If there’s one word to describe Mike Wallace as a journalist, it would have to be relentless. His tenacity endeared him as a role model when I was a young journalist in the 1970s. Fans remember him on April 7, the day he died in 2012 at age 93.
Whether viewers shuddered or applauded while watching his confrontational style of interviewing, it was impossible not to respect his smooth, polished delivery. Although most people associate him with his television presence, particularly on 60 Minutes, if I as a print journalist had developed even 10 percent of his ease in interviewing, I would have been thrilled.
Early Life and Career
“Mike” was actually Myron Leon Wallace, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, and was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 9, 1918, according to Biography.com. He graduated from the University of Michigan, where he was active at the campus radio station.
After working as a radio announcer and a newscaster, he served during World War II as a naval communications officer. His television career began in the 1950s.
Following employment in 1963 as a reporter by CBS, Wallace was a co-editor and co-host, with Harry Reasoner, of 60 Minutes when it launched in 1968. It was on this show that his aggressive style of interviewing, which won him many Emmys, emerged.
Throughout the history of the show, Wallace virtually ambushed many public figures by approaching them without warning. Many of his interviews were controversial. He asked Johnny Carson about a potential drinking problem and in an interview with Jack Kevorkian, included footage of an assisted suicide.
The fallout from these aggressive feats affected the journalist more than most of the public realized. In an article in Guideposts, he talked about a major struggle with depression.
Mike Wallace’s career as a journalist lasted seven decades. After retiring from 60 Minutes, he kept working into his 80s, according to USA TODAY. He continued with the network on an emeritus basis, even scoring an exclusive interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, that brought him his 21st Emmy.
Wallace had heart problems during much of his life. He underwent triple-bypass surgery shortly after interviewing baseball celebrity Roger Clemens. By the time he reached his 90s and was living in a Connecticut facility, the only thing he talked about was his family, his son Chris said.
One thing that always struck me about the perception of Mike Wallace was that members of the public who admired him professionally knew virtually nothing about his personal life. We didn’t learn much about his family and had no idea where he vacationed or if he had any hobbies or favorite charities.
On April 7, I’ll be remembering Mike Wallace as a savvy, sharp-tongued journalist who also happened to be a first-class showman.