Just five months ago, the journalistic community lost 60 Minutes media personality Andy Rooney, and sadly Mike Wallace now joins him. The esteemed CBC reporter had an impressive career that spanned over sixty years, comprised of fascinating interviews with notable headliners. He spent decades asking tough questions, brazenly steering his interviews directly to the heart of the matter and getting answers audiences were dying to know. To share screen time with the legendary journalist could either signify your career’s high points, or it’s absolute lows. We’ve taken a look back at some of Wallace’s most memorable chats with famous faces. Whether on 60 Minutes, or one of the media giant’s earlier programs like The Mike Wallace Interview, these intriguing one-on-ones recall another era of journalism — with figures many of us would grapple at the chance to talk to — and Wallace was one of the best. Hit the jump to find out what the intrepid reporter asked of Malcolm X, Salvador Dalí, Ayn Rand, and others.
Mike Wallace got under Ayn Rand’s skin when he called her Objectivism movement “Rand-ism” and declared her challenging philosophy — which was still largely unknown in America at that time (1959) — selfish. He goes on to tell the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged author that she talks about love “as if it was a business deal of some kind.” She tells him, “Every business deal has to have its own terms and its own kind of currency … you love only those who deserve it.” This is also the famous interview where Rand called herself “the most creative thinker alive.”
Wallace opens his interview with famed surrealist Salvador Dalí with the following: “If you’re curious to hear about Salvador Dalí talk about decadence, death, and immortality, his surrealist art, his politics, and his existence before he was born … ” Stop right there. Yes, yes we are. Dalí makes goo-goo eyes at the camera while Wallace asks him, “Why do you behave the way you do?” Parliament cigarettes also make a big appearance (The Mike Wallace Interview featured several tobacco sponsored ads throughout its run), which is interesting when you consider Wallace’s later investigative reporting with big tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand.
Where’s Rod Serling when we need him during all this SOPA and PIPA controversy? The Twilight Zone creator/host/narrator/producer/writer famously fought censorship, rallying against execs and sponsors who constantly edited his work — and that of others — to remove any socio-political references the networks deemed troublesome. That’s essentially how The Twilight Zone was born — a unique, thought-provoking program that allowed Serling control over his artistry. Wallace coaxed this impassioned statement from the well-spoken writer — who was fed up with TV censors — during their 1959 interview:
“I don’t wanna have to battle sponsors and agencies. I don’t wanna have to push for something that I want and have to settle for second best. I don’t wanna have to compromise all the time, which in essence is what the television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes.”
Wallace called English author Aldous Huxley’s work “as disturbing as he is distinguished.” Huxley’s “electric” novels like Brave New World weren’t the main topic of conversation. Instead, Wallace asked about a series of essays — Enemies of Freedom — Huxley wrote about freedom and survival. During the chat, the author shared that multiple “forces and devices” were accelerating the process of imposed control, robbing people of their freedom. He stated that overpopulation is one of the forces, along with “over organization” — meaning advances in technology have required larger scale systems of organization, most of which are controlled by big business or government. Where others could easily lose themselves in Huxley’s socio-political philosophy, Wallace is able to match him and draw out the details of a compelling argument.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architectural leanings are part of a conversation between the innovative designer and Wallace during a 1957 interview. “Jesus said it I think when he said the kingdom of God is within you,” Wright explained. “That’s where architecture lies, that’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we’re ever able to amount to anything, it’s there now.” Wallace asked Wright if he was a religious man, and the architect responded with, “I put a capital N on nature and call it my church.” The two-part interview covers everything from sex to war and more.
A spirited, passionate Malcolm X talked to Mike Wallace in 1964 about the African-American community in Harlem and the unfortunate treatment of its residents. X also shared that he had no desire to take over leadership of the “black Muslims” and feared possible attempts on his life for speaking against Elijah Muhammad. X responded to Wallace’s brazen question about the matter with: “I probably am a dead man already.”
In 1974, Wallace spars with opera diva Maria Callas when he boldly confronts her with questions about her notorious walkouts (the singer was legendary for her Rome vanishing act during the 1950s, among others), affair with Aristotle Onassis, and other dramatic career points.
Secret Service Agent #9 / Clint Hill
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade in Texas while riding in an open limousine. As soon as the shot rang out, Secret Service Agent #9 Clint Hill raced to the moving car as it started to accelerate, leapt onto the bumper, and climbed into the back seat shielding the President and Mrs. Kennedy’s body with his own until they reached the hospital. During a 1975 interview with Mike Wallace, the journalist wasted no time talking about that fateful day. Hill tearfully shared that he regretted not reaching the vehicle sooner (even though it only took him approximately two seconds to get there), stating he would have been happy to weather the third gunshot if he had reached JFK a second sooner.
Former vice president of research and development at tobacco giant Brown & Williamson Jeffrey Wigand took to 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace for an unforgettable interview. Wigand became known as a whistle-blower when he revealed that the organization was making cigarettes more addictive by increasing the amount of nicotine and adding other chemicals into the formula. CBS’ investigation into the story led to lawsuit threats for “tortuous interference” and a smear campaign (including death threats) against Wigand. CBS crumbled at the behest of the network’s legal department, airing only a portion of the report. The story was eventually aired with Wigand’s shocking confession in place, and forty-six states filed a suit against the tobacco industry, winning a $368 billion settlement. The events were dramatized in Michael Mann’s The Insider , which Wallace took issue with since he felt it portrayed him in a less than flattering way. A story from the New York Times shares that Wallace changed his mind about airing the edited story the next day, which is not how the film plays out. Later on, Wallace said he felt the whole ordeal was “basically a good idea for a movie.”
Streisand and Wallace had a bit of a showdown during a 1991 60 Minutes interview, when the journalist told the legendary singer, “I really didn’t like you back then, 30 years ago.” He called her “totally self-absorbed” and said he found her 20 plus years of psychoanalytic therapy odd. Babs didn’t take kindly to his comments, especially when the then newbie director heard Wallace — who had a smirk on his face the entire conversation — say that he felt the star didn’t sing enough. Eventually Wallace closed the show with, “You know something? I’ve gotten to like that girl.”