“My role is that of a reporter.” – Mike Wallace on the debut of The Mike Wallace Interview
With the death yesterday of TV journalist Mike Wallace at age 93, we’ve already seen many remembrances of him as the man who—along with producer Don Hewett—created the American institution we know as 60 Minutes in the tumultuous American year of 1968. It’s impossible to short-change Wallace’s 38-year legacy as both gate-keeper of that show and pioneer of the “gotchya question” interview technique that defines much of our current news media landscape.
But it behooves us to also have a good look at the man’s stint as the host of The Mike Wallace Interview, the spartan and penetrating late-night program that broadcast nationally from 1957 through 1960. Wallace was 18 years into a broadcast career (mostly as a radio announcer and game show host) as he launched the show based on Night Beat, a similar and more groovily-named program he’d hosted locally in New York a couple of years earlier. During the show’s tenure, he brought a fascinating array of folks to the American public eye, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl Buck, Eric Fromm, Lily St. Cyr, Aldous Huxley and many others.
Besides its solid bookings and now-surreal-seeming live-ads for its benevolent sponsor Philip Morris, TMWI distinguishes itself with a bare-bones visual setting to focus viewer attention on the substance of the personalities interviewed. Dare I say the only two journalists I can think of who’ve truly adapted the show’s black-background format with similar grace and talent are Charlie Rose and Dangerous Minds’ own Richard Metzger.
Do yourself a favor and check out the digitized collection of interviews from the first two years of the show that Wallace donated to the Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Meanwhile, here’s Wallace throwing down with a 54-year-old Sal Dali on death, religion, politics and the fact that “Dali is contradictory and paradoxical in any sense.”
After the jump: more Wallace vs. Dali…