Vi Thompson

vi thomsonVi Thompson began her broadcasting career in sales at KGVO-TV (now KECI), Missoula in 1954 and spent the next 45 years at the station. It was a career that nearly didn’t happen. One day she ran into the station’s owner who asked if she’d like to “sell television.” She laughed and said, “Sure.” The next morning he called to ask why she wasn’t at work. She thought he had been kidding.

At a time when women were a rarity in the fledgling TV industry, Vi became a fixture. She was Montana’s first TV Account Executive and hosted numerous live daily and weekly programs. Vi’s career began in the days when doing a local TV commercial often meant riding the snow cat up to the studio and transmitter site atop TV Mountain. “Brickbats and Bouquets” was her afternoon TV show after KGVO-TV first went on the air.

In addition to her many contributions to local broadcasting, Vi Thomson served on dozens of local charitable and non-profit boards including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Chamber of Commerce, RSVP, Governor’s Advisory Board, and she was a founding member of the Missoula Soroptimists.

— Montana Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame

W.A. “Billy” Simons (1860? – 1937)

billy-simonsjpgWilliam A. Simons got his start in the entertainment business when he sold a lunch stand he’d started in Cherryvale, Kansas with money borrowed on his deceased father’s gold watch.  With the proceeds he bought a drugstore that had an empty hall upstairs where he opened a roller skating rink.  In 1886, he sold that business for $5000 and left for Montana. There he established a traveling wild west tent show that visited the many small mining towns that were springing up everywhere.

In the late 1890s, the Klondike Gold Rush drew him to Alaska where he built theaters in Nome and Dawson.  During the same period he bought Lolo Hot Springs Ranch and became the proprietor of the Lolo Hot Springs Hotel until it burned in 1900. Eventually he established headquarters in Wallace, Idaho, a wild and woolly mining town, where he ran a hotel, brothel and a vaudeville house.

Billy grew to be very successful, investing and expanding, and acquiring interests in various enterprises. The W.A. Simons Amusement Company eventually owned scores of theaters across the northwest from Miles City, Montana to Spokane, Washington and in Alaska, a number of ranches including Lolo Hot Springs, and an 8% interest in Daly’s Meats of Missoula.

In 1919, Billy was visiting MIssoula when he saw Edna Wilma perform.  A lovely 24-year-old light opera singer who rode the circuit with sister Edith, Edna captured Billy’s heart and the couple was soon married in Portland, Oregon. They settled for a time in Simons’ Grand Hotel in Wallace where they ran the Masonic Opera House and Simons Amusement Company.

In 1920, Billy entered a partnership with one Colonel Smead and together they financed, drew up the plans for and began construction on the Smead-Simons Building, next to the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula.  At some point during the construction, Edna Wilma Simons got into a quarrel with Smead (it is said he made a pass at her) and told Billy either Smead had to go or she would.  So, Billy bought Smead out and the structure was renamed The Wilma Building.  Upon its completion in January of 1921, Billy and Edna established residence in Missoula, occupying rooms on the 5th floor of the Wilma Building, and operating the Wilma Theater and other enterprises from offices there.

In the 1930s, Billy suffered a stroke.  It was believed that the sulphurous waters of Lolo Hot Springs would help heal him, so Edna frequently drove him over rough road by horse and wagon to their cabin where he could soak in the warm water that was piped directly from the springs.  The trip required 27 crossings of Lolo Creek.

Billy Simons died in 1937, leaving all his property and the W.A. Simons Amusement Company to Edna Wilma Simons.

— Special thanks to David Keith for providing information on this important figure in Missoula history about whom very little has been written.

McCarthy Coyle (1939-2006)

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 1.25.59 PMPlaywright, journalist, and co-founder of The Borrowed Times and public access TV in Missoula, Richard “McCarthy” Coyle was a well known denizen of Missoula. Outspoken and at times a combative advocate for civil liberties and fairness in media, he was also a raconteur, singer, showman and world-class hitchhiker.

Coyle, born March 25, 1939, in Suffern, N.Y., grew up in New Jersey.  After a stint in the Coast Guard, Coyle earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Long Beach State in California.  His first job as a journalist was in Los Angeles.  He soon moved to New York to be a reporter for the New York Daily News. While at the Daily News, he was awarded a prestigious fellowship for a year’s study with other journalists at Stanford University.

Finishing at Stanford in June 1969, Coyle drove his old Chevy pickup south, through Mexico and Central America to the end of the road in Panama. Selling the truck, he continued down the West Coast of South America by train, plane, and hitchhiking to Chile, then over the Andes to Argentina, finally flying back to the States from Rio de Janeiro. He sold dispatches to U.S. papers along the way to support himself.  His traveling adventures later continued with a journey to Alaska by freight train and ferry, then a hike over the Chilkoot on the gold rush trail, and continuing by canoe down the Yukon River deep into the Northwest Territories.

In the early 1970s he used the G.I. Bill to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco, and appeared in productions there and with the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Years later, he returned as Playwright-in-Residence at ACT.

After studying in San Francisco, he moved to Missoula and set to work as a journalist at the local underground newspaper, The Borrowed Times.  His academic background in political science and obsessive tracking of U.S. politics made him a remarkable source of information on political process and government. Coyle challenged everyone with his quick wit, piercing intelligence and his writing. He sometimes chided friends for their failure to remember a critical issue in an election that had taken place before they were born.

Coyle’s commitment to quality and integrity in media and the political process was a major theme in his life. He was equally knowledgeable about the political and legal issues involved in public access TV.  In 1980, he earned a master’s degree in broadcasting from Boston University and soon after he and friends founded Montanans for Quality TV (MQTV), a media center whose mission was to improve television in Montana and open access to the public, essentially creating Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) in 1989. When the local Missoula TV license was being sold, he repeatedly intervened in the process at the FCC, demanding better news coverage, children’s programming and public access. His interventions prevented the license transfer until Missoula was assured of viable community television. Mastery of detail made him an extremely effective advocate. He was invited at the time to testify on the subject at a Congressional hearing in Denver. He was later a regular contributor to MCAT, interviewing everyone from politicians to people on the street.

His political engagement and television activism notwithstanding, Coyle frequently published opinion pieces in papers, ranging from the San Francisco Examiner to the Baltimore Sun, and sometimes syndicated around the country. His feature stories appeared in magazine sections of major papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Examiner. He served as copy editor for The Missoula Independent during it first two years of publication.

Although Missoula was forever his home, his commitment to writing led to temporary absences when he accepted teaching appointments at Northern Montana State University in Havre and at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. He was a demanding but encouraging teacher, and some of his students stayed in touch with him until his death.

Still, theater remained his first love. A well-read impresario, he created one-man shows, notably appearing in character as Thomas Meagher, the first territorial governor of Montana. Presented at Fort Missoula and in various Montana cities, Coyle took his one man show on the road, performing in San Francisco and as far afield as Waterford, Ireland, Meagher’s birthplace. He loved appearing, as well, with friends and colleagues in local theater productions. He published two full-length plays, “The Root,” which is in the University of Minnesota series Playwrights for Tomorrow and, perhaps his proudest achievement, “Drawing Down the Moon.” The latter won him an invitation to and a production at the O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. The Playbill shows him proudly in his cowboy hat. “Drawing Down the Moon” was also staged in Missoula with a cast of local theater people, and in San Francisco with professional actors from ACT and with his nieces, Sarah Kirley and Siobhan Gallaher, taking minor parts.

Coyle had the most remarkable gift for bringing people together, often at his little house on Chestnut Street.  He loved singing, especially with friends, and in recent years he faithfully accompanied Terry Jimmerson to sing at nursing homes and senior centers in Missoula. His exuberance often led him to ask the ladies to dance. Even with those who were wheelchair-bound, he found a way.

Coyle died suddenly and unexpectedly of pneumonia in late 2006.


Judge Wallace Clark (1916-1990)

After an unsuccessful run for the post in 1965, and an unsuccessful bid for county surveyor in 1966, Wallace “Wally” Clark was elected police judge for the city of Missoula in 1967 on the Democratic ticket.

Born in Sweet Grass, Montana, Wallace Nichols Clark grew up the son of the sheriff of Toole County.  Putting himself through college working as a customs official on the Canadian border, he graduated from the University of Montana in 1940.  Clark entered the army in 1941, serving as an infantryman and in the medical corps in N. Africa, Sicily, Italy and South France. After the war he attended law school at UM and met and married Mary Beth Toney.

Clark graduated from law school in 1947, thereafter joining the Army Air Corps JAG office. He traveled the world in the service until 1963 when he retired. (Clark underwent cataract surgery around that time and subsequently, not trusting his vision, never drove again.)  He and his wife then moved into her family home on West Pine near St. Patrick’s hospital. He practiced law for a few years, also working as a deputy Missoula county attorney before his 1965 run for police judge.  He’d left the county attorney position by 1966.  It is unclear if a petition for his removal filed in 1965 was the cause of his leaving.

Elected police judge in 1967, Clark was returned to office several times before winning the new and more powerful position of municipal judge in 1977.  (After successfully lobbying the legislature for creation of the new office which combined and replaced the offices of police judge and city judge, he became the first municipal judge in the state).  Clark ran for the Montana Supreme Court twice, in 1980 and 1982, losing to Justice John Sheehy in both races.  Clark finally surrendered his judgeship after he was defeated by City Attorney Don Louden in the election of 1989.  Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988, he died in 1990.

Clark was known to lawyers and those who went before him as a cantankerous cowboy of a jurist who had eccentric ideas about punishment for offenders.  Questioning people before him about their backgrounds, he often tailored sentences based on family ties or ethnic origins.  (For example, if the offender was of Irish extraction, he’d throw him in the clink, because “an Irishman can’t stand to be deprived of his booze.” If the offender was Scottish, he fined him, “because those Scots can’t bear to part with a dime.”)  In other cases, he might use creative sentencing to teach the offender a “needed lesson.”

Clark openly espoused his creative sentencing philosophy in court and dared lawyers to appeal, admonishing them that their client would sit in jail for years by the time the case got to the Supreme Court.  He could also be very lenient and kind to sympathetic characters, especially the hard-up, whom he sometimes even treated to a meal at Hamburger Ace.

The following news stories written  between 1965 and 1980 give a bit of the flavor of Judge Wally Clark.

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 13, 1978

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 16, 1967

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Evening Independent, May 28, 1977






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Spokane Spokesman Review, April 10, 1968

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Spokane Spokesman Review, May 17, 1979


Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

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Spokane Spokesman Review, February 5, 1965

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Spokane Spokesman Review, March 8, 1966


Miami News, July 7, 1977

Miami News, July 7, 1977

Wolf’s Second Hand

Wolf's2nd Marcus Wolf, a self-described “pack rat,” operated a second hand store and “non-profit museum” often referred to by locals as “Wolftown.”  His obsessive collecting and organizing instincts resulted in a labyrinthine compound (located on W. Broadway a few blocks past its intersection with Russell Street) brimming with thousands of items, including a trailer jammed with thousands of dolls of every sort.  With a creative and humorous spirit, Wolf produced tableaus using the prodigious quantity of materials at his disposal, for example, a “jail” with a kneeling female store-dummy whose head was placed in a toilet bowl. He welcomed customers in search of unique items and just curious passers-by. The tours he offered were an inspiration to many local artists and photographers.

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John Rankin Home

Once located at the southeast corner of Broadway and Madison, this unique home was built by John Rankin, father of Jeanette Rankin, the first congresswoman from Montana, and  her famous brother Wellington Rankin.  It, tragically, was razed in 1962 so Madison Street could be widened to accommodate the new bridge.

Rankin house

Rankin home at 134 Madison Street


Rankin House

Initial Shock

Originally formed in 1966 as The Chosen Few, Initial Shock was a psychedelic rock band from Missoula Montana. Composed of members from Missoula bands Mojo’s Mark IV and The Vulcans, the band changed its name to Initial Shock in 1967, moving to San Francisco that same year.


Click on image to read an article about Initial Shock at Rock Archaeology 101


Band members were:

  • George Wallace-lead guitar (formerly of the Vulcans)
  • William “Mojo” Collins-guitar, vocals
  • Steve Garr-bass
  • Brian Knaff-drums, vocals






The band released two singles, the first :Long Time Coming” b/w “I Once Asked” by William “Mojo” Collins was recorded on the BFD label at “The House of Sound” in Butte.  The second was “Mind Disaster” b/w “It’s Not Easy.” Both were regional hits in the western USA and also in the Top 10 Southern Survey where the lead singer, Mojo Collins was, and still is from.

According to George Crow, their road manager: “The band played with almost every major group during their rise to the top in the bay area.  One concert poster featured Initial Shock as the headline group with Clover (Huey Lewis) as the second billed band and the Doobie Brothers as the opening act. The Initial Shock opened for Pink Floyd on their first American tour.  The Initial Shock were on many of the 1960’s posters of concerts at the Avalon, Winterland, and The Fillmore West including one of the famous Grateful Dead posters with the huge eyeball at the Avalon Ballroom.  The band never signed to a major recording contract and broke up in 1969 due to drugs and personal problems.

Initial shock was a great band, had a huge following, and was a seminal musical addition to the psychedelic scene happening in SF. George Wallace, also known as George Firestone, was recognized as one of the finest guitarists and songwriters of his day. When he wasn’t performing with IS, he often toured with Janis Joplin.  After Initial Shock broke up,  George Wallace and George Crowe founded Yellowstone Band with drummer Brian Knaff while Mojo Collins went on to found Sawbuck with Ronnie Montrose and Chuck Ruff.  Steve Garr bought the Top Hat bar in Missoula Mt in 1987 and owned and operated the place until his passing in 2008 at age 62.  Knaff went on to create Talent Booking Network and is a major concert promoter to this day.  Mojo Collins still plays the blues and is a North Carolina Institution who plays all over the South.  Road manager Crowe and Wallace went on to play in the Invaders which led up to the Sonics album with original lead singer Jerry Roslie.  Wallace passed away in 2006 and George Crowe is still playing and getting ready to release his new Cd with Northwest guitar player Marty Shalk in the fall of 2010.”

Missoula Bands of Yore

  • 1-800
  • Andre Floyd
  • Bad Math
  • Beni Rad
  • Big Sky Mudflaps
  • Boy Toast (1980s) Joey Kline
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cold Shot
  • Deranged Diction
  • Ernst Ernst
  • Freelance
  • GIngerBlue (featuring Skipp Vandecar and ???)
  • Hitchcock
  • The Initial Shock (1967-1969)  f/k/a The Chosen Few (1966)

Initial Shock

  • The Invaders (1966-67)



  • Just Ducky
  • The Kegmen
  • The Lifters
  • Live Wire Choir
  • Kostas
  • Lost Highway Band (1975-86) Phil Hamilton, Michael Purington, Paul Kelley
  • Mission Mountain Wood Band (1972-1982) Rob Quist, Steve Riddle, Christian Johnson, Greg Reichenberg, Terry Robinson
  • Mojo’s Mark IV (1965) featuring William Mojo Collins (vocals, guitar), Steve Garr (bass), Rockie Lieble (organ),  Rick Richter (sax), Brian Knapf (drums).
  • Montana
  • Mother Freedom, featuring Russel Woods, Bob & John Behner, Randy Bro
  • Northern Freight
  • Pegasus
  • Predators~later it became Dangerous Friends
  • Prophecy
  • The Rage
  • Rose Tattoo
  • The Sound System
  • The Talk
  • The Time
  • The TNT’s (1964-1966: Bruce Wallwork ~Bass, Vocals / Chuck Seitz ~ Lead Guitar,Vocals / Sonny King ~ Alto Saxophone / Steve Pike ~ Organ / Don Underwood ~ Drums)
  • The Vulcans
  • Wayne Silversonic and the (I don’t remember whats)
  • Who Killed Society?
  • Zoo City

D’Orazi’s Bar, Grocery and Hotel

Owned by one of Missoula’s oldest Italian families, D’Orazi’s Bar, grocery store and hotel were on the SE corner of Woody and Alder in a building that once housed the luxurious Europe Hotel. One of the D’Orazi daughters married former Italian P.O.W., Alfredo Cipalatto.  Together the two owned and ran The Broadway Market.

The photo is from 1968. The hotel and the neighboring shanties were torn down around 1970.

D'Orazi on Woody

Edward “Eddie” Sharp (1916-1993)

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Eddie Sharp with Koro Hatto circa 1988.







Edward Sharp met Edna Wilma Simons, widow of Wild Billy Simons, just prior to WWII and corresponded by letter with her while he was serving in the Navy during the war. They were married in 1950.  Upon her passing in 1954, Eddie inherited controlling interest in the W.A. Simons Amusement Co., which owned the Wilma Theater.  Thereafter, he and partner Bob Sias ran the Simons empire which included the Roxy Theater, Eddie and Bob’s Go West Drive-in, several other theaters in Montana and Idaho, as well as the Wilma Theater until Eddie’s death in 1993.

Every year on the anniversary of Edna’s passing Eddie would lock himself in his apartment for several days remembering and mourning, admitting no one. He maintained a gas flame at Edna’s grave in the city cemetery, and a heated glass box set in her burial stone stocked with fresh flowers year round. There were rumours that a condition of her will was that he was to visit the grave weekly in order to keep the inheritance but, according to David Keith, Eddie’s assistant during the ’80s and up until his death, these stories were not true.

Besides his devotion to Edna, Eddie was known for his love of animals, particularly doves and pigeons.  Much to the chagrin of some other downtown businesses, he fed and maintained a huge flock of pigeons that could be seen flying about the Wilma Building and landing on its roof for their meals.  One could look up while crossing the Higgins Bridge and see a cage-like structure in one window of Eddie’s apartment which allowed the pigeons access to his rooms. Eddie’s constant companion was Korro Hatto (pictured with Eddie above), who sat on his shoulder whilst Eddie took tickets and served refreshments at both the Go West and the Chapel of the Dove.

Eddie, Koro Hatto (d. 1989) and Bob Sias (1921-1999) are interred together in the Missoula City Cemetery.  The burial plot also contains the graves of Billy Simons (1864-1937), Edna Wilma (1895-1954), and her sister, Edith (Sid) Wilma (1887-1932).


Simons / Sharp burial plot