It is staggering to think of how many important historical and cultural figures Mike Wallace has interviewed over the course of his legendary career. With great humor and insight, he recalls his encounters with such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Yassir Arafat, Frank Lloyd Wright, Salvador Dali, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, and many more.
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October 25, 2005
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Excerpt from Between You and Me by Mike Wallace
JOHN F. KENNEDY
IN MAKING THE JUMP FROM a local program to the showcase of a coast-to-coast broadcast, Ted Yates and I were determined to maintain the candid, sometimes combative style we'd introduced on Night Beat. But that proved easier said than done. Part of the problem was that we'd lost the element of surprise we'd enjoyed when Night Beat burst on the scene the previous fall. Our reputation had preceded us to ABC, and more than a few of our prospective interviewees were wary of being grilled on network television by a guy who had been described by one captious critic as "Mike Malice" and by another as "The Terrible Torquemada of the TV Inquisition." This meant we had to work that much harder to find the kind of characters who might interest a national audience. But I'm happy to say that during our first few months at ABC, we were able to book a diverse gallery of guests for The Mike Wallace Interview, ranging from the highbrow (Philip Wylie, Margaret Sanger, and Frank Lloyd Wright) to the lowbrow, a group that included a mobster (Mickey Cohen), a stripper (Lili St. Cyr), and a pair of Hollywood sirens (Jayne Mansfield and Zsa Zsa Gabor).
Still, there were problems to confront. It didn't take us long to discover that in moving up to a network broadcast, we'd ventured into terrain far more treacherous than what we'd been accustomed to at Channel 5. Now that we were playing to a national audience, the stakes were higher, and there were times when we ran into the kind of dicey situations that provoke threats of libel suits.
One such dustup occurred when I interviewed the muckraking Washington columnist Drew Pearson. In those days, almost all the media power was in print, and no one was more powerful than the syndicated columnists. While many Washington columnists saw themselves as pundits and preferred to pontificate instead of investigate, Pearson was a journalistic throwback to the old school. He specialized in finding skeletons in Beltway closets, and he found enough of them to make him the most feared reporter in Washington. To go along with his zeal for exposure, Pearson had a reputation for shooting from the hip. At least two presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman had publicly accused him of being a chronic liar, but when it came to that particular allegation, nothing came close to matching the extravagance of a Tennessee senator named Kenneth McKellar. In a speech on the Senate floor, McKellar denounced Pearson as "an ignorant liar, a pusillanimous liar, a peewee liar, a liar during his manhood, a liar by profession, a liar in the daytime and a liar in the nighttime."
In our interview, I naturally asked Pearson if any of those pungent adjectives accurately described him, and he naturally denied that he was any kind of liar. We then talked about politics and the next presidential election. The two of us shared the conventional wisdom that Richard Nixon was the probable Republican nominee, and when we turned our attention to who was likely to oppose him in the general election, I noted that "the Democratic glamour boy would seem to be Senator Jack Kennedy."
Although I didn't know the senator from Massachusetts well, I felt a certain kinship with him because we shared a common background. As boys growing up in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Jack Kennedy and I had lived in the same neighborhood. Let me digress a moment here to elaborate on that connection.