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Mike Wallace: A Life by Peter Rader
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Mike Wallace was an icon in the world of journalism. On the outside or wide screen he appeared confident, self assured, confrontational at times and in total control of every situation he encountered. Mike Wallace was the perfect Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From the onset of his career, even when working on his High School newspaper, Mike Wallace was aggressive, on point and never walked away from an argument or conflict until he came out the victor. But, Mike Wallace hid behind his own fears, melancholy and depressed personality by creating situations that most would shy away from, not afraid to blunder in public and offset his insecurity with pranks and help from family members. With an overbearing mother, successful and honorable father that he modeled himself after, Mike faltered in this world hoping to find the right niche that would be his and his alone.
Integrity is never overrated. Taking pride in watching his father’s success and admiring him when defeated and never giving up, Mike never quite fit in anywhere no matter how hard he tried. Yet, he was clever, resourceful and super smart when he wanted to be. With the help of a close relative he was admitted to the University of Michigan and it is there where things would change for this enterprising man. From radio, to television, journalism, actor and entertainer, he did it all. Morning news, specials, 24 hour news, the internet, news magazines and of course 60 Minutes which he put on the map. When you think about 60 Minutes you think Mike Wallace.
But, from the start you would learn he was a rebel and sometimes what he said in public or on the air was not always well received. From the many stormy romances he had to the difficulties dealing with his many marriages author Peter Rader shares Mike’s life with so many who admired and loved his manner and style. Mike appeared on many quiz shows such as Information please in his last year at the University of Michigan followed by his first radio job as a newscaster for WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids. Moving next to WXYZ Radio as an announcer and after many other jobs in radio he decided to enlist in the Navy in 1943 and was discharged in 1946. Mike loved work and dappled in many areas of television and radio including radio action shows and announcing a real classic The Lone Ranger.
CBS offered him a job as a staff announcer on their network. But, what most people recognize and remember him for as the lead reporter on 60 Minutes, which led him into some really confrontational situations but definitely exciting reporting. Interviewing Farrakhan he stated and eluded that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. One of the most talked about shows was Buff and Mike and his stormy romance with her led to many interesting times. Buff, with as strong a personality as Mike did not like being upstaged, pushed aside or not in the limelight. Married to her and no longer to Norma, deciding to take a job as the emcee on I’ll Buy That, Buff decided to call it quits. Next, we learn about his relationship with Lorraine Perigord and his rise to finally sitting in that anchor chair and working round the clock. This is when and where Mike thrived and it started with two news shows on Channel Five. Moving to WAMD he became the most talked about newsman in America. Working with Virginia Graham he would be outmatched and learn many other lessons.
The author shares the back-stories of many of his wives, newscasters like Ted Yates and we being to understand that Mike was not the only one hungry for that camera and top seat in the news. Ted taught Mike how to think outside to box, “question conventional wisdom as to how news should be gathered and presented.” Working on Night Beat would unearth a whole new spectrum of news for him and a whole new world of TV sensationalism. Mike was unique, different and no one could really replicate his style. Next, the Mike Wallace Interview, a national show on ABC. Lawsuits, interviewing politicians, discussing others on his show, and problems arouse even at ABC. John Daly made sure he was not given any other news assignments.
Network news is definitely cutthroat even now. But, in the 1960;’s Mike finally became a correspondent for CBS deciding to go after hard news after losing his oldest son, Peter. Meeting Edward Murrow and one of my grandmother’s favorites newscasters Douglas Edwards these two icons both finding their way to CBS but they would not be working together for very long. But, the assignment that would create the real Mike Wallace happened in 1968 when he became the co-host of 60 Minutes. A slow starter but after ten years it would become one of the top ten rated news shows in the history of television news programs. Watching all of the newscasters on the show deal with corruption, fraud and world news everyone must tuned to CBS for that special sixty minutes.
Whether interviewing a political figure or just reaching out to the American public with a story Mike Wallace disclosed it all and did it his way. But, in the middle 80’s the world would learn about the other side of Mike and find out that the smile on his face was just a mask for the one hidden behind his clinical depression. This outgoing, assertive and confident man was really just a façade. Admitting his problem and getting help made a difference not just to him but others too.
Imagine interviewing Nixon right before the election. Nothing remarkable happened during that interview nor does Nixon attempt to thwart any of his questions. Interviewing not only Nixon, Ronald Reagan and even John F. Kennedy plus foreign leaders like Menachem Begin and Anwar el-Sadat, Mike Wallace ran the full spectrum of every type of interview. Mike’s form of journalism was referred to as “Ambush journalism” and he was the best at it. But, in 1984 things changed when the world would really see the other side of him after taking an almost lethal overdose of sleeping pills. Fortunately, his wife Mary would find him summoned their private doctors and called for emergency help.
Mike Wallace was on the air for many years on 60 Minutes after dealing with the Westmorland trial and much more. Friends would struggle, things changed and then in 2006 he decided to retire from the show. There is so much to share about his life but I won’t spoil it for the reader because you want to learn about him for yourself. Imagine more than sixty years in the news business. In August of 2006 Mike interviewed Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Knowing that this man was a “calculating provocateur would make for an interesting interview. The author shares the interview with readers in the final chapter of the book titled Tough but Fair. Mike’s death marks the end of an era in news reporting but he will truly remain in the hearts, minds and thoughts of everyone. Thank you to Peter Rader for allowing everyone to hear Mike’s voice and innermost thoughts in this outstanding biography told honestly, straightforward and definitely the way Mike would have wanted it told.
Reviewer: Fran Lewis
Fran worked in the NYC Public Schools as the Reading and Writing Staff Developer for over 36 years. She has three masters degrees and a PhD in Supervision and Administration. Currently, she is a member of Who’s Who of America’s Teachers and Who’s Who of America’s Executives from Cambridge. In addition, she is the author of three children’s books and a fourth that has just been published on Alzheimer’s disease in order to honor her mom and help create more awareness for a cure. The title of her new Alzheimer’s book is Memories are Precious: Alzheimer’s Journey: Ruth’s Story. She is also the author of Because We Care and Sharp as A Tack or Scrambled Eggs: Which Describes Your Brain? Her latest book is Faces Behind the Stones. She was the musical director for shows at her school and ran the school’s newspaper. Fran writes reviews for authors upon request for several sites. You can read some of her reviews on Ezine.com and on ijustfinished.com under the name Gabina. You can visit Fran at her website, blog, and book review blog.