What do we know about Mike Wallace? He was acerbic, brash and unabashedly insistent which often times rubbed those he interviewed the wrong way.
What was surprising to discover through the Mike Wallace Is Here doc screening at AFI DOCS is this legendary newsman began his broadcast career as an actor pitching cigarettes in commercials. Making the decision to no longer make a living as a television pitchman and weary of reading someone else’s words, his transition into becoming a serious reporter would change the moment he crossed paths with Don Hewitt.
Hewitt developed the idea for the news magazine show 60 Minutes patterned after LIFE Magazine. 60 Minutes would go on to make Wallace a household name where he would become famous for interviews with Barbara Walters, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leona Helmsley, Barbra Streisand and the Grand Wizard for the KKK. Richard Nixon was so impressed, he once offered Mike Wallace a position as Press Secretary for then Presidential candidate Richard Nixon. Personally, I think he dodged the bullet on that one.
Directed by Avi Belkin, Mike Wallace is Here marks the first time CBS has opened it vaults allowing the use of exclusive archival footage while exploring his life and multi-decade career. The doc also examines Wallace’s role in two stories that resulted in clashes between journalists and the powerful forces they confront. Two lawsuits were paid particular attention. In 1982, a libel suit was brought against the Emmy winning journalist and CBS by retired U.S. Army General William Westmoreland and from cigarette manufacturer Brown & Williamson over a 60 Minutes report in 1996 about tobacco industry whistleblower Dr. Jeffrey Wigand. One of my favorite moments is an interview he did with Streisand in which she shared ‘Fear is the energy behind your best work.’ Mike Wallace proved through many controversial, compelling interviews that fear was the least of his issues. He was a complex, troubled driven man in a business where journalism was rapidly melting into entertainment/tabloid news.
Recently acquired by Magnolia Pictures, you will be able to screen and judge for yourself when Mike Wallace is Here hits theaters on July 26th.