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4 May 2012

Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace
"I'm Mike Wallace, and this is 60 Minutes..."

Mike Wallace was born Myron Leon Wallace on May 9, 1918, in Brookline Massachussets.

Wallace began his acting and announcing career in 1939, after studying broadcasting at the University of Michigan.  Throughout the 1940's, he performed in various different radio show genres – quiz shows, talk shows, commercials, serials, and news reading.  It was in 1951, at age 33, that Mike Wallace moved to New York City and began what would become a 6-decade television career.

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace and Buff Cobb on the set of "Mike & Buff", 1951.

Mike Wallace's first foray into interviewing was during the husband-and-wife talk show "Mike and Buff", which aired weekday afternoons on CBS. Co-hosted with then-wife Buff Cobb, Wallace conducted live interviews with celebrities and passers-by in various New York locations. The talk show (and their marriage) ended in 1954.

Other early television work included announcing and game show hosting for programs such as "What's in a Word?", as well as acting in shows such as the "Stand by for Crime" police drama and the "Studio One" anthology series.  In 1954, Wallace even had a brief stint on Broadway, acting in the play "Reclining Figure", directed by Abe Burrows.

During this time, Mike Wallace also did television commercials for a variety of products, including Procter & Gamble's "Golden Fluffo" brand shortening, and Philip Morris cigarettes...

Mike Wallace
Promotional shots for "The Mike Wallace Interview", 1957.

In 1956, the vehicle that brought Mike Wallace's unique interviewing style to prominence was created. "Night Beat" was a live, late night hour talk show where Wallace grilled celebrity guests on controversial topics, developing a hard edge that was lacking in television at the time. Armed with solid research and provocative questions, Wallace made guests squirm.  Using only a black backdrop and harsh lighting (with cigarette smoke for atmosphere), the interviews were framed in tight close-ups, revealing the sweat elicited by Wallace's grilling.

Only airing locally, "Night Beat" later developed into the nationally televised prime-time program "The Mike Wallace Interview" which ran until 1960.

60 Minutes

Mike Wallace
"Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick..."

"The Mike Wallace Interview" may have made him a star, but "60 Minutes" is what made Mike Wallace a legend.

On September 24, 1968, "60 Minutes" debuted on CBS.  Initially, the show was aired bi-weekly on Tuesday evenings at 10pm, with Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner as the show's only 2 hosts. The contrast was intentional: Wallace as the abrasive, crusading detective-type opposite Reasoner's mild-mannered, analytical persona.

"60 Minutes" quickly became known for its in-depth investigations and hard-hitting exposés, thanks in part to Mike Wallace's tough journalistic style. As the show progressed, he perfected his trademark "ambush" interview technique: after secretly filming scam artists and wrong-doers in action, Wallace confronted them without warning in parking lots, hallways, wherever a comment (or a stricken expression) might be harvested.

Mike Wallace's ability to uncover corruption, greed and deceit generally garnered him praise – and numerous awards – but some critics deemed his methods unfair, underhanded and too sensational.

Ambushes aside, Mike Wallace was also known for his high-profile interviews, sitting down with some of the most iconic figures of the 20th century.  A brilliant interviewer, Wallace always did his homework, delivering his questions with a smooth combination of toughness and grace...

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner in 1968.

Growing up, Sunday nights were marked in our house by "60 Minutes".  The handsome, baritone-voiced Mike Wallace was always my favorite, especially when he nabbed the "bad guys" in those iconic ambush interviews...!

Even though the subject matter was often too 'adult' for me to follow (and I never understood Andy Rooney), the tick-ticking of the "60 Minutes" stopwatch has always been, to me, as comforting as a glass of warm milk...

Below is an excerpt of the first ever "60 Minutes" from 1968, where Harry Reasoner introduces it as a "kind of a magazine for television"...

images: (1) cbsnews.com
(2) mtv.com
(3) wikipedia
(4) entertainment.time.com
(5) unknown source

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How different it all would have been had New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller been nominated by the GOP in 1968. So much political turmoil would have been avoided. There would have been no Watergate Scandal (which damaged the faith Americans had in their own government even to this day); the Vietnam War would have been quickly ended; Americans would have had national health insurance, and a man with a vision would have served in the Oval Office. This clip takes me back to age 16. Nixon is surrounded by thugs many of whom eventually went to prison. His in this clip secretary later told Congress a bogus story about a missing 18 minutes from an Oval Office tape. And Nixon is about to select little-known Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Agnew became a great national divider and a supposed pillar of morality but soon resigned the vice presidency in disgrace due to years of income tax evasion. And Hubert Humphrey, a good man, won the Democratic nomination during the violent Chicago Convention. He inherited a bitterly divided party and the legacy of the endless Vietnam War. 1968 was terrible for the United States. The Tet Offensive in January proved the Vietnam War could not be won. Dr. King and Senator Robert Kennedy were murdered and the heart of the nation was broken. Kids were beaten in the streets of Chicago during that convention and tear gas filled the convention hall and the whole nation watched it on prime time television. It was the most violent and divisive year in American history since the Civil War. This short film clip speaks volumes about that painful time.

12:35 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I typed the previous comment and see a glaring error: It should say that His (Nixon's) secretary (Rosemary Woods) appears and later told Congress the bogus story about missing Oval Office tapes.
Sorry for the typo but thank you for your outstanding site. I loved Expo and I enjoy this site very much.

12:18 a.m.  

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