While this blog usually deals with fictional journalists and the dramatized lives of historic journalists, today’s news is worth an exception.
Legendary television newsman Mike Wallace, who died Saturday at 93, got his broadcasting start in radio, and this may be his first national appearance — preserved in the Internet Archive’s collection of old-time radio programs: Information Please, Feb. 7, 1939, with Myron Wallace, a 21-year-old University of Michigan student at the time, as a guest panelist on the era’s top quiz show.
“A mere beardless boy, a student at the University of Michigan, selected by his university to represent the spirit of youth on our program…” is how host Clifton Fadiman introduces Wallace. When one of the quiz topics is “alibis,” Fadiman asks the student, “When you’ve flunked an exam, what do you generally say — or don’t you ever flunk an exam, Myron?” “I’d say, offhand, no,” Wallace replies. “It’s the truth, though. I don’t remember ever being in that situation.”
Other panelists included Franklin P. Adams, one of the best-known journalists of his day, someone we’ll be hearing from again in a later JHeroes.com item. Signing his columns “F.P.A.,” Adams wrote for most of the major New York newspapers in a career spanning almost 40 years. Wallace’s broadcast reporting was with us even longer, more than half a century.
On the 1939 Information Please broadcast, however, he was the voice of a new generation. At one point, Fadiman, literary critic of the New Yorker magazine, asks the panel for modern-slang equivalents of lines from Shakespeare.
For “He is of a very melancholy disposition,” Wallace offers, “What a droop!”
“See, that’s the collegiate slang… Slap him on the back, Mr. Adams,” Fadiman replies. “We need somebody like that on this program.”
Wallace’s professional career in radio began soon after, and included a variety of acting and announcing roles, some at Detroit’s WXYZ, home of The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and “Cunningham News Ace,” apparently reading the news on a program sponsored by the Cunningham drugstore chain. He was still identifying himself as “Myron Wallace” in 1941 broadcasts, including the closing i.d. on this Green Hornet episode, Murder Across the Boards.
In it, newspaper publisher Britt Reid and his reporters investigate a racetrack racket and a criminal mastermind named “Mister X.” Although known later in life for his hard-hitting interviews, Wallace doesn’t get to be part of the story, but simply provides introductions, transitions and the closing credit. (At the time, the radio actors were not named, but the main announcer was.)
Wallace’s role in the program is discussed briefly in the book The Green Hornet, by Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson. They don’t speculate on whether Britt Reid and The Daily Sentinel contributed to Wallace’s eventual interest in journalism, or to his famous confrontational style on 60 Minutes and his 1950s television interview program, Night Beat.
(The latter, coincidentally, also had been the name of a radio series about an equally hard-boiled newspaper columnist, Randy Stone.)
Detroit radio provided another journalism role model, but a bit before Wallace’s time: Gerald Buckley, murdered after a broadcast expose in 1930, is described here by radio historian Elizabeth McLeod as a possible inspiration to the creators of The Green Hornet.
Someday I would like to read through all of Mike Wallace’s memoirs and biographies to see if he ever mentioned the hard-hitting journalists from Britt Reid’s Daily Sentinel as a source of inspiration for his eventual switch from the “announcing” to the “reporting” side of the broadcasting. Perhaps not; his radio work must have introduced him to plenty of inspiring real-life reporters, as well as making him feel comfortably at home behind a microphone.
Obituaries and retrospectives
- His video “Last Word” interview, New York Times obituary, including mention of his first radio job in Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Newsday obituary and reaction
- National Public Radio obituary and interview archive
- CBS Remembering Mike Wallace
- PBS interview with Mike Wallace, The Open Mind, 1984
- Wallace career timeline at InvestigatingPower.org
- Retrospective at University of Michigan
Biography, memoir and more
- Mike Wallace: a life, by Peter Rader. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
- Close encounters: Mike Wallace’s own story, by Mike Wallace. Berkley, 1984.
- Between you and me : a memoir, by Mike Wallace and Gary Paul Gates. New York: Hyperion, 2005.
- Heat and light: advice for the next generation of journalist, by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
updated May 8, 2012