Burt [The War Wagon] Kennedy. Ken began building his old west set, and sound stage in 1952.. usually all alone. John Meyerhoffer exclaimed ~"Ken was amazing in what he could do, with next to nothing". At some point another mystery visitor showed up, a retired carpenter. Ken said that he couldn't pay him, but the man volunteered his services free of charge.
By 1950 most the old radio kid shows had surrendered, to this new visual invention of television. Lew King's `First Federal Rangers' was one of Ken's first assignments, and hits at KPHO.. he was the writer, producer, and director. Once Kennedy had to convince a highly skeptical Lew, that these two "Rascals of Rhythm" (Wayne & Jerry) were super talented, insisting they needed to be on the show. When sidekick comic Jack `Chief Savum Wampum' Beverage, who was eaves-dropping backed Ken.. King relented. Lew's program that began on local radio in 1949, continued to flourish partly due to Kennedy. I believe this was one of several reasons for Stapley Caravan's demise. Both shows were too alike as a variety, talent spectacle heavy on western themes. Although short lived, this was yet another very fortunate fate indeed. Which will be responsible for creating one of the longest, and most successful running children's TV show in history.
After Caravan got canceled, due to the popularity of Goldust Charlie, KPHO gave Ken his own show sometime in late 1952. Along with Lew King Rangers, there were at least three other early Kpho children targeted offerings.
`The Kathy Godfrey Show', and the ever versatile Tom Sherlock became `The Man From Planet X', but Goldust Charlie fell more in line with what was currently hot. North American baby boomers, many dressed in their favorite programs little buckaroo outfits, were in a TV western craze during the 1950-60's. Viewing the likes of Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and a helluva alot more. When you include both decades, there were about 117 western type TV shows. Rural, inner city, and newly constructed tract-home suburban neighborhoods, had all kinds of children running around playing Cowboys, and Indians.
The basic concept of Goldust Charlie, first airing weekdays from 4-5pm was.. the days of wandering an open west, searching for gold in them thar hills were over. Goldust started a general store that eventually got gobbled up, by the encroachment of modern civilization.When a freeway was built nearby Goldusts store this killed the business, and his love life with Aunt Maud. As I imagine, so did the onset of large chain grocery stores like A.J. Bayless, breaking ground across the Valley. Ironically Goldust Charlie made many promotional appearances at A.J. Bayless grand openings, with "Pedro", his trusty burro. Besides a few store regulars like Mrs. Pease, now only local children dropped by on their way home from school. They watched serial movies, would read comics, and interact with Goldust. Goldust occassionally gave them treats like sponsors cookies, and candies. Some prizes were given away, such as bikes from SEARS. To Mr. Sneads, and our knowledge there wasn't ever a GDC fan club. Wallace said that ~"Ken got alot of fan mail, and he always wrote everyone back".
The lack of customers gave Goldust time to show `Our Gang' comedy shorts, renamed later `The Little Rascals' for television consumption, and old discarded westerns. There was a glut of 1920-30's B Westerns collecting dust, long after their original screenings at movie houses. They were relatively inexpensive to purchase, especially for use in the smaller market stations. Ken brought the Kennedy family movie projector from home, to act as a prop.. placing it on the counter. The daily crop of various aged school kids sat on a long bench, or barrels.. and stared.
Terry Sanders who watched as a young boy in Scottsdale recalls ~"Goldust Charlie would introduce the serials, or cartoons verbally. Then the TV camera would dolly in on GDC who would crank an ancient, manually driven movie projector. Then someone would broadcast the cartoon". Although many of the fans reported seeing cartoons, we asked Wallace if they were shown on GDC..he resolutely replied ~ "no".
A large number of the exploding post war TV children show hosts were Sheriffs, Cowboys, and loveable old-coots like Goldust Charlie. This was a reflection of the movie westerns golden age in cinema, with that long list of horse ridin' celluloid heroes, and villains. There's a 1973 TV Guide illustration that depicts the end of these hosts. In this drawing is a long line of various characters walking "the plank" from out a TV set. Leading the group of doomed kid-show hosts, ready for their turn to plunge into the abyss, is a Cowboy.
For western garbed hosts like GDC, actually based in true desert locales.. it gave them a bit more of an authentic
edge. After-all the legend of the Lost Dutchman roaming those Superstition mountains, were once in plain valley view. Gary Switzer who watched Goldust Charlie with his parents say's ~"I assumed he was a for real gold miner, possibly the genuine Lost Dutchman himself.. which immediately captured my 4 year old imagination". Rubye said, that Ken wanted the children to see Goldust Charlie as an actual person. Valley kids were once surrounded by the real, sonoran life deal in all it's grandeur. A vast beckoning desert right out the front door, to explore and daydream..about old west wanderers like Goldust.
Young people who watched similar Goldust characters that had beaches, or sky rises instead of saguaro's, were at a fantasy disadvantage. There was Miami Florida's "Tumbleweed and the Old Timer", with Tumbleweed played by a bewhiskered Chuck Zink doing a Gabby Hayes impersonation.. sound familiar? Others were Chicago's `Cactus Jim' out at the Flower Pot Ranch, played by Clarence Hartzell that began in 1949. My research strongly indicates that Hartzell, a radio pioneer, might be one of the first desert rat type TV kid show hosts. Then there were several Cactus Pete's, one in Boston played by Terrence Currier. Another was Jim Bolen in Paducah Kentucky, with both doing their Gabby Hayes look, and voice best. The success of all these Gabby wanna-be's, even caught the attention of Hayes himself. Revamping his previous TV western show, into a more basic kid genre program in 1956. He too would show cut-up old matinee oaters, then interact with visiting children.. and special guests like puppeteer Paul Winchell.
Although Goldust Charlie was typical of 1950's TV "Dairy Cowboys", Ken Kennedy "the man" was anything but the norm.. as you'll read more here. Clare Yares, with the ever busy staff artist Emmett Lancaster built a very elaborate set, for those meager budget KPHO days. Keep in mind that even big city markets like WNBQ Chicago's Cactus Jim only got $40 per episode. The backdrop that Lancaster painted of the stores contents looked so authentic, curious children would often attempt to touch, or grab something. Terry Sanders again say's ~"For youngsters, he was not Ken Kennedy, he was Goldust Charlie and his backstory, and general store were as real as anything else on the planet." In Dec. 1953 a newly hired young fellow named Bill, will be assigned to work with Lancaster and to man the Goldust Charlie shows boom-mike.
The phone company gave them an old hand cranked wall phone, that Goldust started things off with everyday.
As recalled by Rubye and Pamela.. the show began with Goldust talking on the phone to a customer, or someone. Then he'd look towards the camera, and sounding a bit taken by surprise, saying the standard ~"OH... hi there boys and girls !". These familiar greetings, and goodbyes.. like Wallace's "Hi nice to see ya, thanks for tuning in.", were kid show staples among the hosts. More then likely having their beginning in early radio introductions, and sign-offs. Possibly inspired by 1930-40's news reel personalities like Pete Smith specialty shorts, shown in theatres prior to the movie.Children always respond well to seeing repetition, and except for the unexpected.. which was part of early televisions magic, most programs rarely strayed from their daily formats.
Bill Thompson's "It's Wallace?", that blew the previous national childrens show recipe right out of the water, recalls an every day Goldust Charlie show ~"The show began with a title card, and some sort of western music playing. Then a long shot of the store with Goldust and the kids already there. After his greeting of something like..Howdy !, he almost always asked the school kids ~"What did you all learn today, that you didn't know yesterday?" Most the time they'd reply ~" nuthin' ".. that always cracked me up. Goldust would then announce one of the serials, as the camera would zoom into the (prop) projectors lens.. some of the westerns lasted 15 minutes. Then Goldust would do another commercial lasting 60 seconds.. to the very second, and he'd go back to talking with the kids for awhile.. then more westerns. Ken had excellent control of the show, even though most everything he did on Goldust Charlie was adlibbed."
As Wallace states, Ken was a master of improvisation or the old "ad-lib", especially when it came to working with unpredictable kids. If you're going to host a children's show on live television... you better be!
W. C. Fields withstanding who once exclaimed ~"Anyone who hates children, and dogs can't be all bad ". Perhaps it was Ken's upbringing as a child performer, with Vaudeville acts that taught him the art of how to work with kids, and critters.This was demonstrated often by Ken's other KPHO rug-rats program, sponsored by Borden's dog food called ~`It's A Dogs Life'. Kennedy had no problem coming out as himself on the other programs. Long time Tempe resident Dave Benton comments ~"I was sure he (Goldust) was an old man, and was very surprised when I found out what he really looked like, when I was in high school."
Kennedy had Art Linkletters intrinsic style, with both men sharing related experiences of how kids can say.. and do the darndest things. Wallace says ~"Ken was great at getting funny stuff out of the kids.". Ken would interview little boys, and girls who wanted a dog. On one special show he asked a tiny-tot if he wanted a puppy. The child nodded yes, then Ken would ask the puppy if he wanted to go home with him? Tom Sherlock who was hidden from view in a sound booth, would respond back as the dog and ask.. "Will he feed, and take good care of me?" The pup appeared to be speaking into Ken's ear, enticed by a bit of hamburger grease he previously put there. Later the boy returned, storming right up to Ken as everything rolled live demanding a new puppy because ~"THIS ONE WON'T TALK TO ME !"
These kinds of precious moments on Goldust Charlie, were not just reserved for other people's kids. The Kennedy children also made their way down to the studio. Pamela remembers when she was there one day, watching the show with her fellow Brownies. After Goldust's usual opening of talking on the crank phone, he'd come from behind the counter greeting that afternoons kids. Goldust went down the bench asking each child what their names are. When Goldust came to Pamela he asked.. "what's your name little girl ?", Pam yelled ~"YOU KNOW WHAT MY NAME IS DADDY !" all captured live of course. A funny at home moment happened early one morning, when Pamela was asleep in bed. Ken dressed as Goldust.. beard and all, came in to give her a kiss goodbye before heading out. Ken was possibly going to a promotional appearance somewhere in the Valley. Pamela slowly opened her eyes, then focused to see some hairy stranger, and screamed bloody murder! Well.. maybe it wasn't funny to Pam at the time.
The usual floor crew of the Goldust Charlie Show consisted of Ladimir Kwiatkowski on camera one, Jim Kelly, Blair Grant, Carl Yost, Gib Green... and that guy Thompson manuvering the boom-mike. Although everyone had their basic assigned positions, they were all multi-taskers. The image seen above shows most of these men, there's been a recent debate about who's exactly who? KPHO's Jim Kelly resembled a young Ladimir, so there was some discrepancy. Lad was almost always working the camera, apparently here we find him at the floor manager position, behind cameraman Carl Yost. I posed this question to the lady who knew him best. Patsy Kwiatkowski say's ~"Yes, thats him. I believe at that time he was working on the floor crew, as they were also teaching him how to run the camera." Although a hand obscures part of his face, Wallace is standing next to Goldust examining some 16mm film. Except for a few purposeful pranks they'd pull on the "new guy", everything usually went smoothly in such a confining studio. In a rare costly moment, Lad was pushing his $90,000 camera when it's tripod of wheels caught a bump on the floor. Wallace said, that he can still hear Ladmo to this day go.. "WHOOOOPS !" as it fell over, crashed and broke.
The Goldust Charlie Show was a year or so old, and going great guns by 1954. With a growing viewership, thanks in part to more televisions setting-up in Valley homes. Ken's favorite segment of the program besides entertaining children , were all the Hollywood celebrities stopping by. There was a designated interview area seen in set-photos, off to the left where they'd hang up movie posters. Stars like Marian Carr, Pat O'Brien, the Great Gildersleeve, Broderick Crawford, Cesar Romero, and Jerry Colonna. Ken befriended Colonna, both sharing a love for Dixieland trombone music.. he once took Colonna out to his Cave Creek western set. Ken had been collecting antique furniture, and old west artifacts.. then laboring on the project for several years. He must have been getting terribly anxious to complete the town, later known as Phoenix Film Studios. With so many duties at KPHO, it left very little time for the two man construction crew. TV westerns were still going strong by the mid-50's, but Kens dream of making movie counterparts.. might have seen their box office peak. These tell tale signs that the western movie winds were changing, added to his uneasiness. Wallace said ~"Nothing shook Ken, he was just a real professional." The Goldust Charlie Show also had some competion from local affiliates, to attract the eyes of younger viewers. KOOL TV 10 had `Big 10 Ranch Gang', and KVAR channel 12 had the national `Howdy Doody' on at the same time.
Wallace's start on the Goldust Charlie Show has been well documented. Why Ken didn't jump at Thompson's first proposal to be his side-kick.. well who know's? Kennedy did say that he thought Wallace was kidding, and maybe Ken felt Snead needed a bit more seasoning. Wallace said ~"Some of the stuff Ken taught me was pretty much common sense, like keep the setup to 1 or 2 lines.. but I still had to learn it." The second, even third comedic banana in show business was as common as bees to honey. Ken knew all too well the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello (once sharing the stage), The 3 Stooges.. not to mention Gene Autry and his sidekick Smiley Burnett. But remember the central theme of this story.. it's all about in the "timing". Ken noted later in life ~"I've had more then my share of good luck ".
After about a year of trying, and what must have been a great lunch Ken had with Bill, he gave`Wallace' the green light. Wallace Snead looked like a cross between Andy Hardy, wearing his 1940's era college freshman beanie, and the little tramp (Charlie Chaplin). A more contemporary comparison of both Goldust, and Snead.. might be the Skipper with his little buddy Gilligan. Dave Benton was 10 years old, and in the studio ~"The time I was on, there was a new character on his show. His name was Wallace Snead and he was Goldust's nephew from back east. I remember Wallace had this valise that apparently only held a toothbrush."
Gary Switzer watching from home gives his account ~ "One day, Golddust introduced a goofy looking assistant nephew, wearing a silly jacket with sleeves too short, baggy high water pants, and some kind of a beany cap like the Archie comic book character. One thing that stands out in my mind was his straight black hair which he parted down the middle, and let hang way down on each side of his head. This struck me as very odd. I also zeroed in on his floppy sneakers and... No socks? Obviously some kind of nut ! It seems that Wallace was always screwing up, especially with stacks of cartoon reels which he would drop, scattering them with a loud crash. Afterward Golddust would scold him as he scrambled around trying set things right but getting nowhere. I can still see the funny grimace on Wallace's face in those situations. It made you laugh, but at the same time worried and concerned for the goofy guy. I guess this was the same way I would view Ladmo a few years later on".
Wallace was an instant hit.. of course, especially after his famous one liner making Goldust go off character, cracking him up. The history of the catch phrase probably dates back to the stone age. When a caveman had to grunt some recognizable sounds, telling others he captured dinner down by the tar pit. By the 1970's Saturday Night Live took the catch-phrase to it's pinnacle. Wallace's contribution to Goldust Charlie was skits, and prefilmed stuff mainly "prop comedy" shown at the middle spot. Goldust's routines were more spontaneous reactions, Wallace say's ~"I really enjoyed working with Ken, he was so quick". Keep in mind that the whole `Mrs. Pease' bit was adlibbed by Ken. Gary Switzer tells some more Snead memories ~"I remember that Wallace would often be sweeping, and dusting the set on camera while GDC was doing the show. This usually resulted in some kind of comic situation in which GDC would get frustrated with Wallace, and then the next cartoon would begin".
Ken liked Wallace's idea of writing some bits for him, saving valuable time to work out at the set. Wallace used the western set to film many of the `Nasty Brothers', and other serials for the show. Wallace recalls ~"I thought the old buildings was great, Ken later let Lad and I use it. I remember one day going out there, and he (Ken) was putting on a roof all by himself! Terry Dennison did our filming..we'd be falling out of windows, ladders crashing.. whatever. Then here would come Ken, walking by carrying a bunch of boards and tools. Generally we'd always be interrupting him, sometimes asking him to do a part in a Nasty Brothers shoot". After working on Goldust Charlie for about 8 months, Wallace began his own spinoff show in Jan. 1955. "It's Wallace?" followed Goldust Charlie for another year, and Ken seemed all but ready to ride his Plymouth station wagon.. off into the Cave Creek sun-set.
I wonder if Ken ever thought.. now that his one side-kick was a big hit, two might be even better? Ken had been eyeing his lead cameraman's potential for sometime now, starting back on Stapley Caravan. Having both of these talented clowns (affectionately), could increase Goldust Charlies ratings,and free up even more time to pursue his endeavors? It seems a bit silly to get into a discussion, about who discovered Ladmo first? I believe that one goes hands down to Lad's Mother. But for just senseless discussions sake.. Ken staked his claim, along with several others. After describing how Bill Thompson first came on the show, in Kennedy's memoirs he wrote: "Another young man was working camera 1.. everytime he would look around the camera, he would give the best comic face I had ever seen. "Mr. (Bob) Martin", I said to our program director, "I want that guy on camera 1 to be ON the show with Wallace and me." Ken goes on to say that Martin answered "Sounds like a good idea to me ".
Other accounts have it that after a year of Wallace doing the two shows, he was having trouble coming up with one man bits. Promotional director Steve Shannon worked briefly as Wallace's sidekick, until management sent Steve packing back to his department.One day Shannon said to Wallace.. "get someone else...get Lad..and put a `m-o' on the end of his name". Wallace gave us that classic Sneadly grin, when we presented the question to him ~"I have no doubt that at sometime Ken, or someone else said.. hey, you should use him.. (Ladimir) he's funny". Everyone knew that Ladmo was funny, and when he made his debut on "It's Wallace?", the studio was jam-packed. Ladmo had that one in a million loveable face... it was hard to miss . Wallace gave us the best example ~"most important of all, Ladmo discovered himself." One day he said to me, "I think I would be a good Ladmo.", so when all is said and done, let's give Ladmo the credit for being Ladmo". Now if we want to give all the different versions of who first tagged LAD, with his M-O... OK lets not go there !
The trio blasted off like a rocket to the planet Zork, with several promotional items being produced. By the Summer of 1956, they were working each others show, and doing skits that Wallace wrote. For awhile they combined the two programs called :`It's Wallace? featuring Ladmo & Goldust Charlie', with the boys doing numerous public appearances together. Because there wasn't a stage show format yet, like when Gerald came on board.. the 3 gave away prizes, had contests, signed autographs and goofed around. Ken finally made it official later that year, telling station manager Dick Rawls, and program Director Bob Martin that he wanted to be phased-out. Rubye Kennedy said ~"Ken did his part in launching the two children shows, now he was ready to move on, and do something else.. he wanted to make movies". Although Ken still had some contractual obligations to honor with KPHO, and the Goldust Charlie sponsors. So his Arizona fans hadn't quite seen the last of him yet, and Goldust did appear fairly frequently on "It's Wallace?". But as Wallace said ~"It depended on whether or not Ken could make it, because he was in the news department.. and making movies, it was at his convience to come in and do a spot."
Ken's western set was totally finished.. well close enough, the saloon doors were open for business. One of the first guests to use it's facilities, was a local mountain lion. The big cat hung out by those big pile of boulders, often seen in photos, and movies down the street. It would come down to the horse trough and get a drink. Every so often you could hear the lions roar, now how's that for free special effects! The paying customers used the set to shoot movies, and TV westerns like `26 Men'. Rubye and family were quite surprised, when we told them that we had a copy of the episode Ken had a bit part in. Ken played an angry rancher named Mr. Farley in `Death In The Dragoons'. Pamela still could recall, and sang for us the `26 Men' theme song. Don't worry Pam.. we destroyed the audio tape. (for a related WL&G story see: `The Sheriff Of South Mountain' )
Why Goldust Charlie just seemed to disappear one day, like a whisp of smoke.. might of confused the Valley kids. Was there any announcement made to the home viewers, that he was moving on.. no one knows for sure? Maybe in the kids minds.. Goldust just got fed-up with this modern mid-twentieth century world. Perhaps Goldust longed for the good 'ol prospecting days, when it was just him and Pedro. I kinda see Goldust Charlie.. and in a way Ken Kennedy, like the Kirk Douglas character in `Lonely Are The Brave'. This.. "don't fence me in" western personna, the lone hungry wolf, or that thirsty mountain lion. With a need to keep on moving.. forever searching, and hoping to hit that next big strike. Ken witnessed the evolution of entertainment in America, for nearly a century.. doing his best to keep up with it's constant changes.
In late 1958, Ken got a business offer from former KPHO owner John Mullins, with Kennedy once saying... "Seemed like it was a good idea at the time.". After Kpho was sold to the Meredith corporation, Mullins asked Ken to help him start up a new station in Denver.. KBTV. I think Mullins was banking on Ken's Goldust Charlie, and having Arizona lightening strike twice. Because KPHO had already sold those Goldust Charlie commercial spots, in the interim Ken would drive back to Phoenix once a month, making guest appearances on "It's Wallace?". Wallace and Ladmo would walk over in front of a desert backdrop, while doing the skits with Goldust. Rubye and the Kennedy children relocated to Denver in the summer of 1959, after school was out. Similar to his time spent at KPHO, Ken was working many jobs, including the Colorado version of Goldust Charlie. In `I Walked Among The Stars', it sounds like Ken may of had a few tense moments up there with "The Skipper", a nickname given to Mullins by some employees.
Things got just a little bit rocky..up there in the Rockies, with some added show business storm clouds forming. The start of the 1960's ushered in two passings, occurring within the same time period. The 1950's kid show explosion was running out of dynamite, especially for the more common ones. KBTV's Goldust Charlie that aired before Sheriff Scotty did quite well though.Then there was an eclipsing of the movie western, they didn't exactly fade to black..just a shade of grey. Ken's Cave Creek set transfered ownership while living in Denver. Pamela say's that after the intial relocation upsets, everyone lived happily in Denver for 3 years. Ken went back to Phoenix with his family in late 1961, besides noting that ~"3 Colorado winters was about all I could take.", he also had a movie opportunity waiting. Ken returned as a KPHO news reporter, and cameraman.. but never again to his Goldust Charlie show. Ken covered many major local news stories, and made the movie `IRON ANGEL'.. shot in 1964, on a budget of $10,000. Phoenix Superior court Judge Brian Ishikawa comments~ " my older brother, uncle and a couple of cousins played Korean soldiers in the movie". Ken filmed many commercials, including ones for Jack Ross and long time friend Acquanetta. These were done in an adjacent alley off the main building. The semi-funny Jack Ross car commercials, were shown mainly during the channel 5 Late Movies. Ken used Acquanetta in his 1990 movie: `The Legend Of Grizzly Adams'.
Kennedy left KPHO in 1975, there was no time to spare.. he had a big movie in the works. `The Father Kino Story' had been on Ken's movie wish list for 9 years.. it'll be his epic project. The film began shooting in 1977, with a large cast of veteran movie stars. Ken had help from Kino scholars, and the Catholic church.. with Archbishop Fulton Sheen as narrator. The film was shot in five weeks, at various desert hot spots outside Phoenix. I saw the film and rather enjoyed it. Ever since I was a kid.. the good Padre on horseback story, had captured my imagination. Kino was a prospector of souls, wandering the arid hostile southwest. Long time area residents will rejoice, maybe cry in seeing how the 1970's desert once looked like. The movie didn't fare too well at the box office, partly due to a limited release.. and special interest subject matter. One disrespectful critic of old Hollywood called the cast "the over the hill gang". Then there were some unscrupulous investors that seized control of the film. Ken was made from the old school of doing business stock. Only a gentlemans handshake was required, and he expected everyone to be as honest as him.
Ken's career in the motion picture industry had mixed success, compared to his younger brother Burt Kennedy. Pat McMahon said ~"Maybe Ken didn't achieve his brother's success, but how many people can say that they've ever made a movie...or wrote a book ?" But what he did achieve much greater then Burt, was that.. Ken made more kids laugh". Sandy Gibbons worked with Ken at KPHO, and say's ~"We were friends connecting mainly in the movie business. I interviewed his brother movie director Burt Kennedy on "Dialing for Dollars". He was a very nice guy.. but Ken was much more the personality... I miss him. He always had a movie, or an interesting project. Wallace always speaks about him whenever we relive our Channel five days". Kennedy's unfinished movie `Space Angels' had his only sibling..beloved brother Burt, slated to be the director, sadly he passed away two years after Ken.
Ken continued working on more movies, and television projects. He also never missed being on the Wallace and Ladmo anniversary specials. Wallace said ~"It was absolutely essential, that Ken came back.. he was the guy who started it all." Ken was always the first to be featured, and Wallace made sure the audience knew it began with `Goldust Charlie'. We can get a glimpse of what the post GDC fans missed out on, within this Wallace & Ladmo 25th Anniversary Show. The hilarious opening skit has Goldust, and his one time fling Aunt Maud reminiscing about the good ol' Arizona days. (play the video / Windows Media Player)
On April 1, 1989.. Ken made his final Wallace & Ladmo stage show appearance as Goldust Charlie. The Encanto Park party celebrated a program lasting over 35 years on TV, with a crowd topping 40,000 fans. Shortly after Ken found himself seated next to his old friend Lew King, at the last taping of The Wallace and Ladmo Show. When Wallace came over to introduce Ken and Lew, he deeply thanked these two KPHO pioneer path-finders. The audience gave everyone assembled there a standing ovation, for making this incredible show such a big hit. Ken felt that the show could have gone on for many more years, and once said ~"I never lost track with these two great friends". After the 35th anniversary stage show, Goldust hung-up his hat with that rusty nail.. it seemed for good. The worn out looking Gabby hat spanned five decades, and displayed much sweat evidence.. from all his appearances under a hot Arizona sun.
Pamela Meyerhoffer has been the President, and CEO for Sun Health Foundation in Sun City Az. since 1983.
In 1997 she asked her Dad to return one last time as Goldust Charlie, and be part of a ground breaking ceremony for the new Del E. Webb health center in Wickenburg Arizona. Ken dug out his old costume.. the red bandana, wire rim glasses and hat. The Father told his eldest daughter.. "I won't need the beard this time", Ken grew his own. Some people from the Wickenburg Days committee were at the ground breaking, including Jack Murphy KPHO's first newscaster. They approached Ken asking if he would be the Wickenburg Days Grand Marshall and appear in the parade. Ken and family had a wonderful time, the crowd applauded loudly as Goldust made his way down the parade route. At one point in our interview, we asked Rubye if she was aware that Goldust Charlie fans miss, and fondly remember him? Having little knowledge that Ken was so warmly thought about today, Rubye's eyes expressed an emotional surprise, as she quietly contemplated our question, then only moving her head to say...no. The room fell quiet, and I think everyone realized just how deeply we all missed Ken. He truly hit the "motherload", when it came to making children laugh and smile. I hope that everyone knows a bit more about this Arizona treasure.. affectionately known as "Goldust Charlie". Whenever you drive by the Superstion mountains, think of two.. not just one old Arizona prospecting legend. When I told Patsy Kwiatkowski that we were doing a story on Ken Kennedy.. she summed him up best, in one short quote ~"Oh..such a sweet, sweet man"... and that comes from a lady, who knows something about wonderful guys.
"I listened very carefully to what Ken said to me, and I would watch him.. how he had complete command of where he was..and how much time he had to fill. Ken knew 1000's of jokes, or lines that he could bring up at will...and he was very funny."
"My memories of Ken are fond , I admired him..I respect him...and I thank him for giving me the break to do what Lad, and Pat..and I were able to do.
It started with him...and if anybody didn't like the Wallace & Ladmo Show.. it wasn't Ken's fault. He will always be remembered."
"Goldust Charlie greased the wheels, and Ken did a little bit of everything,except pull people out of the drunk tank. He had the brilliance of recognizing Wallace..the old miner that discovered a Bronxville genious. I am enormously indebted to Ken, if it wasn't for him, who knows...Wall might of went off to Fargo instead of here?
Thanks to: Sharon Kelley/Kpho TV, Wallace, Pat McMahon, Rubye Kennedy, Pamela Meyerhoffer, David Culling, James Chisum, and a extra special thanks to Mr. Bill Burton where ever you are.
Photo's courtesy KPHO, The Kennedy Family, David Culling, joedean.com.. and Ron Herberlee.