The first time I meandered into the CBS cafeteria at 524 W. 57th St. in Manhattan, I bumped into someone. As I ordered my usual tossed salad, an accompanying producer told me my unintended target had been Mike Wallace. He was headed for the line with his legendary producer, Don Hewitt, and 60 Minutes colleague, Dan Rather, both close behind.
I was star-struck by the trio, engaged in heavy conversation, all looking very official and serious. And as we know from 60 Minutes, they were that and much more.
New York newbie
I’d just moved to New York from Charlotte, N. C. and was working as a secretary in the news department for correspondents Joe Dembo, Gary Shepard, Reid Collins, Morton Dean and Mitchell Krauss. Secretarial positions were the way in the door in the late 70s if you were a female, and I’d pestered the human resources department until I’d landed that precious job. Across the aisle from me was Laurie Keeshan, daughter of “Captain Kangaroo,” Bob Keeshan.
The position mostly required lots of sitting while waiting for the phone to ring, and shortly, I was bored and I was restless. Still, I wasn’t sure what my calling would be at that point I life. I realize now that had I known, the path to where I am now as a journalist, would have been shortened.
One of a kind
I am greatly saddened by the passing of 93-year-old Wallace, an idol of mine. For many of 60 Minutes’ 44 years, I’ve hunkered down in front of the TV to watch him “nail” an interview source with probing questions leading to the inevitable “gotcha’” moment. He had panache and he had courage. No one did it better.
Usually wearing such an emotionally protective cover, Wallace surprisingly shared his propensity for depression, likely ignited by a lawsuit with Gen. William Westmoreland. The proceedings led him to doubt his own journalistic talents, which as we all know, were solid as a rock. In a business he called “a noble profession,” his style broke traditional journalistic rules and established new boundaries.
How soon we forget
His son Chris told USA Today that right before Mike Wallace died, he never mentioned 60 Minutes. “It’s as if it didn’t exist. It’s as if that part of his memory is completely gone,” said the younger Wallace.
That may be true and it may be troubling, but memories of Mike Wallace will certainly not fade as quickly. At least now, 60 Minutes story subjects won’t live in fear of a knock on the door and a report that “Mike Wallace is outside and wants to talk to you.”