By Peter Rader
Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312543396, 336pp.
Publication Date: April 13, 2012
The untold story of how the world's most feared TV reporter transformed his inner darkness into a journalistic juggernaut that riveted millions and redefined the landscape of television news
In his four decades as the front man for "60 Minutes, "the most successful show in television history, Mike Wallace earned the distinction of being hyperaggressive, self-assured, and unflinching in his riveting exposes of injustice and corruption. His unrivaled career includes interviews with every major newsmaker of the late twentieth century, from Martin Luther King to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Behind this intimidating facade, however, Wallace was profoundly depressed and haunted by demons that nearly drove him to suicide. Despite reaching the pinnacle of his profession, Wallace harbored deep insecurities about his credentials as a journalist. For half his life, he was more "TV Personality" than reporter, dabbling as a quiz show emcee, commercial pitchman, and actor. But in the wake of a life-changing personal tragedy, Wallace transformed himself, against all odds, into the most talked-about newsman in America.
Peter Rader's "Mike Wallace: A Life "tells the story of a courageous man who triumphed over personal adversity and redefined the landscape of television news.
“In his earliest broadcasting days, Myron "Mike" Wallace would've given Regis Philbin a run for his money. Long before the Massachusetts-born Wallace (who died in April) became synonymous with hard-edge TV journalism on"60 Minutes," he was a TV personality and host of variety shows. In fact, Peter Rader explains in his recent biography, Wallace was a "breezy raconteur who hosted chat shows, quiz shows and the like … a pitchman for Parliament Cigarettes and Fluffo shortening...."
So how did his broadcasting transformation take place? That's what Rader's book explores as it traces his long career, his encounters with politicians, Ku Klux Klan leaders and plenty of celebrities (who can forget his sparring with Barbra Streisand?). And all the while, Rader shows, Wallace fought bouts of despair and depression that tormented him even when "he was at the top of his game … [and] commanded a movie-star salary as well as the accompanying fame and mystique."
Rader's book does a fine job of tracing Wallace's life and times, but it does an even greater service in showing us the unexpected, private side that nearly capsized — but didn't — his celebrated career.”
—Los Angeles Times
“During four decades on 60 Minutes, Wallace was famous for his tough interviews of major newsmakers, including Malcolm X, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But behind his assertive and self-confident facade was a man troubled by anguish and selfdoubt since childhood. Filmmaker Rader examines the twists and turns of Wallace’s career that landed him in the position of esteemed television reporter and the messy personal life he lead. Wallace began his career as a showman, a game-show host, a past he fought for years to shake off in his desire to be taken seriously as a journalist. He’s been married four times, including in a tempestuous union with a Hollywood starlet who prodded him into the new medium of television. Rader chronicles Wallace’s slow climb out of entertainment into serious journalism, his hard-charging work ethic, and his fractious relationships with his wives and children. He also chronicles Wallace’s emotional ups and downs as he struggled with depression. Fans of Wallace will enjoy this revealing look at a complicated man and respected news reporter.” —Booklist
"Bold, well-crafted biography of a long-elusive and controversial public figure."—Kirkus Reviews
“It’s not widely known that 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace started in Chicago radio-television of the 1940s as actor Myron Wallace, appearing in Ma Perkins and other soap operas. And earlier, as Rader reminds readers in this colorful biography, Wallace was The Green Hornet’s announcer. With Night Beat in the late 1950s, after having moved to New York, the ambitious Wallace became an “overnight celebrity” because of his aggressive, rapid-fire interviews: “Night after night, Mike eviscerated them like a matador.” Abrasive bulldog tactics became his signature style, and when 60 Minutes began in 1968, Wallace’s investigative reporting and “ambush interviews” eventually brought him both controversy but also acclaim as one of the best broadcast journalists. Wallace has written his own memoirs more than once (Close Encounters in 1984; Between You and Me, 2005), which spliced in memorable interviews. Rader fills in the gaps with comprehensive coverage that includes accusations of “juvenile” sexual antics, self-doubts, lawsuits, the 1962 accidental death of his son, failed marriages, bouts with depression, a suicide attempt, and his “Jekyll and Hyde personality—sometimes magnanimous and charming, other times almost sadistic.” Influenced by his screenwriting, Rader (Waterworld) employs a cinematic writing style for this vivid portrait of Wallace set against a backdrop of technological television innovations.”—Publishers Weekly
“Mike Wallace was a television pioneer who transformed the news interview. In his quest to make news reporting less deferential and more hard-hitting, he also helped blur the lines between factual program making and entertainment. This makes him a controversial figure in the history of popular culture – and Peter Rader has done an excellent job of putting him in the context of a fast changing America. Rader’s greatest accomplishment is to show how the drama of Wallace’s private life reflected...the complex revolution going on in television journalism. Full of repressed desires, ambition, foolishness and regret, this book is a fine example of how one life can represent the triumphs and tribulations of an entire generation.”—Timothy Stanley, author of The Crusader: the Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan
“Mike Wallace as a groundbreaking, tough-minded journalist and Mike Wallace as a thin-skinned, self-doubting bully. While the broad outlines of Wallace's trajectory have been told before, no one has probed as deeply, or with as much intelligence, insight and good judgment, as Peter Rader. This is a first-rate biography that captures the life of a man who has shaped his profession and embodies all of its myriad strengths and weaknesses.”—Timothy L. O'Brien, Executive Editor, The Huffington Post
“Mike Wallace, whose probing TV interviews with everyone from Malcolm X to Barbara Streisand to Richard Nixon made him, too, a household name – was both a journalist and an entertainer: a career-split which exacerbated the personal insecurities of an over-achiever prone to crippling bouts of depression. Peter Rader neither dwells on nor ignores his hard-charging subject’s less attractive traits, in a swift and cinematic narrative that earns a verdict Wallace once suggested for his own epitaph: ‘Tough But Fair.’”—Tom Nolan, author of Artie Shaw, King of the Clarinet: His Life and Times
“If you think you know Mike Wallace, think again. Peter Rader’s thought-provoking biography draws a nuanced portrait of a man bursting with ambition who was fearless in the face of fame and power, yet also one who loathed his looks and throughout his life battled his inner darkness. Rader goes deep to reveal the journey Mike Wallace took to the top, describing in detail how the path was littered with broken hearts, broken promises and broken spirits – often Wallace's own.”—Nancie Clare, Editor, LA Times Magazine
“A spellbinding narrative about broadcast journalism; the amazing, personal story of one fascinating icon in our business, writ large across this current, tortured media landscape. A terrific read that makes vivid the ironies of the 60 Minutes legend, and chronicles the central debate in TV journalism for the past 40 years. What a story!”—Kathy O'Hearn, The Daily Beast