Mike Wallace ‘Minutes’ia

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Others have beat The Insider to the serious odes to Mike Wallace-the “60 Minutes” interrogator who inspired the legend that the scariest words in the English language are “Mike Wallace is here”-and the hole that will be left in the art, and soundtrack, of TV journalism when he assumes CBS News correspondent emeritus status at the end of this TV season.

So The Insider will share less-formal highlights from her conversation with Mr. Wallace last week after the long-tireless man-the man who, at the age of 87, still has the perfect pipes for TV news-announced his plans to retire.

On how he and wife Mary Yates Wallace are going to feel having a lot more time off after 38 years of a demanding “60 Minutes” work schedule:

“We just came back from Florida. My wife Mary is quite involved with the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, because of my episodes of depression. We do a lot of that.

“Mary is about to depart to Burma with one of our grandkids [19-year-old Eames Yates Jr., already a documentary production veteran]. ‘Big Eames’ is editing at this moment. He did the definitive piece on methamphetamine [2003’s “Crank: Made in America”]. He’s following up on that.”

On why, when he’s asked to reminisce about his unique career, he says his 1977 interview with Vladimir Horowitz is his “favorite of all time”:

“I used to be a fiddle player. I was a musician. I was going to do a profile of Vladimir Horowitz. I couldn’t believe that he was going to do it. We were in Chicago. He came in at 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon. He only concertized on Sunday afternoons at 4 o’clock. That was it. He was a strange fellow. Very private. Married to Arturo Toscanini’s daughter. Anyway, he comes in and I say, ‘Ohhh, maestro.’ He says, ‘Mike Wallace! I watch you every Sunday night!’ Can you imagine?

“He had played in Central Park, back in ’45 at the end of the war, ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever.’ So in the middle of the piece, I said, ‘Come on, maestro. Please. You’re going to do …. ‘No, I don’t remember. I can’t! No. I don’t want to do that.’ He was like that. He was kind of like an adolescent. He really was. He used to play adolescent tricks.

“I turned to [Horowitz’ wife] and said, ‘Wanda.’ She said, ‘Play.’ And he began to play. He was a henpecked husband.”

On whether he still has his driver stop at Luke’s for take-home meatloaf, a habit that got him handcuffed and hauled to a police station in 2004, when he tried to intercede with the taxi inspector who was grilling his driver:

“The price of the meatloaf has now gone up. It’s now the ‘Mike Wallace Meatloaf.’ It’s $11.95, and it’s sensational. It was $10.95. Almost anytime I go in there I order it. It’s so damned good. I don’t have the mashed potatoes and gravy that go with it. Instead I get some saut%E9;ed spinach.”

On how one of the most famous practitioners of “gotcha” journalism is greeted on the street:

“Down the years, of course, there’s been a lot of ‘Hey Mike.’ [Also], ‘Mr. Douglas, it’s a great pleasure to see you.’ I’ll never forget this beautiful, beautiful young woman of color who was coming down Madison Avenue. She came to a dead stop in front of me and said, ‘Oh, Mr. Bradley, I love your work.’ That’s right. I couldn’t believe it.”

On what a television news division needs today:

“Management who care about the news. The willingness to-you know and I know there is too much infotainment, there is too much tabloid. And [CBS News and Sports President] Sean McManus swears that he’s going to get back the shine of CBS News. He really does. It’s a tough, tough job. I’ve got to tell you, I have nothing but confidence in him.”