Mike Wallace will be remembered chiefly for practically defining investigative journalism on CBS TV’s 60 Minutes. Like so many important figures from television’s Golden Era, Wallace got his start in broadcasting in old time radio.
Wallace was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1918. He worked as a student reporter for the Michigan Daily while studying at the University of Michigan. In February, before graduating in 1939, Wallace made his first radio appearance (using his given name, Myron) on the popular radio quiz show Information Please. Wallace’s appearance as a “beardless youth” was intended to bring a youthful perspective to the panel.
Wallace went on to work as a newscaster and continuity writer for WOOD radio in Grand Rapids before moving on as an announcer for WXYZ in Detroit in 1940. While in Detroit Wallace is credited with announcing for Ned Jordan, Secret Agent and The Green Hornet. (There have been rumors the Wallace occasionally announced the WXYZ production of The Lone Ranger, but this never happened.) Before joining the Navy during WWII, Wallace also did some freelance announcing in Chicago radio, including work for Irma Phillips’ The Road of Life, and Vic and Sade.
Wallace joined the Navy in 1943. Although he never saw combat, he did serve as Communications Officer aboard the submarine tender USS Anthedon in the Pacific, sailing to Hawaii, Australia, and Subic Bay. After his discharge in 1946 Wallace returned to Chicago area radio, announcing for shows like Sky King and Curtain Time. He even had a stint announcing Chicago area Professional Wrestling in the early 1950s.
During the 50’s Wallace turned more and more to television, though his credibility as a journalist was slow in developing. Like many early newscaster, he also took on announcing duties and commercials as well as hosting a number of game shows (Wallace hosted the pilot of the long running To Tell The Truth). Between 1955 and 1958 he hosted a pair of late night interview programs, Night Beat and The Mike Wallace Interview.
The hard-biting style that would be a famous part of 60 Minutes was demonstrated in the 1959 documentary The Hate That Hate Produced, in which Wallace, along with African American reporter Louis Lomax brought the Nation of Islam and its leaders Elijah Muhammad, Malcom X, and Louis Farrakhan to the attention of American audiences. Wallace was one of the original 60 minutes correspondents, and stayed with the show for 37 years. Wallace took the heart the journalistic admonition to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. It became cliché that any corrupt official’s worst nightmare began with the words “Mike Wallace and a crew from 60 Minutes is here…”
The one interview that Mike Wallace claimed to have regretted never getting was with First Lady Pat Nixon. President Nixon was an admirer of Wallace’s. There was an incident where a group of reporters had the painfully shy Mrs. Nixon pinned against a fence, shouting questions at her. Wallace walked through the crowd, took her by the arm, and guided her away. Before starting on 60 Minutes Wallace had been offered the job as Nixon’s press secretary.
Mike Wallace is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6263 Hollywood Blvd. He passed away surrounded by family in New Canaan, Connecticut, on Apr 7, 2012.
Goodnight, Mike Wallace.
Enjoy the Feb 7, 1939 Broadcast of Information Please
starring “Myron Wallace” (given name of Mike Wallace):