May is Jewish American Heritage Month! Mike (Myron Leon) Wallace was born on May 9, 1918, in Brookline, Mass., to Frank & Zina (Wallik) Wallace. He would become one of the most trusted sources of news in the United States. We lost him on April 7, 2012.
Mr. Wallace’s parents had immigrated from Russia, and his father was a grocer and insurance broker. After Brookline High School, Mr. Wallace earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan. While in college, he reported for the Michigan Daily. He belonged to the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. During his last year there, he appeared as a guest on the radio quiz program Information Please on February 7, 1939. He spent his first summer out of school working on-air at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. His first job in radio was as a newscaster and continuity writer in Grand Rapids. He later worked radio in Detroit and in Chicago.
Mr. Wallace served in the Navy during WWII as a communications officer. Discharged in 1946, he began working as radio announcer in Chicago for such programs as Curtain Time, Sky King, The Green Hornet, and The Spike Jones Show. (Kids, check out Spike Jones’ music while sequestered.) In the late 1940s, Mr. Wallace became a staff announcer for the CBS Radio Network. He also did commercials, for such companies as Elgin-American sponsoring Groucho Marx’ You Bet Your Life. In 1949 Mike Wallace became interested in television. Having acted on at least one radio drama under the name Myron Wallace, he acted in Stand By for Crime on tv, and through the 1950s hosted a number of game shows. (This was a standard career path for reporters in the day.) He also hosted late-night interview programs.
In July 1959, journalist Louis Lomax (first African-American television journalist) and Mike Wallace produced a charged and controversial five-part documentary, The Hate That Hate Produced, about the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, Louis X (later Louis Farrakhan) and Malcolm X. Several interview programs and many commercials later, and after hosting the Biography series, Mr. Wallace suffered the loss of his eldest son in 1962, and decided to get back into news. From 1963-1966 he hosted CBS Morning News.
Mr. Wallace went on to become one of the original correspondents for 60 Minutes (CBS) in 1968. He would retire from that full-time position in 2006, with occasional return appearances over the next two years.
Mike Wallace was known as an engaging interviewer, straight-on, and relentless. Sometimes his questions were more statements seeking redress from the interviewee. According to the NY Times, he once said that as he grilled his subjects, he walked “a fine line between sadism and intellectual curiosity.”
In these times when we need the Fourth Estate more than ever to continue to educate and enlighten as arguably the most important check and balance, we ought to remember those who delivered salient information in the past, controversial thought it may have been, and nurture the best that we have now.