Wallace, whose family’s surname was originally Wallik, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Frank and Zina Sharfman Wallace. His father was a grocer and insurance broker. Wallace attended Brookline High School, graduating in 1935. He graduated from the University of Michigan four years later with a Bachelor of Arts. While a college student he was a reporter for the Michigan Daily and belonged to the Alpha Gamma Chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity.
Wallace appeared as a guest on the popular radio quiz show Information Please on February 7, 1939, when he was in his last year at the University of Michigan. His first radio job was as newscaster and continuity writer for WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This lasted until 1940, when he moved to WXYZ Radio in Detroit, Michigan, as an announcer. He then became a freelance radio worker in Chicago, Illinois. Wallace enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943 and served as a communications officer during World War II on the USS Anthedon, a submarine tender. He saw no combat, but traveled to Hawaii, Australia, and Subic Bay in the Philippines, then patrolling the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and south of Japan. Wallace returned to Chicago after being discharged in 1946. Wallace announced for the radio shows Ned Jordan:Secret Agent, Sky King, The Green Hornet, Curtain Time, and The Spike Jones Show. It is sometimes reported Wallace announced for The Lone Ranger, but Wallace said he never did.
Wallace announced wrestling in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s, sponsored by Tavern Pale beer. In the late 1940s, Wallace was a staff announcer for the CBS radio network. He had displayed his comic skills when he appeared opposite Spike Jones in dialogue routines. He was also the voice of Elgin-American in their commercials on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. As “Myron Wallace”, he portrayed New York City detective Lou Kagel on the short-lived radio drama series “Crime on the Waterfront”.
In 1949, Wallace began to move to the new medium of television. In that year, he starred under the name Myron Wallace in a short-lived police drama, Stand By for Crime. Wallace hosted a number of game shows in the 1950s, including The Big Surprise, Who’s the Boss? and Who Pays?. Early in his career Wallace was not known primarily as a news broadcaster. It was not uncommon during that period for newscasters (the term then used) to announce, do commercials and host game shows; Douglas Edwards, John Daly, John Cameron Swayze and Walter Cronkite hosted game shows as well. Wallace also hosted the pilot episode for Nothing but the Truth, which was helmed by Bud Collyer when it aired under the title, To Tell the Truth. Wallace occasionally served as a panelist on To Tell the Truth in the 1950s. He also did commercials for a variety of products, including Procter & Gamble’s Fluffo brand shortening.
Wallace also hosted two late-night interview programs, Night Beat (broadcast in New York during 1955–1957, only on DuMont’s WABD) and The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC in 1957–1958. See also Profiles in Courage, section: Authorship controversy. In 1959, Louis Lomax told Wallace about the Nation of Islam. Lomax and Wallace produced a five-part documentary about the organization, The Hate That Hate Produced, which aired during the week of July 13, 1959. The program was the first time most white people heard about the Nation, its leader, Elijah Muhammad, and its charismatic spokesman, Malcolm X.
By the early 1960s, Wallace’s primary income came from commercials for Parliament cigarettes, touting their “man’s mildness” (he had a contract with Philip Morris to pitch their cigarettes as a result of their original sponsorship of The Mike Wallace Interview). Between June 1961 and June 1962 he hosted a New York-based nightly interview program for Westinghouse Broadcasting called PM East for one hour; it was paired with PM West, 30 minutes, hosted by San Francisco Chronicle television critic Terrence O’Flaherty. Westinghouse syndicated the series to television stations it owned and to a few other cities. People in southern and southwestern states were unable to watch it. A frequent guest on the PM East segment was Barbra Streisand. Only the audio of some of her conversations with Wallace survives. Westinghouse wiped the videotapes. Also in the early 1960s, Wallace was the host of the David Wolper-produced Biography series. After his elder son’s death in 1962, however, Wallace decided to get back into news, and hosted an early version of The CBS Morning News, from 1963 through 1966. In 1964 he interviewed Malcolm X, who, half-jokingly, commented “I probably am a dead man already.”
In 1967, Wallace anchored the documentary CBS Reports: The Homosexuals. “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous,” Wallace said in the piece. “He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one-chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city—the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship.” In later years, Wallace came to regret his participation in the episode. “I should have known better,” he said in 1992. Speaking in 1996, Wallace stated, “That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors — that’s what [psychiatrist Charles] Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”
His career as the lead reporter on 60 Minutes led to some run-ins with the people interviewed. While interviewing Louis Farrakhan, Wallace alleged that Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world. Farrakhan immediately shot back, declaring “Nigeria didn’t bomb Hiroshima or slaughter millions of Indians!” “Can you think of a more corrupt country?” asked Wallace. “I am living in one,” said Farrakhan.
Wallace interviewed Gen. William Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, aired January 23, 1982. Westmoreland then sued Wallace and CBS for libel. The trial ended in February 1985 when the case was settled out of court just before it would have gone to the jury. Each side agreed to pay its own costs and attorney’s fees and CBS issued a clarification of its intent with respect to the original story.
In 1981, Wallace was forced to apologize for a racial slur he had made about blacks and Hispanics. During a break while preparing a 60 Minutes report on a bank that had been accused of duping low-income Californians, Wallace was caught on tape joking that “You bet your ass [the contracts are] hard to read” if you’re reading them over watermelon or tacos. Attention was re-drawn to that incident several years later when protests were raised against Wallace’s being selected to give a university commencement address at the same ceremony during which Nelson Mandela was being awarded an honorary doctorate in absentia for his fight against racism. Wallace initially called the protestors’ complaint “absolute foolishness.” However, he subsequently again apologized for his earlier remark, and added that when he had been a student decades earlier on the same university campus, “though it had never really caused me any serious difficulty here … I was keenly aware of being Jewish, and quick to detect slights, real or imagined…. We Jews felt a kind of kinship [with blacks],” but “Lord knows, we weren’t riding the same slave ship.” Wallace expressed regret in regard to the one big interview he was never able to secure: First Lady Pat Nixon.
Wallace died at his New Canaan, Connecticut residence on April 7, 2012. He was 93. The night after his death, Morley Safer announced his death on 60 Minutes. On April 15, 2012, a full episode of 60 Minutes aired which was dedicated to remembering his life.
- May, 09, 1918
- Brookline, Massachusetts
- April, 07, 2012
- New Canaan, Connecticut
Cause of Death
- natural causes
- West Chop Cemetery
- Tisbury, Massachusetts