Celebrating Mike Wallace's golden career at CBS
By P.J. Bednarski -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/18/2006 8:00:00 PM
Mike Wallace has been at CBS so long that the network has aired flattering retrospectives of his career—four times.
Wallace is the 60 Minutes correspondent who, probably more than any other, gave that venerable CBS News program its patina. It was Wallace who could turn a crooked businessman pale as a ghost, or skewer a politician, or drive Barbra Streisand to tears. Fearless, brutal, controversial, Wallace is an obvious choice to receive Promax's Century Award.
That's particularly so given his age—he's 88—and his years in the business—nearly 67. Put it this way: Wallace was already a 12-year broadcasting veteran when CBS introduced its iconic Eye symbol in 1951.
In March, Wallace announced that he was going to slow down, and he now has the title of “correspondent emeritus.”
In his long career, he has created a bounty of unforgettable television moments, yet he came reluctantly to television—in part because he was self-conscious about his acne scars from childhood. “I thought, well, this is really, really not for me,” he said in a 1997 CBS broadcast looking back at his career. “First of all, I was still sensitive about [acne scars]. And I got sick because of the heat of the lights. And then, of course, little by little, you become used to it.”
But he also revealed on that 1997 special (the others aired in 1990, 1999 and last month) that CBS News was wary of him, too, because of his past as a game-show host, cigarette pitchman and even a soap-opera actor. CBS refused to air the Race for Space documentary he narrated in 1960 for noted producer David Wolper. He recalled in the '97 special, “The people at CBS said, 'You mean to say that we're going to have the fellow who's measuring the quarter-inch filtered tip of the Parliament cigarettes? That's the same guy who's going to be measuring the missile gap? Not on CBS.'”
“Eventually,” he admitted on the special, that kind of disregard “got to me.”
When he dedicated himself to being a newsman, those other TV sidetracks were forgotten. His work on 60 Minutes—he has been with the show since its premiere in 1968—has left some indelible memories, including those of his interviews with the Ayatollah Khomeini, Johnny Carson, Itzak Perlman, H. R. Haldeman, Mel Brooks, Vladimir Putin and Shirley MacLaine. Earlier in his career, on a show called Biography, he focused on the world's most renowned historical figures, from Mark Twain to Joseph Stalin to Helen Keller.
Wallace has done everything; it's no wonder he's finally going to slow down. He reported from Vietnam as early as 1962, for example, and he went back there several times. He has received a Lifetime Emmy Award—one of 19 Emmys—three Alfred I. DuPont Columbia University Awards and three Peabody Awards, among many other honors.
Even so, you get the idea that Mike Wallace isn't finished yet.
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