he spent many years in broadcasting before turning to journalism,
Mike Wallace became one of America's most enduring and prominent
television news personalities. Primarily known for his work on the
long-running CBS magazine series 60 Minutes, he developed
a reputation as an inquisitorial interviewer, authoritative documentary
narrator, and powerful investigative reporter. While his journalistic
credentials and tactics have been questioned at times, his longevity,
celebrity, and ability to land big interviews made him one of the
most important news figures in the history of television.
Wallace's early career differed from those of his well-known peers
at CBS News. Murrow, Cronkite, Sevareid, Rooney and others worked
as war-time radio and print correspondents before moving to television.
Wallace, however, studied broadcasting at the University of Michigan
and began an acting and announcing career in 1939. Throughout the
1940s he performed in a variety of radio genres--quiz shows, talk
shows, serials, commercials, and news readings. After service in
the Navy, the baritone-voiced radio raconteur landed a string of
early television jobs in Chicago. As early as 1949 "Myron" Wallace
acted in the police drama Stand by for Crime and later appeared
on the CBS anthology programs Suspense and Studio One.
He emceed local and network TV quiz and panel shows while also keeping
his hand in radio news for CBS throughout 1951-55. Wallace's move
into interviewing at the network level came in the form of two husband-and-wife
talk shows, All Around the Town and Mike and Buff,
which CBS adapted from a successful Chicago radio program. With
his wife Buff Cobb, Wallace visited various New York locations and
conducted live interviews with celebrities and passers-by. In 1954,
after a three-season run on CBS, Wallace had a brief stint as a
Broadway actor, but immediately returned to broadcasting.
In 1955, Wallace began anchoring nightly newscasts for the Dumont
network's New York affiliate. The following year his producer, Ted
Yates, created the vehicle that brought Wallace to prominence. Night-Beat
was a live, late-night hour of interviews in which Wallace grilled
a pair of celebrity guests every week night. Armed with solid research
and provocative questions, the seasoned announcer with a flair for
the dramatic turned into a hard-hitting investigative journalist
or probing personality reporter. With the nervy Wallace as its anchor,
Night-Beat developed a hard edge lacking in most television
talk. Using only a black backdrop and smoke from his cigarette for
atmosphere, Wallace asked pointed, even mischievous questions that
made guests squirm. Most were framed in tight close-up, revealing
the sweat elicited by Wallace's barbs and the show's harsh klieg
a successful first season talking to the likes of Norman Mailer,
Salvador Dalí, Thurgood Marshall, Hugh Hefner, William Buckley,
and prominent politicians, the program moved to ABC as a half-hour
prime-time show called The Mike Wallace Interviews. Promoted
as "Mike Malice" and "the Terrible Torquemada of the TV Inquisition,"
Wallace continued to talk to prominent personalities about controversial
issues. But ABC executives, particularly after brushes with libel
suits, proved wary of the brinkmanship practiced by Wallace and
his guests. The show lasted only through 1958, turning more cerebral
in its final weeks when the Ford Foundation became its sponsor.
Intellectuals such as Reinhold Neibuhr, Aldous Huxley, and William
O. Douglas replaced the Klansmen, ex-mobsters, movie stars and more
sensational interviewees seen before.
For the next five years, Wallace continued to parlay his celebrity
into odd jobs on New York and network TV: quizmaster, pitch man
for cigarettes, chat show host (PM East, 1961-62), and news
reader. But he began to sharpen his focus on mainstream journalism
as well. He anchored Newsbeat (1959-61), one of the first
half-hour nightly news programs, for an independent New York station
. Wallace also began working as host for David Wolper's TV documentary
series, Biography, narrating 65 episodes of the syndicated
program. (His distinctive voice continues to be heard in many such
educational productions, including the 1995 A and E cable series
The 20th Century.) Increasingly he became a field correspondent.
After a chain of Westinghouse-owned stations hired Wallace to cover
the 1960 political conventions, he started travellingd extensively,
supplying them with daily radio and TV reports from across the country
(Closeup U.S.A., 1960) and abroad (Around the World
in 40 Days, 1962).
The following year, as he described in this 1984 autobiography,
Wallace decided to "go straight," giving up higher paying entertainment
jobs for a career exclusively devoted to news. In 1963 (a year in
which the networks expanded their news divisions), the CBS Morning
News with Mike Wallace premiered. Wallace remained on
the show for three years before resuming full-time reporter's duties.
Although seen frequently on other CBS News assignments (Vietnam,
the Middle East), Wallace's beat was the Richard Nixon comeback
campaign. A confessed Nixon apologist, in 1968 he nevertheless rejected
an offer to be a press secretary for the candidate.
that fall Wallace began regular duties for 60 Minutes, a
prime-time news magazine for which he and Harry Reasoner had done
a pilot in February 1968. To contrast the mild-mannered Reasoner,
producer Don Hewitt cast Wallace in his usual role as the abrasive,
tough-guy reporter. While he could be charming when doing softer
features and celebrity profiles, Wallace maintained his reputation
as a bruising inquisitor who gave his subjects "Mike fright." With
his personal contacts in the Nixon (and later Reagan) circles he
proved an expert reporter on national politics, particularly during
Watergate. Throughout his run on 60 Minutes he consistently
landed timely and exclusive interviews with the most important newsmakers
of the day.
As 60 Minutes was becoming a mainstay of TV news Wallace
developed its most familiar modus operandi: the ambush interview.
Often using hidden cameras and one-way mirrors Wallace would confront
scam artists and other wrong-doers caught in the act. Field producers
did most of the investigative work, but Wallace added the theatrical
panache as he performed his on-camera muckraking. His tactics were
both praised and criticized. While he has won numerous awards as
a sort of national ombudsman, a reporter with the resources and
ability to expose corruption, some critics have judged his methods
too sensational, unfair, or even unethical.
Wallace was entangled in landmark libel cases. His 60 Minutes
report, "The Selling of Colonel Herbert" (1973), questioned a whistleblower's
veracity about war crimes. Herbert sued Wallace's producer. Although
the news team was exonerated, the Supreme Court ruled in Herbert
v. Lando (1979) that the plaintiff had the right to examine
the materials produced during the editorial process. A far bigger
case followed when Wallace interviewed General William Westmoreland
for the CBS Reports documentary The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam
Deception (1982). When TV Guide and CBS' own in-house
investigation charged that the producers had violated standards
of fairness, Westmoreland sued the network. The charges Wallace
aired--conspiracy to cover-up the size of Viet Cong troop strength--were
substantiated by trial evidence, but CBS' editorial tactics proved
suspect. Early in 1985, just before Wallace was to testify, CBS
issued an apology and Westmoreland dropped the suit.
such occasional setbacks, Wallace continued his signature style
of globetrotting reports and "make-'em-sweat" interviews throughout
the 1980s and 1990s. A CBS News special, Mike Wallace, Then and
Now (1990), offered a retrospective of his 50 years in broadcasting,
but the senior correspondent of American television journalism continued
his 60 Minutes work unabated.
Photo courtesy of Mike Wallace
(MYRON LEON) WALLACE. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.A.,
9 May 1918. Educated at the University of Michigan, B.A., 1939.
Married: 1) Norma Kaphan, 1940 (divorced, 1948); 2) Buff Cobb, 1949
(divorced, 1955); 3) Lorraine Perigord, 1955 (separated, 1988),
children: Peter (deceased), Christopher, Pauline. Served in U.S.
Navy, 1943-46. Newscaster, announcer, and continuity writer, radio
station WOOD WASH, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1939-40; newscaster,
narrator, announcer, WXYZ Radio, Detroit, Michigan, 1940-41 on such
shows as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet; freelance
radio worker, Chicago, Illinois, announcer for the soap opera Road
of Life, 1941-42, Ma Perkins, and The Guiding Light;
acted in The Crime Files of Flamon; news radio announcer,
Chicago Sun's Air Edition, 1941-43, 1946-48; announced radio
programs such as Curtain Time, Fact or Fiction, and Sky
King; host, Mike and Buff with his wife, New York City,
1950-53; host, various television and radio shows and narrator,
various documentaries 1951-59; star, Broadway comedy Reclining
Figure, 1954; organized news department for DuMont's WABD-TV,
1955; anchor in newscasts and host for various interview shows,
1956-63; CBS News staff correspondent, since 1963; co-editor and
co-host of 60 Minutes, since 1968. Member: American Federation
of Television and Radio Artists; Academy of Television Arts and
Sciences (executive vice-president, 1960-61). Recipient: 18 Emmy
Awards; Peabody Awards, 1963 and 1971; DuPont Columbia Journalism
Awards, 1971 and 1983. Address: CBS News, 60 Minutes, 555
West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
Buff and Mike
1951-52 All Around Town
1953-54 I'll Buy That
1956-57 The Big Surprise
1957-59 The Mike Wallace Interview
1961-62 PM East
1963-66 CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace
1968- 60 Minutes
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Mike. "Divided Loyalties: Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace in No-man's-land."
The Quill (Chicago), February 1989.
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Rosenthal, Donna. "Mike without Malice." San Francisco (California)
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and Showbiz with the Creator and Correspondents of America's Most
Trusted Television Show." Playboy (Chicago), March 1985.
A Documentary Collection--Westmoreland v. CBS. New York: Clearwater,
Joanne. "Mike Wallace Takes Look at the 20th Century." St. Louis
(Missouri) Post Dispatch, 12 July 1995.
60 Minutes; Talk