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Playboy Interview: Mike Wallace
  • April 09, 2012 : 11:04
  • comments

Playboy: You were married to Pauline's mother, your third wife Lorraine, for 28 years. What happened?

Wallace: She became a casualty, I think, of my work schedule. Too many missed dinners, too many abrupt trips. I remember Thanksgiving dinners—one in particular, but it wasn't the only one—when I had to leave in the middle to go to Tehran.

Playboy: This was not appreciated.

Wallace: Oh, no, no, no. As a result of this, she began to seek solace in tranquilizers. She was a painter, a very spiritual person. But her painting didn't seem to be so fulfilling as it had been. She finally left, moved to Fiji, and has since died.

Playboy: Do you have any remorse about this?

Wallace: Why remorse? Here at the age of 78, I look back and say, "OK, I made some mistakes." Having been married four times does not give me a sense of pride or accomplishment. But, by the same token, I have honored my obligations to all of those individuals. I've always, to some degree, been a creature of the women I've been with. Apparently, I need the guidance of the women with whom I spend time.

Playboy: How? Run them down for us.

Wallace: With Kappy, I was cast mainly in the role of husband and father. I married too young—I was only 22. I never had time to sow my wild oats. It was not a particularly physical marriage.

My relationship with Buff Cobb, who was an actress I met in Chicago, was much more physical. She was fun. I fell in love with the glamour, her family background, their knowledge of New York and Hollywood. But after eight or nine years, we grew apart. Our lifestyle values were different. Hers were more show business. Mine were more conservative, middle class, Jewish.

And my marriage to Lorraine civilized me. I met a group of people I might not otherwise have met, because she was a painter. There was that spiritual quality to her, utterly different from anyone I had known.

Playboy: How did you meet your current wife, Mary?

Wallace: She was married to Ted Yates, the producer of Night Beat. But he died young. So we knew each other all those years, knew each other's children. One summer I invited her up to Martha's Vineyard, and we became very close. She stayed the whole summer, then we moved into my New York apartment together. She stuck with me through some tough times. Two years later, we were married under an apple tree by the water on Martha's Vineyard. Everybody wants to be around Mary; she makes everyone so comfortable. I can't think of anybody I'd rather be spending these years with.

Playboy: By the way, did you finally sow your wild oats?

Wallace: No, they never got sown. Every time I became involved with somebody, I got married!

Playboy: The Sixties were a time of great cultural upheaval in the country, both in personal lifestyles and in the media. What impact did feminism have on you?

Wallace: I was, and to a certain degree remain, a male chauvinist.

Playboy: How?

Wallace: Well, I'm not really a male chauvinist anymore. But I was years ago. What would now be called sexual harassment was par for the course back in the Fifties and early Sixties. And I would indulge in it. . . .

Playboy: In what way?

Wallace: Jokes. Snapping of a bra.

Playboy: When was the last time you did that?

Wallace: I would say 25 years ago. But it was no big deal. It was a matter of some hilarity. It sounds sophomoric as you look back at it. But everybody seemed to get along. No one ever put me up on charges. I have nothing but respect for women professionally. But vive la difference! I'm impatient, I suppose, with militant feminism.

Playboy: Drugs were another big issue of the Sixties, particularly among entertainment and media people. How did you weather those years? Did you get involved with drugs?

Wallace: I tried pot. I was curious, so I smoked a joint from time to time. I didn't find it especially interesting, though it had aphrodisiac overtones that were not unpleasant. But that's the only drug I've ever tried. I've never tried cocaine or anything else.

Playboy: Mike Wallace smoked dope? That's pretty hard to fathom.

Wallace: I remember one time with my daughter Pauline. We were with friends of hers from Haiti—they were her age. When we went to her apartment after dinner, I don't know what the hell they were smoking, but it wasn't just pot. I think it was hash or something. I took a drag or two, to be a good sport, and I really got ----

Playboy: A rush?

Wallace: Oof! I got sick. Really sick. And I had to leave for Paris the next morning. As far as I was concerned, I overdosed. I tried to leave but made the taxi take me back to Pauline's. We called my doctor, who told Pauline, "Give him water. Lots of water. Make him lie down." I made it to Paris the next day, but I was in bad shape for two or three days.

Playboy: Let's get back to journalism. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC poll showed that today only 21 percent of the public believes journalists are honest. Why?

Wallace: We are a polarized society. Vietnam did that. Civil rights did it. Watergate did it. Journalists have fed a lot of bad news to the American public over the past quarter century, and the public doesn't like it.

Playboy: How does this affect trust?

Wallace: People don't trust anything anymore. We don't trust our government. We don't trust our automobile makers. We don't trust our pharmaceutical houses. We don't trust our doctors or our hospitals or our cops. We don't trust Congress. And a lot of Americans don't trust the president of the U.S. So the media are simply regarded as another piece of the American establishment. People think we're trying to get away with something, trying to pull the wool over their eyes, trying to push an agenda.

Playboy: Any truth to that?

Wallace: To some degree, of course. For example, I think the vaudeville that takes place on weekends—such as The McLaughlin Group—is destructive. You don't get a lot of wisdom out of them, and their political projections are largely wrong. In my estimation, what the shout shows do in the end is popularize and trivialize reporters. It's an act, with people talking loudly in a self-consciously controversial or provocative way—unlike This Week With David Brinkley, which is first-rate, good and thoughtful stuff.

Playboy: What about the daytime talk shows, with Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael, Montel Williams and the others? They raised the in-studio ambush to an art form.

Wallace: Those are disgusting broadcasts. They are the worst kind of voyeurism—too often like a public pig-sticking. They're a hateful exploitation of humans who, I think, do not know how to handle themselves on the air.

Playboy: Public distrust of the media has also been fanned by the huge speaking fees that some TV journalists receive. Do you receive a fee when you speak?

Wallace: Damn right.

Playboy: How much?

Wallace: Not less than 25, and not more than 50. I do maybe, tops, half a dozen a year.

Playboy: That's $25,000 to $50,000—quite a piece of change. Tom Brokaw of NBC has called taking big fees a form of white-collar crime.

Wallace: That's Tom's view. It's not mine. What makes it white-collar crime? Can anybody claim that in my 28 years on 60 Minutes, I've gone in the tank for any industry or group or lobby I've spoken in front of? Of course not.

Playboy: You talked about the importance of establishing a chemistry of confidentiality with your interview subjects. Which other television interviewers do the same thing?

Wallace: I'll tell you who does that better than anybody I know: Barbara Walters.

Playboy: But some also say she's just a softball, celebrity interviewer—hardly a 60 Minutes type.

Wallace: That's not fair at all. Look, you get the information you're after by whatever means you feel will be effective. She is very effective in getting it her way. She leaves very few questions unasked.

Playboy: How does she get so many famous subjects in the first place?

Wallace: There is nobody in the world better at "gets" than Barbara Walters—nobody. She will pursue them, write them, visit them, entertain them, and send them flowers. She is good friends with the mighty.

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  • anonymous
    Farewell to an important man.