If the news business was like football, Mike Wallace would be its MVP. But if news was a beauty contest, Wallace would never have been Mr. Congeniality.
That’s what hundreds of Mike Wallace’s friends, colleagues and family — four generations of them — learned as they gathered at the Rose Hall at Time Warner Center to remember the “60 Minutes” original who died April 8 at age 93.
Morley Safer and Steve Kroft remembered Wallace’s unrelenting competitive streak. When Kroft had set up an interview with Gov. Bill Clinton in 1988, amidst accusations of an extra-marital affair, Kroft says, “Mike offered me encouragement, while trying to take the story away from me.”
Safer admitted months would go by without the two reporters even speaking to each other. In a taped piece, the late Ed Bradley echoed the sentiment, after Wallace stole a Manuel Noriega interview from him. “You and I didn’t talk for six months,” Bradley says to Wallace who is unmoved.
“He brought the same zeal to a story as he did to a penny ante poker game,” said Safer.
Wallace even stole a story from his own son, Chris Wallace who, at the time, was working for ABC’s “Primetime.” In the Fall of 1997, young Wallace had set up an interview with comedian Chris Rock. Rock canceled not long before the shoot. Wallace later found out why.
“My old man had stolen the interview!” said Wallace. “And he knew he’d stolen it from me!” Bradley ended up conducting the Rock interview, mostly to make amends for the Noriega theft, but also to keep in good stead with his son.
“He was so exasperating and yet so endearing,” said Wallace choking back tears.
“It took many years for us to find our path to each other,” the Fox News anchor admitted. “He had a good heart. He could be naughty. But he was never mean.”
Mike Wallace butted heads with no one more than his own boss, the legendary “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt, whose own memorial was held here in Oct. 2009. CBS News Chairman, and Hewitt’s “60” successor, Jeff Fager remarked, looking around the auditorium, “Mike would want a count. Just so he could ask, ‘Who had more people at their memorial. Hewitt or me?'”
In this competition, Wallace wins again.
In addition to his CBS News colleagues we also spotted Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Brit Hume; NBC’s Harry Smith, former CBS News presidents Sean McManus, Andrew Heyward and Sir Howard Stringer, now the Chairman of Sony. Charlayne Hunter-Gault sat one row in front of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, who was one row ahead of CNN managing editor Mark Whitaker.
In front of real estate mogul Donald Trump, to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to the daughter of Malcom X, Ambassador Attallah Shabazz the breadth of Mike Wallace’s work was remembered one more time.
At the end of his remarks, Chris Wallace turned to a photo of his father that loomed large over the room. He saluted, saying, “So long.”
(Photos: John Paul Filo/CBS©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)