The title of today’s blog is “Mike Wallace At Large”. The legendary CBS News reporter passed away Saturday evening at age 93. The reason I used this title is because that was the name of a feature that Wallace did on the CBS Radio Network years ago, and because his first love, like me, was radio.
Upon graduating from the University Of Michigan in 1939, he took a job as a “rip and read” news reporter at WOOD/WASH in Grand Rapids MI (the term “rip and read” comes from the days when news was sent via telephone lines to a teletype machine and a radio announcer would “rip” it off the machine and “read” it over the air).
In 1940, Wallace made his network radio debut on WXYZ/Detroit, where he was the narrator for “The Green Hornet”. He soon moved to Chicago and on WMAQ Radio, he hosted his first interview show, “Famous Names”, This lead to his first network television appearance as the star in a police drama, “Stand By For Crime.” In 1951, he joined CBS in New York. He left in 1955 but returned to CBS in 1963. Wallace was a multi-talented individual hosting game shows, appearing on Broadway, and appearing in numerous commercials. But he never lost sight of his true calling: radio and television and the art of the interview.
I won’t go into all of his extraordinary accomplishments here because that can be found online. My memories of Mike Wallace started with him reporting on the Vietnam War on the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite. Since there were no satellite transmission facilities back then and videotape in the field was just being developed, all stories were shot on film, flown back to New York for developing, then shown on TV. Vietnam was the first TV war and Wallace was right there in the trenches. In 1968, I witnessed him being ejected from the Democratic National Convention in Chicago after getting into an altercation with police on the convention floor.
His greatest success was when CBS News executive and producer Don Hewitt created a show called “60 Minutes”. The show actually started on Tuesdays at 9pm CT and didn’t get high ratings at first but was critically acclaimed. Once it was moved to Sundays at 6pm, it became a top 10 show where it still airs to this day. I can still hear the great voice of Pat Summerall calling the NFL on CBS and reading the promo for the lineup his game was a lead-in to: “Coming up next…….Sixtyyyyyyy Minutes….followed by Murder She Wrote……and the CBS Sunday Movie!”
For years the four most feared words to hear was, “Mike Wallace Is Here.” He pioneered the ambush style of investigative journalism. He wasn’t intimidated by anyone, including the Ayatollah Khomeini, who smiled when Wallace asked him what he thought about being called a lunatic by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Wallace never changed his interview style at all. But I also remember his very touching tribute to CBS Chairman William S. Paley when Paley died in 1990. Wallace had actually seen Paley at his New York City apartment just a day or so before he died. He recalled that for many years the only way to address Bill Paley was “Mr. Paley” or “Mr. Chairman”, never “Bill”. Wallace recalled that toward the end he was able to address Mr. Paley as Bill.
Mike Wallace was truly ahead of his time. Whether you liked him or not, you couldn’t help but respect him.
See you next time.