Monday, April 16, 2012

Mike Wallace RIP

Unless you live under a rock you probably heard that Mike Wallace died last week. He was 93 years old.  While he was best known in recent decades for his segments on CBS TV news program 60 Minutes, his career actually began in radio.
He was born in Brookline, MA and his real surname was Wallik. He attended the University of Michigan, which is how he ended up in Ann Arbor. That will be important in a sec. While he was enrolled as a student, he was a reporter for the Michigan Daily newspaper. It was his first real move toward news. In 1939 he appeared as a guest on the radio quiz show "Information Please."  He was a senior at U. Michigan at the time. After graduating he was hired as an announcer at WOOD, but eventually was allowed to do some news casts. He must have done OK because in 1940, just 9 months later, he moved to Detroit for another newscaster job at WXYZ-AM.There he was not just a newscaster but also a voice actor on daytime dramas and action programs. He left WXYZ for a job as a news writer at the Chicago Sun but left in 1943 to enlist.

In WWII he served as a communications officer on the submarine tender, the USS Anthedon. After WWII ended he was discharged and returned to Chicago in 1946. He landed a job as a reporter at WMAQ-AM where later he and his 2nd wife Buff Cobb had a night talk program live from a night club. That show must have caught somebody's ear because CBS grabbed it and tried to convert it into a daytime talk TV program in 1951.Accounts vary on it's end. Some say divorce in 1955 others record an earlier end in 1953, or 1954. It didn't matter, Mike was already hosting schmaltzy game shows including The Big Surprise, Who's the Boss? and Who Pays?.

But that was the end of the fluff programming. In 1956 he got a night interview program on WABD-TV called "Night Beat." It did well enough that he reworked the formula into a new program in ABC "The Mike Wallace Interview" which debuted in 1957. After that it was all about TV news. Well that and about 10 years of Parliament cigarette advertisements. He hosted so many of those ads for so long he had trouble getting back into news. He ended up talking a job in 1963 as an anchor in KTLA-TV. In 1965 he became the morning anchor of the CBS morning news, then a correspondent for the CBS evening news, and in 1968 he started 60 minutes where he stayed for another 37 years.