Independent Republican Presidential Candidate and conservative blogger Andy Martin remembers the night he was seated next to CBS News icon Mike Wallace and his new wife Mary, and the two men reminisced about Chicago and Viet-Nam.
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“My dinner with Mike Wallace”
Republican Presidential candidate and conservative blogger Andy Martin writes about the night he was seated next to Mike and Mary Wallace for dinner
Andy says that before Mike Wallace helped create the 60 Minutes franchise Mike was the quintessential local Chicago broadcaster
(NEW YORK) (April 15, 2012) Legendary CBS newsman Mike Wallace died last week. But before he was Mike Wallace he was Myron Wallace, a quintessential outsider who became a well-known local Chicago broadcaster and pitchman. Chris Wallace will have a retrospective about his dad on Fox News today (Sunday) but he may not dwell on his father’s Chicago years. Wallace’s death has drawn attention because of his colorful life and the franchise he helped create with CBS’ Sixty Minutes.
I once had dinner with Mike and Mary Wallace. Entirely by accident. It was an unusual evening.
Most of my readers start reading because of my role as a political candidate or political analyst. Many of them stay on and keep reading because of my connections to many interesting events and persons of the past half century. My “dinner with Mike Wallace” is an example.
Someone (I don’t remember who) organized a dinner at the Park Avenue Armory in New York for people who had been in Viet-Nam and I was invited to attend. The dinner took place (I believe) in November, 1986. I had two tickets for the dinner. My lady friend of that period and I had just broken up, but I told her the tickets were already paid for and would she still like to come along? She said yes.
When I got to the Park Avenue Armory I found myself seated next to Mike and Mary Wallace. Mike and Mary had just been married and they were still a new (and in Mary’s case vivacious) couple.
When Mike heard I was from Chicago that opened a flood-gate of reminiscences about Chicago in the 1940’s and 50’s when Mike, then Myron Wallace, had been a big man in Chicago broadcasting. The people Mike had known in their younger years were middle-aged or older by the time I arrived in Chicago in 1968, but there was a great continuity between our Chi-town experiences.
The more we gabbed the more I realized that Mike represented the essence of America. He had gone to Chicago as an unknown Myron Wallace, reinvented himself into a well known pitchman and personality in broadcasting circles, and created a comfortable and profitable niche in what was then the Second City. Then he reinvented himself a second time and left for New York, a vastly more challenging media mountain. And succeeded again. As Mike Wallace.
In the mid-1960’s Wallace reinvented himself a third time. Most of us know the “third” Mike Wallace and think his career began in 1968 with Sixty Minutes. But Wallace was well along in years (by then in his 50’s) when Sixty Minutes launched. When he headed for New York Mike had left behind a colorful legacy and colorful recollections of Chicago after World War II. In New York Mike initially created the persona of the confrontational noir inquisitor (in Chicago Wallace had worked with a lighter touch) and continued as a commercial pitchman. Eventually Mike absorbed the gravitas of mid-century CBS News and became a broadcasting institution.
Today America has become a homogenized nation. Regional accents are gradually disappearing, regional cooking is gradually going national, and our “regions” are gradually merging into a big national blob. All of this standardization has taken place because of TV network broadcasting. Most people don’t realize that back at the beginning of the broadcasting age, Chicago had a very different personality from New York; regions had regional differences and we were not yet just one big national “market.” But the individuality of Chicago and Wallace’s prominence there made his abandonment of Chicago and his quest to New York all the more amazing.
Mike apparently didn’t talk much about his Chicago years after he became a star in New York. But as our dinner continued I conducted a “mini-Mike Wallace” on Mike Wallace and drew out his past experiences in Chicago with hoodlum politicians, crooked lawyers and other colorful personalities in mid-century Chicago. His new wife Mary enjoyed hearing about a part of Mike’s life that she was only vaguely aware of.
Eventually Mike and I segued over to discussing Viet-Nam. I was more reticent about my role there but we had shared common experiences and I told him about watching his colleague Morley Safer in the field. (Wallace had gone to Viet-Nam in early 1967 but never went back for an extended period thereafter). I told Mike the NBC News bureau chief in Chicago had offered me a job but he didn’t want me going back to Viet-Nam, so I declined the offer. Mike chided me for almost selling out to the competition.
Although Mike subsequently disclosed that he had suffered from depression, and it seems to have been serious after he and Mary married (though not due to their marriage) he gave no hint of any unhappiness or distress during our dinner in 1986.
An exceptionally pleasant evening eventually came to an end. But there was one more unexpected aspect. As Mike and I were walking and talking and leaving the dining room, a woman rushed up to me and threw a glass of red wine in my face. It was Hillary Brown, formerly of NBC News, who was still angry at me because I had saved her life years earlier in Iran. The wine splattered across my face, shirt, tie and suit and added an intriguing flourish to the evening. It was the kind of gesture Mike appreciated. The four of us continued to walk downstairs and out into the night.
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ABOUT ANDY: Andy is a legendary New York and Chicago-based muckraker, author, Internet columnist, talk television pioneer, radio talk show host, broadcaster and media critic. Chicago Public Radio calls Andy a “boisterous Internet activist.” The Chicago Tribune calls him “Chicago’s own…political activist.” He has over forty years of background in radio and television. He is the author of “Obama: The Man Behind The Mask” [www.OrangeStatePress.com] and he produced the Internet film “Obama: The Hawaii’ Years” [www.BoycottHawaii.com]. Andy is the Executive Editor and publisher of the “Internet Powerhouse,” http://www.ContrarianCommentary.com. He comments on regional, national and international events with more than four decades of investigative and analytical experience both in the USA and around the world.
Andy has been a leading corruption fighter in Illinois and American politics and courts for over forty years. [www.AndyMartin.com] He is currently sponsoring http://www.AmericaisReadyforReform.com. See also http://www.FirstRespondersOnline.us; http://www.EnglishforAmerica.org
He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and is a former adjunct professor of law at the City University of New York (LaGuardia CC, Bronx CC).
Andy’s columns are also posted at ContrarianCommentary.blogspot.com; ContrarianCommentary.wordpress.com.
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