Wallace was involved in 60 Minutes from its very beginning on CBS in 1968, and became known for asking hard questions of influential figures and leaders in all walks of life, from business, to politics, to entertainment. Wallace continued to work full-time for 60 Minutes all the way until 2006 (and continued to make occasional appearances until 2008), making a total of almost forty years dedicated to the program. Wallace showed two sides of his personality when noting his two most stand-out stories upon his retirement, to the Associated Press. The two were a hard hitting interview, the first Western interview with Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after over 50 Americans were taken hostage, and a lighter piece with piano savant Vladamir Horowitz.
Wallace’s approach might be best summed up in a quote from beer industrialist Joseph Coors, who once said, “The four most frightening words in the English language are ‘Mike Wallace is here,” a quote which Wallace proudly displayed in his office.
60 Minutes creator and long-time producer Don Hewitt said in 2006, “If they were allowed to put plaques up at CBS for the three journalists who would stand out, they would be Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace.” Wallace’s biggest controversy in his time on the air came from a report in 1982 when Wallace narrated a documentary on Vietnam, which accused General William Westmoreland of misleading Americans about Vietnamese casualties to gain continued support for the Vietnam War. Westmoreland sued both CBS and Wallace but eventually dropped the suit. Wallace also got into a fight with CBS executives to air an interview with tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand. The events would eventually turn into the film The Insider starring Al Pacino as Don Hewitt and Christopher Plummer as Wallace.
Wallace was born on May 9, 1918 in Brooklyn, Mass, the son of Russian immigrant parents, Frank and Zina Wallace. Frank ran a grocery business. Wallace initially began his news career in radio, in Michigan, and then Chicago, and served in the Navy for three years during World War II. He moved to TV in 1955 with the show Night Beat in which he engaged in one on one interviews for a local ABC station, right away introducing his controversial and confrontational manner with first guest New York City mayor Robert Wagner. He bounced around different television stations for the next decade and turned down an opportunity to become press secretary for President Richard Nixon because of the permanent damage it would do to his future news career. In 1968, he helped found 60 Minutes, and his legend was born soon after, starting in 1978, the program was rated in the top ten in the country for 23 years.
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