Friday, May 4, 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)
(3) wikipedia
(5) unknown source

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