We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
A few words for Mike Wallace
CBS’s 60 Minutes devoted its entire hour last Sunday night to remembering Mike Wallace, the grand inquistor of television news who had died the previous weekend at the age of 93. It was a fond farewell that did not soft-peddle the reality that Wallace could be both a pussycat and a bear.
I have my own little piece of Wallace lore. On my first of what turned out to be many, many summer TV critics’ tours to Los Angeles, CBS flew Wallace out to do meet-and-greets. This was 1973, when the critic corps was still relatively small, so instead of mass press conferences there were small coffee klatch sessions that were almost cozy. Nobody asked hard questions. Everybody just chatted, and the interviewee – whether it was Wallace or William “Cannon” Conrad or Sally Field – was mainly expected to tell good anecdotes.
Wallace was extremely convivial, telling “war stories” about cheats and liars he’s faced down and expounding on how he and his producers convinced these crooks to appear on camera. We all laughed a lot.
As the session was ending, I couldn’t resist approaching the most feared and famous journalist in America. I had on the TV beat for The Orlando Sentinel for less than six months. I had previously been a staff writer for the paper’s ambitious Sunday magazine, Florida, and one of the last pieces I had written for the mag was a long feature about the “leper colony” in Carville, Louisiana. I couldn’t wait to tell Wallace that Carville was a great story just waiting for him or Morley Safer.
“Mr. Wallace, Mr. Wallace,” I called to him. He turned toward me. “I just wanted to tell you I have a great story idea for you. It’s about….”
He cut me off with one of those annoyed “Oh, please” looks well known to 60 Minutes viewers. “Sure kid,” he said. “Everybody does.”
As he turned away, I was so stunned by his curt rebuff that that my deeply ingrained Southern manners and deference just disappeared. “Well, fuck you,” I blurted.
He turned sharply and looked at me – really looked at me for the first time. I gulped. “What’s the story?” he asked.
I told him, as succinctly as I could, about Carville. He nodded as I explained and then he said, “That is a good story, but it’s not a 60 Minutes story.” He went on to explain about conflict, finding the drama in a piece.
He thanked me for the suggestion, wished me luck with my writing, shook my hand.
Years later, when I was working for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I lined up a phone interview with Wallace to talk about some history special he was narrating. The publicist had gotten me his home phone number. We talked about the special, 60 Minutes, even his struggle with depression. He was as candid as he was genial. As the interview was wrapping up, I mentioned the encounter described above.
Not surprisingly, given how many people he’d met in his professional life, he did not recall my outburst. But his behavior, he said, sounded like him, and he apologized.
No, I said, “I’m the one who should apologize for what I said. It was unprofessional, not to mention rude.”
“Trust me when I tell you, Noel,” he said. “You were not the first person who ever said that to me.”
- Photo: Screen shot from video (fair use).
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
It is just a matter of time until Medicare recipients are forced to wear a bell around their necks like Biblical lepers. Already, in some doctors’ offices, Medicare patients are as unwelcome as dog poo on a white Sunday shoe. Even some TV faith-healing evangelists no longer treat senior citizens. There have always been some who loathed and despised poor sick people – not only Republicans, but many medical professionals who chose the wrong line of work. (And they know who they are.) But, getting sick is a fact of life and for some, it starts early. According to my mother, my Read on →
My eyes are super-sensitive, as I discovered fifty years ago when, walking on a gusty day on an unfamiliar city street, a piece of grit flew into my eye. I was in instant agony: blinking, holding the eyelid, eye watering and conscious of time changing. Seconds became nanoseconds of excruciation. I looked around with the good eye for help. In one of the most fortuitous coincidences of my life I was passing an optician’s shop. I opened the door, stood on the threshold blinking, eye streaming uncontrollably. The optician guided me to a chair. His chosen instrument, the corner of a Read on →
Despite the seeming endless number of deficiencies the South can lay claim too, there have always been two aspects which have set the South apart: writers and football. Southern writers, when they are good, are very, very good. From Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner to Erskine Caldwell, Southern writers tap into a part of the human equation at a singular depth of understanding, an ability to strip away illusions and expose the raw nerve of life. There is a subline identification of excellence in the Southern Writer, but it is a real one. And football—especially college football—below the Mason-Dixon Line has the sam Read on →
Opp, Ala. – For the first time since announcing his run for president, Donald Trump spoke in tongues on Monday and told evangelicals gathered at a tent revival and barbecue he plans to get baptized in a creek before the next presidential debate. The announcement at a rural Alabama Baptist church caught GOP observers by surprise as well as evangelicals gathered to hear the usual Trump stump speech denouncing Mexicans and insulting women. “We had pot luck and when I first heard him I thought he was choking on a piece of chicken, I’ve got to be honest with you,” said Fred William Read on →