Wallace, Mike

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(b. 9 May 1918 in Brookline, Massachusetts), award-winning journalist who revolutionized news journalism by using hard-hitting, insightful interviewing techniques. It was during the 1960s that Wallace began to concentrate solely on serious news journalism and, primarily because of a television show called 60 Minutes, became universally known and respected as television's "Grand Inquisitor."

Wallace was born Myron Leon Wallace, the son of Russian Jewish immigrant parents. His father, Frank Wallace, was an insurance broker and his mother, Zina (Sharfman) Wallace, was a homemaker. After graduating from high school, Wallace attended the University of Michigan with the intent of becoming either a lawyer or an English teacher. But after wandering into the university's broadcast center, he changed his major to speech and broadcasting.

Wallace graduated from the University of Michigan in 1939 and became a radio newscaster, first at WOOD in Grand Rapids (1939 to 1940) and later at WXYZ in Detroit (1940–1941). While in Detroit, Wallace married Norma Kaphan; the marriage produced two sons, Peter and Christopher, but the couple divorced in 1948. (Chris Wallace followed in his father's footsteps and at the millennium is the chief correspondent for the American Broadcasting Company's news show Nightline.)

In 1941 Wallace moved to Chicago as a radio broadcaster for Air Edition for the Chicago Sun (1941 to 1943 and 1946 to 1948) and later with the radio station WMAQ. During World War II Wallace served in the U.S. Navy as a communications officer. In 1951 Wallace moved to New York City to host an interview show for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) entitled Mike and Buff. The show's other host was his second wife, the actress Buff Cobb, whom he married in 1949. When their turbulent marriage ended in 1954, so did the show. On 21 July 1955 he married his third wife, Lorraine Perigord, who had two children from a previous marriage. She divorced Wallace in 1985; the couple had no children of their own.

Aside from his regular broadcasting jobs, Wallace did freelance radio announcing, television commercials, and entertainment shows, such as All Around Town (1951 to 1952), I'll Buy That (1953 to 1954), and the Big Surprise (1956 to 1957). Wallace even appeared on Broadway in the play Reclining Figure in 1954. In 1956 Wallace became the host of an innovative talk show called NightBeat, which employed a hard-edged format using pointed questions, close-up images of (usually perspiring) guests, and solid background research. The studio's dark backdrop and the drifting smoke of Wallace's cigarette further enhanced the mood. Originally broadcast 9 October 1956 on the DuMont's network New York affiliate Channel 5 (WABD), the show moved to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network in 1957 as The Mike Wallace Interviews. It proved too controversial for the network, however, and was cancelled in 1958. Wallace later hosted the chat show PM East (1961 to 1962), a nightly news program called News Beat (1959 to 1961), and the television documentary Biography (1959 to 1961).

The year 1962 marked a significant turning point in Wallace's personal and professional life. In August 1962 Wallace's son Peter was killed in a hiking accident in Greece. Grief stricken, Wallace vowed to make a dramatic change in his life. He decided to shun all advertising and entertainment jobs and concentrate on hard news, even if it meant a drastic cut in pay. When Wallace was rehired by CBS in 1963, the network's veteran news reporters initially snubbed him because of his reputation for doing commercials and talk shows. By virtue of his impressive work ethic, however, he won their respect. Starting in 1963 Wallace hosted the CBS Morning News but left the show after three years to become a general news correspondent.

Wallace reported on many major events during the turbulent decade of the 1960s. He logged various tours of duty reporting on the Vietnam War, and his stories dealing with the war ranged from coverage of the My Lai massacre (in which a U.S. infantry platoon killed more than one hundred unarmed civilians) to stories about U.S. military deserters living in Canada. Wallace also covered the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in 1967.

Wallace reported on the militant aspect of the civil rights movement during the 1960s. In 1959 Wallace had produced the controversial but powerful documentary on the Black Muslims entitled "The Hate That Hate Produced" for his program News Beat. A little more than ten years later, Wallace interviewed the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, who was living in exile in Algiers. The story aimed to show that the Panthers had ceased to be a legitimate threat to society, but Cleaver's threat of shooting his way into the White House and "taking off" President Richard M. Nixon's head alarmed not only viewers but also the Justice Department. They later demanded materials concerning the interview from CBS.

Wallace began covering the national political conventions starting in 1960, reporting freelance for a chain of Westinghouse-owned stations. In later conventions, Wallace was part of the solid CBS team that included Roger Mudd, Dan Rather, and Morton Dean. As floor correspondent at the volatile 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Wallace found himself in the middle of the violence that underscored the event. In an attempt to investigate the expulsion of a delegate from the convention floor, Wallace took a punch in the jaw from a police officer and was arrested and held briefly. In 1966 Wallace started covering the campaigning of Richard Nixon for CBS, and his admiration for the future president grew. When Nixon offered Wallace a job as press secretary, however, Wallace turned him down to remain at CBS.

Soon afterward, the CBS producer Don Hewitt approached Wallace about hosting a different type of new television magazine show called 60 Minutes. The program debuted 24 September 1968 with the team of Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner, total opposites in personality. The teaming proved to be fortuitous; it was an excellent opportunity for Wallace to concentrate on tough political stories while Reasoner could excel on the lighter pieces. It took approximately five years for 60 Minutes to become a hit; viewership continued to grow throughout the 1970s. On 60 Minutes, Wallace used his tough interviewing style not only with a Who's Who of famous personalities but also on notorious criminals, gaining him the nickname of "America's District Attorney."

Wallace faced adversity after his 1982 interview of General William Westmoreland, the former commander of American forces in Vietnam. His CBS Reports documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy," led to a libel suit, which later was dropped. This was also the beginning of Wallace's publicized battle with depression. Wallace rebounded, however, and in 1986 he married a fourth time, to Mary Yates. Entering the twenty-first century, Wallace continued to be a correspondent for 60 Minutes.

Autobiographical material can be found in Mike Wallace and Gary Paul Gates, Close Encounters: Mike Wallace's Own Story (1984); additional material on Mike Wallace is available in Gary Paul Gates, Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS News (1978). Articles on Wallace include Steve Lopez, "Mike Wallace: At 79, the 60 Minutes Man Has Beat Depression and Gained New Perspective," People (1 Dec. 1997): 109–113; Lynn Hirschberg,"Mike Wallace: The Grand Inquisitor of 60 Minutes Remembers the Days When TV Had a 'Real Reality,'" Rolling Stone (19 Sept. 1997): 83–86. Additional articles are "The Mellowing of Mike Wallace," Time (19 Jan. 1970); A & E Network, "Mike Wallace: TV's Grand Inquisitor" (1998); and Fox and CBS Video, "60 Minutes: 25 Years" (1993).

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