Myron Leon "Mike" Wallace (May 9, 1918 – April 7, 2012) was an American journalist, game show host, actor and media personality. He interviewed a wide range of prominent newsmakers during his sixty-year career. He was one of the original correspondents for CBS' 60 Minutes which debuted in 1968. Wallace retired as a regular full-time correspondent in 2006, but still appeared occasionally on the series until 2008.
Wallace, whose family's surname was originally Wallik, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Frank and Zina (Sharfman) Wallace. His father was a grocer and insurance broker. Wallace attended Brookline High School, graduating in 1935. He graduated from the University of Michigan four years later with a Bachelor of Arts. While a college student he was a reporter for the Michigan Daily and belonged to the Alpha Gamma Chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity.
Wallace appeared as a guest on the popular radio quiz show Information Please on February 7, 1939, when he was in his last year at the University of Michigan. His first radio job was as newscaster and continuity writer for WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This lasted until 1940, when he moved to WXYZ Radio in Detroit, Michigan, as an announcer. He then became a freelance radio worker in Chicago, Illinois.
Wallace enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943 and served as a communications officer during World War II on the USS Anthedon, a submarine tender. He saw no combat, but traveled to Hawaii, Australia, and Subic Bay in the Philippines, then patrolling the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and south of Japan. Wallace returned to Chicago after being discharged in 1946.
Wallace announced for the radio shows Ned Jordan:Secret Agent, Sky King, The Green Hornet, Curtain Time, and The Spike Jones Show. It is sometimes reported Wallace announced for The Lone Ranger, but Wallace said he never did.
Wallace announced wrestling in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s, sponsored by Tavern Pale beer.
In the late 1940s, Wallace was a staff announcer for the CBS radio network. He had displayed his comic skills when he appeared opposite Spike Jones in dialogue routines. He was also the voice of Elgin-American in their commercials on Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life.
In 1949, Wallace began to move to the new medium of television. In that year, he starred under the name Myron Wallace in a short-lived police drama, Stand By for Crime.
Wallace hosted a number of game shows in the 1950s, including The Big Surprise, Who's the Boss? and Who Pays?. Early in his career Wallace was not known primarily as a news broadcaster. It was not uncommon during that period for newscasters (the term then used) to announce, do commercials and host game shows; Douglas Edwards, John Daly, John Cameron Swayze andWalter Cronkite hosted game shows as well. Wallace also hosted the pilot episode for Nothing but the Truth, which was helmed by Bud Collyer when it aired under the title, To Tell the Truth. Wallace occasionally served as a panelist on To Tell the Truth in the 1950s. He also did commercials for a variety of products, including Procter & Gamble's Fluffo brand shortening.
Wallace also hosted two late-night interview programs, Night Beat (broadcast in New York during 1955–7, only on DuMont's WABD) and The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC in 1957–8. See alsoProfiles in Courage, section: Authorship controversy.
Wallace and Harry Reasoner on the 60 Minutes
In 1959, Louis Lomax told Wallace about the Nation of Islam. Lomax and Wallace produced a five-part documentary about the organization, The Hate That Hate Produced, which aired during the week of July 13, 1959. The program was the first time most white people heard about the Nation, its leader, Elijah Muhammad, and its charismatic spokesman, Malcolm X.
By the early 1960s, Wallace's primary income came from commercials for Parliament cigarettes, touting their "man's mildness" (he had a contract with Philip Morristo pitch their cigarettes as a result of their original sponsorship of The Mike Wallace Interview). Between June 1961 and June 1962 he hosted a New York-based nightly interview program for Westinghouse Broadcasting called PM East for one hour; it was paired with PM West, 30 minutes, hosted by San Francisco Chronicle television critic Terrence O'Flaherty. Westinghouse syndicated the series to television stations it owned and to a few other cities. People in southern and southwestern states were unable to watch it. A frequent guest on the PM East segment was Barbra Streisand. Only the audio of some of her conversations with Wallace survives. Westinghouse wiped the videotapes. Also in the early 1960s, Wallace was the host of the David Wolper-produced Biography series. After his elder son's death in 1962, however, Wallace decided to get back into news, and hosted an early version of The CBS Morning News, from 1963 through 1966. In 1964 he interviewed Malcolm X, who, half-jokingly, commented "I probably am a dead man already."
In 1967, Wallace anchored the documentary CBS Reports: The Homosexuals. Wallace had said in 1967, "The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous," Wallace said in the piece. "He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one-chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city—the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship."
His career as the lead reporter on 60 Minutes naturally led to some run-ins with the people interviewed. While interviewing Louis Farrakhan, Wallace alleged that Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world. Farrakhan immediately shot back, declaring "Nigeria didn't bomb Hiroshima or slaughter millions of Indians!" "Can you think of a more corrupt country?" asked Wallace. "I am living in one," said Farrakhan. Wallace expressed regret in regard to the one big interview he was never able to secure: First Lady Pat Nixon. Wallace interviewed Gen. William Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, aired January 23, 1982. Westmoreland then sued Wallace and CBS for libel. The trial ended in February 1985 when the case was settled out of court just before it would have gone to the jury. Each side agreed to pay its own costs and attorney's fees and CBS issued a clarification of its intent with respect to the original story.
In 1981, Wallace was forced to apologize for a racial slur he had made about blacks and Hispanics. During a break while preparing a 60 Minutes report on a bank that had been accused of duping low-income Californians, Wallace was caught on tape joking that "You bet your ass [the contracts are] hard to read" if you're reading them over watermelon or tacos. Attention was re-drawn to that incident several years later when protests were raised against Wallace's being selected to give a university commencement address at the same ceremony during which Nelson Mandela was being awarded an honorary doctorate in absentia for his fight against racism. Wallace initially called the protestors' complaint "absolute foolishness." However, he subsequently again apologized for his earlier remark, and added that when he had been a student decades earlier on the same university campus, "though it had never really caused me any serious difficulty here ... I was keenly aware of being Jewish, and quick to detect slights, real or imagined.... We Jews felt a kind of kinship [with blacks]," but "Lord knows, we weren't riding the same slave ship."
On March 14, 2006, Wallace announced his retirement from 60 Minutes after 37 years with the program. He continued working for CBS News as a "Correspondent Emeritus", albeit at a reduced pace. In August 2006, Wallace interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Wallace's last CBS interview was with retired baseball star Roger Clemens in January 2008 on "60 Minutes." Wallace's previously vigorous health (Morley Safer described him in 2006 as "having the energy of a man half his age") began to fail and in June 2008 his son Chris said that his father would not be returning to television.
Wallace had two children with his first wife, Norma Kaphan. Wallace's younger son, Chris, is also a journalist. His elder son, Peter, died at age 19 in a mountain-climbing accident in Greece in 1962.
For many years, Mike Wallace unknowingly suffered from depression. In an article he wrote for Guideposts, Wallace related, "I'd had days when I felt blue and it took more of an effort than usual to get through the things I had to do." It worsened in 1984, after General William Westmoreland filed a $120 million libel lawsuit against Wallace and CBS over statements they made in the documentary The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (1982). Westmoreland claimed the documentary made him appear as if he manipulated intelligence. The lawsuit, Westmoreland v. CBS, was later dropped after CBS issued a statement explaining they never intended to portray the general as disloyal or unpatriotic. During the proceedings, Wallace was hospitalized with what was diagnosed as exhaustion. His wife Mary forced him to go to a doctor, who diagnosed Wallace with clinical depression. He was prescribed an antidepressant and underwent psychotherapy. Out of a belief that it would be perceived as weakness, Wallace kept his depression a secret until he revealed it in an interview with Bob Costas on his late-night talk show. In a later interview with colleague Morley Safer, he admitted having attempted suicide circa 1986.
Wallace received a pacemaker more than 20 years before his death, and underwent triple bypass surgery in January 2008. He lived in a "care facility" the last several years of his life. In 2011, CNN host Larry King visited him and reported that he was in good spirits, but his physical condition was noticeably declining.
Wallace considered himself a political moderate. He was friends with Nancy Reagan and her family for over 75 years. Nixon wanted him for his press secretary. Fox News said, "He didn't fit the stereotype of the Eastern liberal journalist." Interviewed by his son on "Fox News Sunday", he was asked if he understood why people feel a disaffection from the mainstream media. "They think they're wide-eyed commies; liberals," Mike replied, a notion he dismissed as "damned foolishness."
Mike Wallace died at his New Canaan, Connecticut residence on April 7, 2012. He was 93. The night after his death, Morley Safer announced his death on 60 Minutes. On April 15, 2012, a full episode of 60 Minutes aired which was dedicated to remembering his life.
Wallace's professional honors included 21 Emmy Awards, among them a report just weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks for an investigation on the former Soviet Union's smallpox program and concerns about terrorism. He has also won three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards, a Robert E. Sherwood Award, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern California School of Journalism and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the international broadcast category. In September 2003, Wallace received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, his 20th. Most recently, on October 13, 2007, Wallace was awarded the University of Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.
Wallace was played by actor Christopher Plummer in the 1999 feature film, The Insider. The screenplay was based on the Vanity Fair article, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner, which accused Wallace of capitulating to corporate pressure to kill a story about Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower trying to expose Brown & Williamson's dangerous business practices. Wallace, for his part, disliked his on-screen portrayal and maintained he was in fact very eager to have Wigand's story aired in full.
Wallace was played by actor Stephen Rowe in the stage version of Frost/Nixon, but he was omitted from the screenplay of the 2008 film adaptation and thus the movie itself. In the TV movieHefner: Unauthorized from 1999, Wallace is portrayed by Mark Harelik. In the film A Face in the Crowd (1957), Wallace portrayed himself.