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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

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.

I met him 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.

You could see pain appearing on Mike Wallace's face, 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. 

Holly Nadler April 09, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Astonishing story about the father himself finding his son, dead far below on a beach in the Gulf of Corinth. I never knew about that. Also, must admit, ever since Mike Wallace glanced at me briefly at a Possible Dreams Auction, decades ago!, I've had a little crush on him.
Todd Richissin (Editor) April 09, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Holly. Thanks for the comment. I've been getting a lot of messages about Mike Wallace sitings and that one glimpse people had of the "real" Mike. Any others out there?
Trina Mascott April 10, 2012 at 05:03 AM
My late husband Larry met Mike at the U of Michigan. Mike was a senior when Larry was a freshman but some years later Mike agreed to narrate a film that Larry produced, wrote and directed. At the recording session, the two of them chatted about their college years and then Mike read the narration smoothly and with feeling, and without the need for a retake. A few years ago I ran into Mike at an art opening in Oak Bluffs (I'm a summer Islander) and we reminisced about those golden times. (I'm Holly's mom). Trina Mascott
Trina Mascott April 10, 2012 at 05:03 AM
My late husband Larry met Mike at the U of Michigan. Mike was a senior when Larry was a freshman but some years later Mike agreed to narrate a film that Larry produced, wrote and directed. At the recording session, the two of them chatted about their college years and then Mike read the narration smoothly and with feeling, and without the need for a retake. A few years ago I ran into Mike at an art opening in Oak Bluffs (I'm a summer Islander) and we reminisced about those golden times. (I'm Holly's mom). Trina Mascott
William Waterway December 13, 2013 at 10:23 AM
I met Mike and Mary Wallace at a cocktail party at Bill and Rose Styron's in thte late 1980s. At the time, I was publisher/editor of Martha's Vineyard Magazine. Mike and I had a relaxing conversation - so much so, that I asked him if he would write an article about why he chose our island as his summer home. At first, he was reticent. We had a couple of more conversations on the phone. Eventually, he wrote the article. As a surprise to Mike, I asked his close friend, Art Buchwald to write a humorous article about Mike. Art agreed. Before the magazine hit the stands, I brought a copy for Mike and Mary to read. Mike's photo was on the cover. He and Mary liked the layout of his article. However, when he turned the page and saw Art's article, he was pleasantly surprised. Mike read Art's article allowed - he and Mary couldn't stop laughing. Mike called Art, who came over to the house to get a "free" copy of the magazine. Art liked the word "free." Later on that summer I had Mike as a guest on my TV talk show, "The Vineyard Voice." Touched on a spectrum of topics - "60 Minutes;" the loss of his son, Peter; and, for the first time ever - we explored all of his past marriages and what was going on in his professional life during each of the marriages.
susan.anthony December 15, 2013 at 10:56 AM
I was the lucky one, as many celebs passed through the doors of Island Electronics. Most of all, I so enjoyed the natives, their stories for the love of their Island and family was so wonderful, everyone always made me feel at home and welcome, (the benes of marrying an Islander/Native, lol). Mike Wallace entered the shop, I remember coming out of the office and sitting down with him for what ended up being a 20 minute chat! Mr. Wallace was so warm, I felt as if I had known him for a long time. Although I managed to maintain that cool and collective appearance as all the Islanders do around important people, on the inside I was shaking! I remember saying to myself, I feel like Barbara Walters interviewing Mike Wallace! Unfortunately, the content of the conversation has been blocked by nervousness, you know like when you get really scared, like when the ferry is rocking so hard that water is coming on the deck and you lose your hearing! lol I do know that the topic of his son was touched upon b/c I had shared with him that my parents also lost their son at the age of 19. So there you go, the common thread that somehow and/or eventually connects us all together. Seasons Greetings, my Vineyard friends....see you next year!
William Waterway December 15, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Susan Anthony, what a beautiful ode to Mike Wallace. As well, many thanks to Todd Richisson for sharing his Patch article about Mike. We are all the richer for it. Nice to see so many fond memories being shared about Mike Wallace - his life touched many people. In fulfillment of his son Peter's wish - Mike Wallace made a commendable effort to change this world for the better.
Martha Magee December 15, 2013 at 12:50 PM
Art Buchwald introduced me to Mike Wallace 10-15 years ago. Even then, he was a hottie! He and Mary and Art were off to a cocktail party. Mike, a suave study in sartorial elegance (with his summer sweater slung over his shoulders) was in the driver's seat of his classic, unpretentious dark green station wagon. Mike introduced me to Mary, who I liked immediately. Art, knowing I am a massage therapist said, " Hey MIKE - - you need a massage??" To which he replied with the steeliest of coolness, arm resting through the driver's seat window, " YESSS I Doooooo.." Silly me didn't have any business cards handy in that impromptu Vineyard moment, and we never got together. But I love knowing that I came that close to giving Mike Wallace a heartfelt massage! Note: Art wanted a massage, but didn't seem to enjoy my prices (which were pretty reasonable..) Here's a funnee: At the time, my business cards said: <MARTHA MAGEE, MASSAGE THERAPY> " TOUCH HEALS....LOVE IS THE KEY " After giving Art one of my cards, he would thereafter refer to me as "the faith healer". I always found that so amusing.

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