|Dan Horn Interview|
"Dan Horn was one of the most professional and talented people to join the Wallace and Ladmo Show. He appeared with Orson and Cassandra and all of his puppet friends for ten years, from 1978 to 1988. His work ethic was excellent. No sick, no late. Always prepared and ready to go. He showed up every day with enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Dan's vent technique is outstanding. It's no wonder hat he has been able to earn a good living as a ventriloquist for over thirty years. When you get Dan Horn on your show, you not only get a great performer, you also get a top-notch comedy writer. Dan related well to the audience. The kids liked him. Sometimes I would watch their faces in the audience. He got big laughs.
The Wallace and Ladmo Show started winding down in the late eighties. Cable TV was cutting into ratings and revenue. Management started making budget cuts. Unfortunately, Dan was one of them. Through no fault of his own, he was let go. Dan was crushed, I was pissed. He had always done everything right. About a year later, the show went off the air. I will always remember Dan as a partner, a friend, and a great entertainer."
By R. A. Moore with Dan Horn
Dan Horn is part of Arizona History. He probably wouldn't say so, but anyone who was a cast member of the longest running daily kids show The Wallace & Ladmo Show automatically qualifies. From 1980-1987, Dan appeared daily on the show as well as regularly with the gang at numerous live venues such as the Arizona State Fair. He also represented the show in solo performances the only Wallace and Ladmo show ever offered without Wallace and/or Ladmo! Dan possesses the only copy of The Wallace & Ladmo Show (Dan Horn Only) script in existence. Prepared by Wallace, Dan presented this program at various public appearances where no one else from the TV show was available to attend. It included addresses to the audience by Wallace, Ladmo and Gerald via letters read by Dan in between his own routines. Dan Horn is part of Arizona History.
It is well known that Wallace is not a big fan of clowns and puppets. But, he has a knack for spotting talent, and Dan Horn changed his mind at least about puppets. Dan Horn was different a believable ventriloquist with respectable technique and a flair for comedy who, among other contributions, could write. He brought talent that then as well as now is very rare to find; with puppets that didn't look like they would come to life and stab you in your sleep although, Wallace may get a kick out of that! But, this is Dan's story.
Dan was born in December 1958, in Reno, Nevada, a son of an Air Force aircraft engine mechanic who had recently fulfilled his term of enlistment. Dan's dad, newly recruited by Airesearch in Phoenix, moved his little family of four (Dan, the younger of two boys) in early 1959 to Tempe, Arizona, to an area, as it turned out, only a handful of blocks away from where Ladmo and his family lived. Dan attended Holdeman Elementary, Gilliland Middle School, and graduated from Tempe High (in the top 10% of his class). He went on to study music composition at Mesa Community College, but got derailed from completing his musical education when one day during a choir practice a wormy-looking puppet with long, flipping hair suddenly popped up in the baritone section. Cassandra, as the redhead was named, propelled Dan in a whole new direction.
Back in 1959, when the Horns arrived in the Valley, KPHO's kid's show was five years old and thriving. Who can say when Dan Horn officially became a Wallace Watcher? However, this much is sure he never knew a time (prior to 1989, when the show finally left the air) when Wallace wasn't on TV. At an early age, the show crept into his consciousness until it became a regular, unshakeable habit. All the while growing up in Tempe, like every other Arizona child, Dan could not resist the 4:00pm call of It's Wallace?. The show's theme music Oriental Blues beckoned like a siren. For Dan it meant cartoons and laughs as he sat on a braded rug in front of the family console black-and-white TV. As the swamp cooler rattled and the TV's snowy picture rolled occasionally, Dan munched bologna sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip, glued to the antics on the tube. Rabbit ear antennas brought a similar experience to other kids plopped in front of other TV sets. But, Dan didn't think about that. This was a personal time and he knew Wallace was talking directly to him that Wallace could see into his living room. Watching the show, Dan knew Wallace was his friend even though Wallace never acknowledged his repeated efforts in front of the TV to get his attention. Yes, Dan Horn remembers standing at his television screen yelling, Hi, Wallace, hi, Wallace, in vain attempts to get Wallace to notice him. Okay, so Dan was a clod. But, he was a young kid and eventually, he figured out the world of TV. Eventually, Wallace did notice him and Dan become part of that world.
Dan attended Holdeman Elementary school along with another boy by the name of Jamie Kwiatkowski, one of Ladmo's sons. Although the Horns and the Kwiatkowskis lived in the same community, Dan and Jamie were worlds apart. Jamie was athletic, personable and one of the cool kids who would have been just as popular even if his dad didn't happen to be a TV star. Dan, on the other hand, was lousy at sports, had few real friends and was the personification of un-cool. He had fallen into the role of school scapegoat sometime earlier following his disastrous decision to bring one of his puppet friends a doll in the eyes of the other students to school. (More about what led up to this infamous day later.) Although Dan and Jamie were classmates, they were not exactly friends due to Dan's dubious (although, seemingly evident) status as a sissy. Somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade, the two boys got into an after-school fight over the ownership of a small green army man in Dan's possession. Dan, who had found the item (what would today be called an action figure) on the playground, was accused of having stolen it from Jamie's desk.
Not so! cried Dan.
Uh-huh, grunted Jamie.
Puffing and posturing ensued. Dan, an easily intimidated sort, not used to being picked on (although, it seemed to be happening a lot more since that aforementioned puppet debacle), had no idea how to defend himself. Finally, after more taunting and bravado (oh, and a few well placed strikes upon Dan's knuckles from Jamie's sticky Tootsie Pop) the toy was seized from Dan's grip.
Truly believing himself the injured party, as he had not stolen the figure, but indeed had found it, and spurred by righteous indignation fueled by the relevant legal precedent of Finders-Keepers, Dan retaliated the way any sissy er', kid in his situation would. He clobbered the side of Jamie's head with his metal Munsters lunch box, conveniently poised in his other hand; then, ran home to tell his mommy.
That night, standing face to face with Jamie at Jamie's house, in his living room, Dan's mother and Jamie's dad, Ladmo, lectured the two boys about getting along. The toy had proved to be Jamie's; it matched others in a set he had. But, Jamie apologized for his tactics reclaiming it. Dan apologized for hitting Jamie in the head with his lunch box, although the greater damage occurred to the lunch box with Herman Munster's face on the side permanently dented inward.
However awkward and embarrassing, this was Dan Horn's first encounter with Ladmo, whom he loved and admired from television and with whom he would closely work with years later. Dan and Jamie never really became friends, but they managed to co-exist without incident for their remaining school years together. At their ten year high school reunion in 1986, both were actually pleased to see each other and had a good laugh over their after school bout so many years before. One day at the station, Dan brought up the subject and Ladmo assured him he had no memory of the incident. Dan suspects that that was true, but if it wasn't, he feels it was awfully nice of Ladmo to pretend. But, that was Ladmo.
Merely mentioning the word ventriloquist conjures for many an unflattering stereotype. Despite this, throughout the world there are organizations, associations and museums devoted to the art of ventriloquism. Yes, ventriloquism is an art and these groups aim to promote, nurture and honor individuals whose work elevate the form. In 1993, Vent Haven museum, just south of Cincinnati in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, named Dan Horn Ventriloquist of the Year for outstanding contributions. Later that year, Dan made a guest appearance on the popular CBS show Vicki hosted by Vicki Lawrence of The Carol Burnett Show and Momma's Family fame.
In preproduction interviews, Dan told the producers his love of puppets began at a very early age. Once, he got into trouble with his mom when he made a hand puppet from a Styrofoam ball with pins for eyes, and hair made of fringe he cut off her good towels! He added that his desire to be a ventriloquist came at the age of five when he saw his very first one: Vonda Kay Van Dyke, another name linked with Arizona History.
Miss Van Dyke, from Phoenix, ascended to the crown of Miss America in 1965. In the summer of `64, Dan happened to catch one of her performances on the Coca-Cola stage at Legend City. This local amusement park (now only a memory to longtime Arizona residents, where Wallace, Ladmo and Gerald put on hundreds of shows and Dan Horn himself performed years later) offered rides, games and venues for entertainers. Dan had a front-row spot as the current Miss Arizona enchanted her audience, working with the most incredible puppet he had ever seen. Vonda Kay used a traditional wooden vent figure crafted by Frank Marshall of Chicago (the creator of other famous puppets from movies to TV). It had a moving head, moving mouth, moving eyes it even winked! And Curlicue excited Dan's imagination: if he became a ventriloquist, he too would get to have the same kind of puppet.
He began trying to teach himself the technique of talking without his lips moving. TV exposed Dan to more ventriloquists such as Edgar Bergen, Jimmy Nelson, and Paul Winchell (all of whom he had the privilege of spending time with years later). Jimmy Nelson or Nelson, as his character Danny O' Day called him regularly appeared on The Milton Berle Show. However, he is most famous for a series of commercials for Nestles chocolate where he appeared with Danny and his other Frank Marshall creation, Farfel the dog. Dan Horn's birthday in December `64, brought him a most incredible gift: a record with Jimmy Nelson teaching ventriloquism and his very own Danny O' Day dummy. He was to discover years later that the puppet he received was actually a likeness of Paul Winchell's Jerry Mahoney, but at the time, it mattered little who it was; it was a real puppet just like Vonda Kay's.
A puppet like Dan's first
On the day of taping Vicki, Dan was in for a real surprise. Unbeknownst to him, the producers contacted Vonda Kay, then living in California, with an invitation to the show to meet a ventriloquist she had inspired almost 30 years before. Of course, she brought along her puppet and there, before the studio audience and the cameras recording for thousands of television viewers, Vicki Lawrence introduced Vonda Kay Van Dyke and Curlicue to a rather awestruck Dan Horn. After the show, Dan gushed to Ms Van Dyke about how long he'd wanted to meet her and thank her for her inspiration; about how, ever since seeing her, he wanted to grow up and do just what she did. She laughed and said, "You wanted to become Miss America?"
Vonda Kay Van Dyke
If Dan had known what was in store for him after the day in 2nd grade when he brought his puppet to class, he's certain he would have opted to bring anything else to school. He endured chanting of, "Danny plays with dolls!" for years, and worse.
However, the summer before annihilating his social standing, after only six months of practice with his new partner, Dan took part in a community talent show at the high school, and had his first taste of being in front of an audience. He loved the experience and, aside from forgetting a few lines of his routine, it went over pretty well, well enough to make him eager to perform again. So, that fall, when his new 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Sloan, invited the class to bring items for show-and-tell, he knew exactly what..or rather, whom he was going to bring.
Now a little more polished, he performed for his class the same script he did at the summer talent show. The routine, put together by Dan's mom, consisted of jokes from the Jimmy Nelson album, original lines (like this cutting edge retort from the puppet to Dan: "Well, you're sure no Vonda Kay!") and concluded with an a Cappella duet of `Let's go fly a kite' from Mary Poppins. Utterly charmed, the teacher had Dan perform encore renditions in front of the neighboring 2nd grade classes. All of them. Every kid in 2nd grade saw Dan and his doll. It wasn't long before word spread to the other grade levels about "The Second-grade Sissy". Despite the hazing, Dan's enthusiasm for puppets continued undiminished, although for years the puppets themselves remained closeted.
They didn't again see the light of day until the summer before he began 8th grade. Dan, a rather industrious fellow, mowed lawns to earn extra spending money. Arizona isn't exactly known for its pleasant temperatures in June, July or August, and working outdoors could challenge the most resolute constitution. Dan would push a gas lawn mower from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood looking for grass in need of grooming. When he found a candidate, he would ring the bell and offer his services. Many homes had xerescape, so he offered to pull weeds, whitewash trees or wash cars instead. Every house potentially meant opportunity; he just had to figure out what they needed that he could provide. Each job, however, had the same thing in common: it always meant working outside in the heat.
One successful bid resulted in Dan mowing the lawns at a house near a day care center. From the backyard, he could see the center's play area; its swings and teeter-totters empty. Of course, empty it was 115 degrees! Only an idiot (like Dan?) would be out in that kind of heat. It didn't take him long to put two and two together; if the kids weren't outside, they were inside enjoying air conditioning inside, but with nothing to do.
Opportunity knocked so loudly Dan could almost not hear the lawnmower. That afternoon ended with him pitching puppet shows for the kids to the center's director. In Dan's mind, it was a win-win proposition: the kids got something to do and he got out of the heat. The crazy thing is that the director loved the idea. So, in the afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays, Dan presented a puppet show. He pitched the idea to another day care center that picked up Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dubbed Puppetman, Dan Horn performed for an audience mostly of crying three and four-year-olds, four days a week, for one hour each show was one long hour.
The question arises why three summers in a row he returned to the centers putting on show after show. Was the situation a lucrative one for the young entrepreneur? Amazingly, Dan's compensation was a whopping $2.25 per hour, the same as mowing a lawn. To Dan, however, the important thing was that he was working in show biz!
For the moment, let's get back to Wallace & Ladmo, specifically 1969, the first time Dan Horn ever met Wallace. Here is the story in Dan's own words in an excerpt from a letter he wrote to Wallace:
In sixth grade, my best friend, Gerrit Paulsen, was made a joke winner. Now, around this time I was beginning to get ideas that I wanted to be a performer of some kind. I hadn't considered comedy yet; I was thinking I wanted to be an actor. But, being on TV was definitely a goal. When Gerrit told me, he was going to be on your show, my brain shifted into gear. I knew Gerrit's mom had no car and didn't drive. I also knew winners sometimes brought friends along who got to be on the show, too. I proposed to Gerrit having my mom drive us to the Westward Ho building if he would let me be on the show as his guest.
When we arrived at the studio, my presence, of course, was unexpected. There were only enough Ladmo Bags for the actual winners. Still, I was invited by you to sit on the set with the other winners and be on TV, which was all I really wanted, anyway. During the segment, after all the winners and me introduced ourselves, Pat came in as Marshall Good. Since I was sitting on the end closest to the door of the set, I saw on the monitor that I could be seen in the background during the whole bit. You and Pat did a routine about MG trying to borrow money (who could a guessed?). After you turned him down flat and asked him to leave, MG accosted me and tried to bum a dollar. As you ushered him toward the door, he grabbed at me saying he'd probably be able to pay me back sometime the following week. You managed to get him out the door, and then apologized to me for having suffered such rude behavior. Wow. Not only did I get to be on TV, but I got extra airtime and incorporated into a bit. I was thrilled. You made my dream into a reality. When the show was over, Gerrit and I headed down the hall but, before we could exit, you, Wall, came running up with a model car in a box and handed it to me saying you didn't want me to leave empty handed. I'm pretty sure you remember none of this. But, what can I say? The fact that I remember in such detail speaks volumes about how much it impressed me.
In the letter, Dan details for Wallace events that immediately followed his thoughtful gesture:
Want to hear the rest of the story? Model cars were Gerrit's thing. He suddenly felt jealous that I got a cool model while he's the contest winner and whole reason we were there at all and got a bag full of Ding-dongs! Gerrit made me feel guilty, telling me I had invited myself along, that he could have taken the bus to get to the station and that he should get the model cause I wasn't a winner. (Of course, it never occurred to either of us that if I hadn't been there, he'd [still] be leaving only with his Ladmo Bag.) By the time my mom arrived to take us home, I'd traded him the model for half the contents of his bag. He kept the actual bag. I didn't mind, though. I'd been on TV. (By the way, Gerrit and I are still best friends.)
It's said history repeats itself, but as Dan learned, not always with the same results. Throughout his high school years, he still bore the brunt of his past. However, in college (fall of `76) Dan found he had total anonymity. There wasn't one familiar face or anyone who knew his former reputation. Free at last from the stigma of his early years, no one teased him and he made friends easily.
The Muppet Show was a hit on television and inspired Dan to resurrect a Muppet-like puppet he made two years earlier. Crudely constructed and topped with a long fall his mother donated, he bestowed the name Cassandra (after Mama Cass) on his creation. Even though Dan considered himself a ventriloquist rather than a puppeteer, he saw no reason not to control the puppet's arms with rods the same way Jim Henson did with Kermit the Frog. Among other gestures, he used the arms to flip Cassandra's hair adding lots of attitude to her character. Brash, saucy, spunky this Cassandra suited Dan's abilities and sense of humor perfectly. But, did he dare risk revealing her to his college mates and chance spoiling his short-lived reprieve?
Dan sang in the mixed choir at MCC and, just for fun (he hoped!), brought Cassandra to rehearsal. It was deja vu all over again. Cassandra joked and sang, disrupting practice. Utterly charmed, the director had Dan perform encores for the neighboring classes throughout the music department. All of them. Every student present saw Dan and his doll and was captivated!
At MCC's music department following Cassandra's debut, Dan enjoyed popularity he had never known before. Between classes, students and teachers gathered around the lounge area to watch Cassandra and Dan's impromptu performances. Dan found that through Cassandra he could get big laughs having her spout rude remarks he could never get away with saying. Invitations to gatherings and parties gave Dan an outlet to hone routines and showcase new bits of business. At auditions held for a campus talent show, Dan was a shoo-in. When planning a benefit show for music scholarships, the head of the department, Mr. Hendricks, invited Dan and Cassandra to emcee the show. (Just in passing, Dan received two awards from that fund.) Cassandra performed with two other soloists in one of the numbers the choir prepared for their annual tour, which included concerts in Vegas and several venues in Los Angeles. As she was a bona fide member of the choir, Cassandra performed dressed in a smaller version of the female members formal burgundy gown, tailored especially for her by one of the sopranos. Everyone loved Cassandra. She was the It girl at MCC and hanger on, Dan, was right there riding her coattails.
(Author's note: This same Cassandra regularly appeared on The Wallace & Ladmo Show throughout Dan Horn's time as a cast member. Thrilled to have been part of the show, she's especially proud of the little-known fact she never used a puppet-double. For the High-diving-into-a-Ladmo-Bag bits the station wanted to use a stunt puppet but I said "no it really was me" splatting on the floor when I missed. Concerning the rumors about her and Gerald, she says, They're true. I really did have a crush on him. Or maybe it was just his money. Either way, I loved the way he'd stare at me and say," I don't like felt that talks". Gerald could not be reached for comment. Where is she now? Cassandra still enjoys an active performance schedule as the finale in Dan Horn's act. Collagen injections, Botox and regular dry cleanings maintain her youthful appearance.)
Cassandra mid 80s with Jodi (and Dan) on the chroma-key set
Cassandra and Dan perform late 90s
Cassandra mildly possessed
Cassandra: I feel like a boob!
Dan's next character debuted in 1978. Originally not intended for audiences outside Dan's immediate family, the new puppet a little old man,promptly surpassed Cassandra's enormous popularity. His persona combined unflattering traits from Dan's grandfather, a great-aunt and a great-uncle; qualities Dan knew only his parents and brother would recognize, but aspects they would nonetheless find funny. Orson (the name chosen so as not to sound "puppety" like Buford or Charlie) means bear and Dan thought the connotation fit the old guy's personality. Since Dan was 19, Orson's age became the reverse: 91. Although none of Dan's family had ever been in show business, making Orson a retired vaudevillian thinly veiled the individuals he parodied. Dan's family roared with laughter at Orson's kitchen table premiere. Dan, however, was certain general audiences wouldn't find humor in the character unless they knew his relatives. He didn't consider that other people might have elderly relatives and would be able to draw their own parallels. However, the first time Dan appeared with Orson in public at an open-mic night... Well, let's just say his mama didn't raise no dummies!
(Author's note: Of course, this is the Orson who also appeared with Dan on The Wallace & Ladmo Show. Orson's cheap shots at Wallace's size often got him into trouble, once resulting in Wallace sitting on him and squashing him flat (literally they substituted a life-size cardboard cutout of Orson looking like road-kill). Days after the episode aired, a cassette tape arrived at the station from a little girl who angrily expressed outrage at Wallace and Dan for cruelty to puppets. (For real.) Concerning his un-PC jests, Orson recently offered this comment: It was all Dan; he put words in my mouth. I would never make jokes at Wallace's expanseer' expense! Where is he now? After leaving the show, Orson underwent a complete image makeover (finally acquiring ears!) and spent the years since touring with Dan. Today, he remains Dan Horn's right-hand man. He is still 91.)
Orson early 80s with Wall, Lad, Gerald and Dan
Orson and Dan - promo shot - 2001
Orson and Dan - promo
Orson and Dan perform 2005
Dan Horn quickly rose from open-mic act to featured headliner, topping the bill for the first time at The Playboy Club in Phoenix, March 1981. Here are just a few reviewers comments from throughout his career:
Dan Horn made his dummy Orson come breathtakingly alive. It hardly mattered that you could see Horn manipulating Orson to frown, blanch, guffaw and attack his master with a flurry of blows. Watching Horn, you could sense the awesome power a ventriloquist can have.
Horn is a ventriloquist. And a first rate one.
Horn is a fine technician and often gets so much happening with a puppet it's difficult to see how he is able to do it at all!
Comedian - ventriloquist Dan Horn has earned a reputation as one of the most technically adept ventriloquists in the business.
Orson's feisty remarks have such timing and polish you wonder is it Memorex or Dan Horn.
These blurbs refer to Dan's nightclub activity. However, his day job is what led to joining The Wallace & Ladmo Show. From his letter to Wallace, Dan Horn picks up the story:
I was working as a janitor at FedMart on Broadway and McClintock in Tempe. A friend of mine saw an announcement in the paper for auditions for a festival called Summer Sunday to be held at the civic center. Well, I don't want to bore you with a lot of details here, so I'll just say attending that audition ultimately led to a contract with the City of Phoenix to promote the use of seat belts. My job was to travel to Valley elementary schools and do a show on traffic safety. As part of the kick-off for the program, I learned I was going to make an appearance on your show. I hadn't yet given up [working] as janitor at FedMart and, as one of my duties every morning was to clean the employee break room (where there was a TV), I used to arrange my schedule so that Iâ€™d be in there between 7:00 and 8:00am. I'm sure you recognize the time slot. There was a full week before my scheduled appearance, but every day of that week, as I scrubbed the microwave and dumped the ashtrays, I watched the show from a completely different perspective. I can vividly recall the anticipation I felt. It wasn't prompted merely by the prospect of being on TV; I had already made appearances on Open Camera and a couple of early morning shows at channel 3 and, although those were exciting, this was different. I was about to appear not as the guest of a contest winner, but as a performerâ€”on the same show that had entertained me for as long as I could remember. My exhilaration was due entirely to the fact I was going to work with you.
When I arrived at the station (now off Indian School Road), the lobby was teeming with agitated Girl and Boy Scout troops seated and waiting on benches. The kids jostled with excitement, but I think I was more keyed up about being on the show than they were. As I checked in with Nan at the front desk, Ladmo and Pat entered through the large double doors that led from the studio. It was about ten minutes to four and [they had] come out to greet the kids. Upon seeing them, my heart skipped several beats and I remember thinking they were really wonderful to spend a minute to say hi. Shortly after they'd gone back through the double doors, Daryl Drake [the Floor Manager] appeared to usher us into the studio. The kids were seated in the bleachers and I sat off to the side with the parents. You emerged to welcome everyone and start the show and I couldn't believe my luck at being there.
Want to hear the rest of the story? The shows I did at the schools before my visit to KPHO went pretty well, but sometimes the kids were a little distracted. After only one guest appearance on your show, my performances received rapt attention because now they saw me as "that guy from TV." My shows went better than they ever had before and you did that for me.
The public's attention span is short. It wasn't long before I realized I needed to make more appearances on your show to boost my rapport with the kids at the schools. At my request, Dorothy Miles, the PR person from our office, contacted you about regular guest spots for me. You returned a cordial, No, thank you. When I think back on it now, what I did, I never would have done except that I was young and naive and didn't know any better. You might remember I called and spoke to you directly.
Ever the diplomat, Wallace thanked Dan for calling but Sgt. Harry from the Phoenix police department handled the show's safety messages. Dan offered to limit his topic to safety belt use (the focus of his contract with the City of Phoenix) worked into comedy sketches using his puppets. Whether Wallace was high on Moonpies, or he sensed something in Dan, we'll never know. What we do know is he said yes and gave Dan a once-a-week slot. This was early 1980 and by October, Wall had Dan performing straight comedy sketches daily on the show, and made him part of the stage shows at the Arizona State Fair. Seat belts gave Dan his start and, as things were moving pretty fast, he buckled-up for the ride.
Dan, drawn into the gristmill that was daily TV, had to work hard to keep up with the guys, a pretty daunting challenge to be suddenly facing. His primary objective, of course, was to please his audience; in his heart, however, that audience was Wallace and he wanted desperately to be worthy. The one thing he couldn't bear would be to fail the faith Wallace placed in him. He watched for signs of affirmation but Wallace could sometimes be tough to read. Occasionally, though, when least expected, and for no apparent reason, Wall would offer a simple, Dan, you're all right. The magnitude of how those words inspired, Dan Horn cannot express, nor could Wallace have known. It's likely he regarded the gesture characteristically as the least I could do. The most would be a steak at Durant's. (This was one of Wallace's favorite responses.)
One challenge at KPHO that soon surfaced for Dan was learning to use the teleprompter. An ingenious device consisting of a glass plate placed at a 45-degree angle in front of the camera's lens with an upward facing monitor mounted beneath. Scripts (called prompters) were handwritten on paper and taped together end to end, then fed through a flatbed device that scrolled them past a small, fixed camera. Controlled remotely by the floor director, as the prompter crept along, its content appeared mirror image in the monitor, which reflected in the glass enabling the performer to see the lines while looking directly into the camera.
Originally, Dan memorized everything for each of his bits, but found this impractical once he started appearing daily on the show; it was time consuming, perilous regarding any last minute content changes, and subjected the bits to possible memory lapse disasters. He had to learn to use the teleprompter. Two obstacles put him at a disadvantage. Firstly, Dan wore glasses to correct nearsightedness, but he never wore them on camera, which made discerning small writing on the prompter problematic. He solved this dilemma by adopting a bold, deliberate printing style similar to Wallace's, making his prompters easier to read. The second issue was more difficult to overcome. Typically, a routine between two characters meant one had an opportunity to consult the prompter for the next line while the other delivered theirs. The hitch for Dan was as a ventriloquist he played both characters, making it very awkward to perform his actions/reactions, manipulate the puppet's actions/reaction and read the prompter all at the same time. Ladmo offered his solution: Dan should have the puppets memorize their lines, and then he would only have to read his; make `em pull their own weight! Despite the obvious jest, in essence, Dan did just that. He familiarized himself to the point that he only needed the prompter to er' prompt. In due course, Dan was using the teleprompter as fluently as anyone else did on the show.
Increased reception and boosted demand for Dan's school shows was a direct result of his appearances on Wallace & Ladmo. Association with the show helped him establish rapport with audiences. July 25th, 2005 Dan received this email, akin to many he has received over the years from people worldwide:
Real Name: Dylan Power
Performers hope their work leaves a lasting impression, and their gratitude when someone sends a letter like this, in Dan's case, anyway, is immense at least equal to a steak at Durant's.
The City of Phoenix sponsored Dan's Safety show for over five years. Throughout its run, Dan performed two morning shows and two afternoon shows at two different elementary schools practically every day of the week, every semester. Weekends and summers included libraries, festivals, Scout meetings and summer recreation camps. That, however, was only a fraction of his activities. In the afternoons, he taped The Wallace & Ladmo Show and evenings he spent performing at comedy clubs, corporate dinners, Blue and Gold banquets and the like. Offers for holiday gatherings, office parties and birthday celebrations increased after having fliers printed touting RENT-A-VENT (the motto suggested by Pat McMahon). One marketing strategy backfired: Dan listed his number in the phonebook where fingers do the walking only to be frustrated when they placed him under Entertainment, Adult which resulted in calls for services he did not offer.
Recruited by Samcor (Samaritan Health Services), Dan acted as on-camera talent, co-writer, creative advisor and composer for a series of health related videos titled Just for Kids of which "Peer Pressure" received a Rocky Mountain Emmy nomination. Video projects for Salt River Project, Motorola, The City of Phoenix and other organizations followed. Dan appeared in television and radio ads for 21st Century Sound, Off-The-Wall Beds and The Ore House restaurant, and made his national TV debut in 1981 with a guest appearance on ABC's Fridays.
At KPHO, Dan loved the environment, the work, and especially the people he worked with. Of course, he knew from the beginning he would. He'd already had memorable first encounters with Ladmo and Wallace. His initial meeting with Pat McMahon proved every bit as unforgettable.
We know from Dan's letter that he sat in the parents section of the studio audience his very first day on the set. That morning, he watched the show as he attended to his janitorial duties in the Fedmart break room. That afternoon, with Cassandra in tow, mopping floors was the furthest thing from his mind. There he was, about to rub elbows with the real deal his childhood favorites: Wallace, Ladmo and Pat McMahon. Thus far, his experience in show business, by any standard, amounted to very little with no appreciable time in the company of seasoned professionals. Naive to their world (or, more accurately, just naive), he sat unaware his perceptions about entertainers in general, and kid show folk in particular, was about to change. His letter to Wallace explains:
During the commercial break before my segment, you did something that astonished me. As you talked with me about my upcoming part, you joked around in a completely un-kid-show-host manner, then pulled out your wallet and sipped from it like a hip flask. You revealed there was a real impish side to you. I realized that even though you hosted a kid show, you weren't some stuffy prude on an ivory pedestal. You were a real person with a charming and biting wit that I never expected, and suddenly, you towered that much more in my estimation.
Wallace would not be the only one that day to contribute to Dan's edification. The taping wrapped in the usual way, and Ladmo and Wallace thanked everyone for coming. As Dan followed the exiting herd past the dressing room, he noticed a hand beckoning through the partly open door. Pat McMahon, still in Captain Super garb, invited Dan in. The surprisingly small room teemed with costumes, shelves of props and boxes of the stuff dreams (Ladmo Bags) were made of. One large desk directly in front of the door (Wallace's) and a smaller one placed T-bone to it (Craig Dingle's) occupied most of the floor space. To the left of the entrance a mirror and a waist-high counter ran the length of the wall, roughly seven or eight feet, and dead-ended at a small cupboard containing various wigs, moustaches and bottles of spirit gum. This was Pat's corner, where each character we loved (or loved to boo and jeer) came into being. Dan stood just inside the door as Pat, in a genuinely friendly and enthusiastic manner, offered words of praise and encouragement based solely on the two or three minute segment he'd just seen of Dan with Cassandra. He commented on Dan's technique, the fact that he used a character of his own creation, the seeming rarity lately of ventriloquists and variety performers in general, Edgar Bergan and Days of Yore, current trends in stand-up comedy, opportunities and venues for specialty acts, and so forth (apparently, living up to his legend of never being at a loss for things to say). As a newcomer, Dan inwardly reacted with a mixture of intimidation, excitement, flattery and total disorientation. The very moment the door closed behind Dan and Pat began dissertating, articles of costuming shed as well. Without the slightest deference to modesty, off came the cape, the sash, the jersey, the shoulder pads, the trunks, the tights everything but the fruit-of-the-looms. If Pat noticed the shade of crimson Dan's face must have been, he gave no mind to it. Rather, he talked, arranged the various garments on hangers, talked, dressed in his street clothes, and talked truly exhibiting the spirit and influence of his theatrical upbringing. The last thing Dan expected to retain from that day was the odd juxtaposition of exhilaration coupled with the mental image of one of Arizona's Greats in nothing but tidy-whities.
It wasn't long before other puppet characters joined Dan's cast of several. He even had his own version of Pat McMahon: a blank puppet that, with various add-on features/accessories, could be made-up and costumed into any character.
Polly Esther Gabardine, a little old lady puppet, had her genesis in a routine about an old girlfriend of Orson's that Dan used at open mic sessions. Her name, of course, is a pun and Dan loves puns. His bits over the years included a hearty sprinkling. Dan was to find out one day just how much Wallace and Pat detested puns.
He had been on the show for a couple years, writing bits for himself or for one of his puppets and another cast member, when he tried his hand at writing a `Wizard prompter for Wall and Pat. His first attempt at a script that excluded his own participation, it was rife with puns; most, Dan recalls, were real groaners. Rather than nix the bit, Wallace scheduled it in; it was a wise move on his part. For when the piece bombed unreservedly, however agonizing for Dan (excruciating for Wall, Pat and the audience), seeing it performed allowed him to comprehend its weaknesses. Had Wallace merely declined the bit, Dan would never have learned a valuable lesson. Subsequent prompters reflected the tutelage. Today, Dan waxes poetic concerning his growing pains: Nothing dentured, nothing gained. Oh, wait, that's why the dieter removed his false teeth!
(Author's note: Polly Esther appeared regularly on the show, although less frequently than Orson or Cassandra. Tensions mounted on the set over this and the fact her payment was nothing like their star salaries; Polly worked for scale receiving twenty-five cents per bit. The situation escalated when her real-life frustration became fodder for comedy in a series of scripts where she played a fortuneteller with a crystal ball. Several barely disguised bits had Dan complaining that she wanted too much for her services. One, where he inferred she was not a very good soothsayer and lacked Star Power, proved the last straw. Disregarding the prompter, she spat, "What do you want for a quarter? Jean Dixon?" Following a brief suspension, Polly returned to the studio under a new contract that diffused extant hostilities. Where is she now? Polly Esther, like Orson, underwent an image makeover after leaving the show. She remains a supporting cast member in Dan Horn's touring ensemble of players. She's planning a tell-all book about her experience on The Wallace & Ladmo Show titled: Remembrances of a Dacron Dame. As soon as she remembers something, she'll tell all.)
Polly performing with Dan and Orson - 2004
Polly Esther Gabardine Today
Not long after Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial premiered, Wallace handed Dan a small sketch for a puppet he wanted made for the show. The design, derivative of the movie's alien, sported the moniker: E.P.: The Extra Puppet. Due to Dan's limited skills at the time, however, the puppet's construction exceeded the timeliness of the bit Wallace had in mind. Still, it would have been a shame not to find some use for the little guy. Brainstorming saddled the character with a new identity: Augie from the planet Noogie. Craig Dingle wrote a bit between Ladmo and Augie that Wall slated for the next day's taping.
For the character, Dan wanted to find some way of creating an unusual voice and a thrift shop supplied the solution. The next day, Dan arrived at the station with a battery-operated toothbrush that he modified with a suction cup fitted on its end. Turned on and placed against his throat, the up-and-down movement gave an otherworldly warble to Dan's voice for Augie. As you might imagine, it also caused unbridled hysterics in the dressing room when Dan gave a demonstration for the guys.
Hunched behind stacked crates, Dan waited on the chroma-key set for the pitch from Wall to start the bit. One hand operated the puppet while the other poised the device at his throat. The monitor displayed the scene: Augie, sitting alone, the neck telescoping fully the head from his little body.
Over on the main set, Wallace said, Ladmo has a new friend. Let's see who it is.
The lights came up on the chroma-key set and Ladmo bounded into the shot to start the scene.
"Who are you?" Ladmo asked in exaggerated tones directed toward the camera as he read the prompter.
In response, a very audible hum began and the puppet's first utterance unmistakably came out, "I'm Augie from the planet Nookie."
Utter pandemonium exploded: Ladmo collapsed to the floor; Wallace doubled over, pounding the desktop; fits of laughter immobilized the whole studio crew. Waiting for composure caused the longest stop-down of the show Dan can remember. At least a full fifteen minutes later, taping resumed with Augie's home planet renamed Zoggy.
(Authors note: Following his debut, Augie appeared semi-regularly on the show with the majority of his bits written by Craig Dingle. He was never again to have the same impact as when he spoke that first line, but since no one outside the studio ever heard it, general audiences had no comparison. Dan retired the toothbrush devise after two or three uses; the sight of it evoked snickers and it hurt his throat. Where is he now? After leaving the show, Augie phoned home but got the answering machine; the number has remained blocked ever since. A bit player in Dan Horn's act, he remains the only original, original cast member from The Wallace & Ladmo Show. Dan still uses the same, unchanged puppet he created for the show, albeit with his former given name, E.P., restored. E.P., however, prefers The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Augie-From-Zoggy.)
Augie (E.P.) and Dan perform early 2005
E.P.: The Extra Puppet Today
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