How I (Almost) Made Mike Wallace Cry (And Why I’m Not Sorry)

An Iowa editor remembers his time with Mike Wallace, a tough guy for "60 MInutes" -- and so much more -- who died Saturday at age 93.

I met Mike Wallace only once, many years ago, but I’d like to think I actually got to know him in the two hours we spoke.

Our meeting came on Martha’s Vineyard in July of 1999, one day after John F. Kennedy Jr. was buried at sea off that same island. I had met Mike there with his son, Chris Wallace, to interview them for a book I was writing, a collection of my essays and Jim Graham’s photographs about famous and not-so-famous father-son relationships.

They are smiling on the cover of that book, Father's & Sons, looking forever young, even though Mike was 80 at the time.

He died Saturday. He was 93.

I saw Chris Wallace in August at the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, and I asked him how his father was doing. “Not good,” he told me and then gave that non-verbal, telltale sign of really not good – shaking his head  “no” and pursing his lips.

When putting together the list of people I wanted for the book, I had gone after Mike and Chris Wallace for a few reasons: Chris Wallace was a big name, Mike Wallace was a huge name, I admired them both, and I knew about another son of Mike’s, Peter. 

Peter died in 1962. He was 19.

During our interview, with Chris at his side, Mike recounted how he hadn’t heard from Peter, who had been hiking around Europe, so he tracked down the youth hostel where he’d been staying. People there told him Peter had planned to climb a mountain near the Gulf of Corinth.

So, Mike hired a guide and a donkey and found himself riding to the top of a cliff.

I could see pain appearing on Mike Wallace's face as he recounted this story, and I could have interjected something, anything, to ease things for him just a bit, but I didn't. I'm not sorry for that. It helped me get to know him.

“We sat down to catch our breath, and we’re sitting there like this,” Mike Wallace told me, hunched over, forearms on his knees. “I looked down, and about 150 feet down we saw somebody – and there he was.”

That’s when his eyes started to well a bit, which I’m counting as crying, because I know that Mike Wallace will be remembered mostly as the granite-nosed, zero-nonsense, “Give me a break!” tough guy, and by his signature emotion, outrage.

But Mike Wallace had tears in his eyes that day. If not for the well-timed fake cough and thrown-back head – the thing guys do to pull themselves back – he would have pushed those tears down his cheeks rather than blinking them back inside.

And I think people should know that and remember: Mike Wallace could cry.

And people should know that Mike Wallace could laugh a lot, too. He did the day I met him, anyway. He joked with Chris, and with me, and he was funny and pensive and introspective and kind and a braggart about his wife, Mary, and he was all at once regretful about portions of his life, but happy with how he had lived it.

He confessed, and Chris confessed, that it took them too long to develop a relationship that they both could cherish.

Yes, Mike Wallace never shrunk down in an interview, whether it be with scam artists, politicians or those who were one in the same. Yes, Mike Wallace was a tough guy.

He was so much more than that, though.

Toward the end of our interview, I asked him what he was most proud of over his long career. I expected him to bring up one of his toe-to-toe, fist-to-chin, ask-anything-and-everything interviews.

He didn’t. He was proud of his career, clearly. But he changed the subject and nodded toward Chris.

“The fact that I have him and my grandchildren and my daughter and her children and Mary and her kids – I can’t tell you how satisfying that is,” he said.

“It took a long time. There’s a picture in there,” he said, pointing toward his dining room. “It was taken on my eightieth birthday, and there’s a family in that picture, and in this house there’s a family, and the fact that we have this – we really do have this – that’s what’s finally nice for me.”

Todd Richissin is Patch's regional editor for Iowa. 

Louise April 09, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Shame on you Kathy, You obviously don't know what it takes to care for an elderly person. Sometimes you don't have the choice to put your parent in a nursing home. They can't always be cared for at home. Unless you know the circumstances I suggest you keep your negative opinions to yourself.
Todd Richissin April 09, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Thanks Joyce and Cle and Louise. (I can tell you that in my couple dealings with Chris, he struck me as a caring and loving son.) Any other Mike Wallace stories out there?
JAMES J. Mc BRIDElll April 09, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Dear Todd, Thank you for your story and the book. I've met a lot of wonderful in my years on the road, unfortunately I missed Mr. Mike Wallace. to my regret , hopefully I will meet Chris, in the near future. . Best Regards, JMcB lll April 9, 2012.
Gail Graf April 09, 2012 at 08:41 PM
While working in corporate healthcare about 9 or 10 years ago, I attended an evening event hosted by the Mental Health community in Manhattan. Mike Wallace was a huge contributor to mental health causes and concerns and he attended the event as well. I always admired him for his life work and his candor in interviews. When he shared with the world about his own struggle with depression, he endeared himself to me even more since I have been in the field of professional mental health since the late 1990's. I was so very fortunate to spend time talking with Mike that evening and having our photo taken together. He had a twinkle in his eye and a magnetism that drew one to him. How fortunate I was to have spent time with him!
Beth Dalbey (Editor) April 09, 2012 at 08:44 PM
I didn't know Mike Wallace personally, but at a well-known scientific organization I worked for, we had long, serious discussions about the protocol we'd follow if any of us in the communications department picked up the phone and heard, "Hello, this is Mike Wallace at '60 Minutes.'" He had a well-deserved reputation as a tough-but-fair journalist who was admired, feared and, we now know, much loved.
Stephen Barber April 09, 2012 at 09:00 PM
MIKE WALLACE and WALTER CRONKITE, should have lived forever, this world needed men like them just like JOHN WAYNE, heroes all of them.
Lynne Webb April 09, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Kathy, it's clear you've never washed adult hinny's, spoon fed, changed adult diapers and wonder what it would be like to get 8 full hours of sleep. That's the life of an in-home care giver. As far as going to a concert or a movie? Forget it.
Todd Richissin April 09, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Thanks, James, Gail and Stephen. As a heads up, I was watching 60 Minutes yesterday, and after a brief acknowledgment of Mike's passing, it was announced that an expanded tribute would air next Sunday. I find these first-hand meetings with Mike fascinating. Anybody else?
Elizabeth Nazarian April 09, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I grew up watching 60 Minutes and have fond memories of Mike Wallace. My Mother told me Chris Wallace was his son - I didn't know that. He appears to be a fine man too. God Bless the Wallace Family and Friends who were fortunate enough to know him. And God Bless the writer of this book - I hope to read it soon.
michael April 09, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Pretty judgemental you are.. don't you think?
michael April 09, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Kathy, Clearly you are either ignorant on what it takes to care for someone suffering from dementia and the other ailments older folks go through. Either that or you have the luxury of not working or doing much else for that matter. In any event, you are a disgusting troll.
Todd Richissin April 09, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Thanks, Elizabeth. Yes, for what it's worth, Chris has always struck me as a fine man, too. Always polite, and it was clear he cared very much for his father.
thomas murallo April 09, 2012 at 10:32 PM
mike wallace was a true professional and an icon! i missed him after he retired. no one will ever take his place. i hope his memory will never be forgotten! tm
Bettylene W. Franzus April 09, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, two men upon whose personal integrity the listener could rely. Their passing reduced the ranks of such professionals by a degree larger than simply two men. Bettylene W. Franzus
Todd Richissin April 09, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Thanks for the comments, Thomas and Bettylene. I agree. I think Mike Wallace's not-so-very-secret "secret" was his ability to inject a bit of show biz into his journalism to make it compelling. So many who have followed him try the opposite approach: Injecting a little (sometimes very little) journalism into their show biz.
Tom Moscato April 09, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Lets get the record straight. He was a nice man, and a very good, biased, Liberal commentator
dickkovar@aol.com April 09, 2012 at 11:55 PM
I volunteered to testify in support of Mike Wallace in the Westmoreland v. CBS trial. Mike actually hugged me and said if there was ever anything he could do for me, ever, I should ask. I wish I had asked for a lunch date.
Njean April 09, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Correspondent Leslie Stahl says Mike Wallace had a crush on Tina Turner. I met her once and was 2-3 feet from her but saw she had creamy smooth skin like a peach. I wanted to hug her myself. Rest in Peace Mike. Good looking out.
Njean April 09, 2012 at 11:59 PM
You got that right!
JoannFarris April 10, 2012 at 12:45 AM
I am a writer , and have a published book. But I am not famous and never had a gig on TV to promote it. However, I think people watch news because of the style of the commentator /journalist. It is a personal thing. If you don't like the person you probably won't watch the channel their on. I watched 60 minutes because of Mike Wallace and I watch Sundays with Chris Wallace because of Chris. I know I am going to get news without people talking all over each other. As a listener we are waiting for a tidbit of something that we didn't know. or, an expanded knowledge of what we do. Mike and Chris Wallace are very simular to each other. The likes of Walter C. and D. Brinkley. True Journey-mem. I am afraid if we continue with the drama at hand , the young people will plug in their ear phones and not listen... RIP Mr. Mike Wallace.
Alan Sells April 10, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Nice plug for your book.
R.W. Streicher April 10, 2012 at 01:22 AM
I am sure glad to see everybody making good comments about Mr. Wallace. He will surely be missed. RIP.
Stephen Michel April 10, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Apparentrly less bias than you. Mike Wallace may have taken a liberals view as to which stories he covered, but when the facts went counter to that view he acknowledged them.
Carol April 10, 2012 at 01:38 AM
He was a truly remarkable man and will always be remembered for his contributions to journalism!!!!!!
Stephen Michel April 10, 2012 at 01:48 AM
A commentator by definition is biased, liberal or conservative. They are offering their opinion about whatever they are commenting on.
Todd Richissin April 10, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Thanks, Alan. The nickel will do me good! (The book had a nice run, but it's out of print.)
Todd Richissin April 10, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Thanks for your comments, RW and Carol. I, too, have been gratified to see the outpouring for Mike on this site and elsewhere.
Shirley Cummins April 10, 2012 at 01:54 AM
A part of my growing up years from TV. We never missed the show from our Mobile Alabama home . I never met him yet somehow thought of him as an Uncle . I was deeply sad to hear of his passing . S Cummins
Sharon Korte April 10, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I have truly enjoyed Mike's commentaries for as long as I am old and will truly miss him also. I wish I had opportunity to have met him personally. SharonKorte
Larry Fox April 10, 2012 at 03:34 AM
I liked Mike Wallace. I have to admit, I never watehed 60 Minutes too much, but when I did, if Mike Wallace was there, he was fair and I believe, honest. I am 62 and almost1/2 yrs. old or young, however you view that age. He will be missed and remembered. Good luck, Mike. I hope that you enjoy the angels flying around you.


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