He didn't look frightening, that man of a certain age walking to the driveway, the store, the car repair shop. He didn't look like a man that could make a person slam doors in his face or yell "Get the hell out of here or I'll call the police!" But if this man was going to knock on your door and say "Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes" and he wasn't invited, you weren't going to invite him for tea and cookies. You were on your way to call a lawyer, and maybe change your undergarments.
He started off doing local news in New York with his wife Buff Cobb, doing a show called "Mike and Buff" First off isn't that the best name? Buff! Not Buffy, Buff. It screams Mad Men. But according to the 25th anniversary of 60 Minutes, Wallace was considered a lightweight for years doing commercials for Revlon, shortening, and cigarettes. In 1962, he had a game change moment.
His son Peter went to Greece one summer to hike. When they hadn't heard from him, Wallace went to Greece to retrace Peter's steps. There he found Peter's body. Stunned, he brought Peter's body home, and reassessed his life. He didn't want to be what he considered a lightweight anymore. He wanted to do serious news. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he knew he couldn't continue what he was doing.
Six years later, producer Don Hewitt approached to do a new TV show that was what Wallace wanted. A newsmagazine, called 60 Minutes. Wallace signed on. One of the first interviews he did on the new show was a heartbreaking one: Interviewing Coretta Scott King and her family on Christmas Eve. The same show Ethel Kennedy showed off newborn Rory Elizabeth Kennedy; the 11th child of Robert Kennedy who died two months after Martin Luther King. If one had to see what a dramatic year 1968 was, they only had to see those two interviews. Yet seeing the children also gave one hope.
Wallace also investigated wrongs done to ordinary people. It got to be known as the "ambush" interview. It would take people by surprise, throw them off center. I remember one time someone slammed the door in his face and strong-armed the situation and he walked in anyway. "You are going to ask my questions sir!" he yelled. Wallace was seventy-three years old, and he didn't take any guff.
Although the ambush interviews were fun to watch, it left a troubling legacy. Bill O'Reilly often does ambush interviews with people. However (as NPR's On The Media reported in 2010) while Mike Wallace did it himself on people who were wronged or hurt, O'Reilly never does the ambushing, he sends one of his producers to do it. Plus it's not investigative stories, usually they ambush people who've critiqued O'Reilly.
In the 80's he and CBS did a documentary on Vietnam. According to wikipedia, the documentary alleged that General William Westmoreland on purpose understated the strength of Viet Cong troops to keep up appearances that America was doing well. Furious, Westmoreland sued CBS. Yet libel couldn't be proved, but the damage had been done: Wallace was hospitalized for depression. He started talking about it to help others.
Along with the ambush interviews, he interviewed celebrities. Jimmy Carter. Yoko Ono. The Shaw of Iran. Ronald and Nancy Reagan (whom he was friends with) Tina Turner. And of course, Barbra. Never fawning, he asked them questions, he would say, the viewers would ask. And yet (according to wikipedia) he never got the interview he really wanted: Pat Nixon.
It seemed like he would never retire, never go gently into the good night. In The Insider (which Wallace said was untrue) Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) says "What should I do? Wander in the wilderness of NPR like Dan Schorr?" He stayed on CBS until 2006, when due to health issues he retired. It is still odd that he is not on in the beginning, saying "I'm Mike Wallace."
His death was revealed on a Sunday, 60 Minutes day. One wonders that when he saw Peter, Peter said You did good Dad, he might've said and hugged his dad. Wallace hugged him back. Then he walked towards God. "God! Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes! Can we speak with you?" God might've looked around, thinking oh man. Who let Mike Wallace Up Here???
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries