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

Playboy: Did you ever take real steps toward suicide?

Wallace: I thought about it. You have sleeping pills by the side of your bed. You can't get to sleep. You take half of one. Then you take another half. And I'm a guy who didn't like to take aspirin.

Playboy: And how did you overcome the depression?

Wallace: My psychiatrist helped me understand myself and the disease of depression. As it turns out, I was not unusual; I wasn't even in that deep of a clinical depression. For what I was going through, that was hard to believe, but my doctor said, "Mr. Wallace, I've seen a lot worse."

Playboy: So what you learned is that beneath one of the most seemingly confident people ----

Wallace: Is an insecure individual. Yes, no doubt about it. What also helped me get out of the depression was a drug called Ludiomil. It dries this [points to groin] and this [points to bowels] and your mouth. And your hands shake.

Playboy: Nice drug.

Wallace: Yeah, but it puts a floor under your depression. It keeps you from hitting bottom. That gives the psychiatrist the opportunity to try to learn what triggered the depression.

Playboy: When did you finally get out of it?

Wallace: When Westmoreland pulled out of the suit. We effectively won. That lifted a great burden. Still, you don't come back overnight. It takes time. And you can get back in a depression real fast, too.

Playboy: It came back?

Wallace: Yeah, twice. The first time was a few months later. Then ten years went by. I was 75 and we were preparing a special two-hour show for the 25th anniversary of 60 Minutes. Suddenly I was going through it again. Boom!—it came out of nowhere. I felt like I couldn't beat this one.

Playboy: Was it your age? The work?

Wallace: Who knows? Once you have it at a certain age, you're more vulnerable to it for the rest of your life. My doctor told me I was in a fairly classic pattern. But now there's a new product—Zoloft. He said it would take four to six weeks. Meanwhile, we were going to Beirut to visit Hezbollah and interview a sheikh supposedly connected to terrorism—a fascinating but very dangerous story. The CIA warned us not to go because of the danger. But I was still in the depression, and I thought, What the hell. That would be a good place to go.

Playboy: Are you saying there was a genuine death wish there?

Wallace: Of course there was—well, maybe not a real death wish. But I was thinking, I'm a pain in the ass to myself, to my wife, to my family. If I go over there and something happens, well, what the hell. At least I'll be doing it the right way.

Playboy: But the Zoloft worked, and now the famous tough guy around the office—he's not so tough anymore?

Wallace: That's correct.

Playboy: You said on Charlie Rose that you hoped Westinghouse, which bought CBS, would "shine up a somewhat tarnished CBS Network." Would you please explain that?

Wallace: OK, this has been a difficult period in some ways. And what happened was that all the Larry Tisch troubles came together.

Playboy: What do you mean, "the Larry Tisch troubles"?

Wallace: During the years that Tisch owned CBS [1986 to 1995], he never told us what he really had in mind for the network. Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt and I were all taken in. Tisch lied to all of us about his intentions. Meanwhile, he lost NFL football. And he lost half a dozen key affiliates—that's a serious loss. He didn't have the common sense to understand that a network is not a network without good affiliates. He's supposed to be such a smart businessman, but he sold CBS Records at a knockdown price. Same thing with the magazine division. I really dislike that man.

Playboy: Why such personal feelings?

Wallace: Because he lied about what he was going to do for the news division. Tisch was not a broadcaster.

Playboy: Does that make Tisch incapable of owning a network with a news division?

Wallace: In all honesty, in ten years, he didn't interfere with the news, despite the fact that we did some very difficult stories. For example, Tisch is a big Israelinik. I asked him how he would feel if I did a story on the Palestinians. He said he might not like it, but he wouldn't interfere. And he didn't. But he did let his displeasure be known.

Playboy: How?

Wallace: We were doing a story on the violence at Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Everybody in the media had portrayed it as a Palestinian riot against the Jews who were praying at the Wailing Wall below. But when we went over and reported it, we found out that it was, in fact, a riot by the Israeli police. We also learned that nobody had been hit by the rocks the Palestinians had thrown over the wall. That's what our story said, and there was hell to pay for it. The Anti-Defamation League was on us, and Tisch let it be known that he was unhappy about it, too.

Playboy: He felt you were being too hard on the Israelis?

Wallace: Yeah. And shortly after that, Hewitt got a call from some guy in Philadelphia who knew Larry. This man said he had run into Tisch at a meeting and asked him: "How could you permit Hewitt and Wallace, who are both Jewish, to do this kind of story? " And according to this man, Tisch had said, "Well, Hewitt's name is Hurwitz. Wallace's is Wallik. And they're both self-hating Jews."

Playboy: How did you react to that?

Wallace: I got quite upset. "Self-hating Jews." So I figure, What the hell? I took out a copy of my birth certificate—I keep it in my desk drawer—which has my given name on it, Myron Leon Wallace. And listed on it, too, is my father's name, Frank Wallace. He was an emigrant from Russia named Wallik, but when he arrived in Boston, the guy at Immigration wrote down Wallace. It was as simple as that. Anyway, I sent a copy of the birth certificate to Tisch with a note that said: "FYI, Larry." I never heard back from him. Not a word. [Newsweek and other publications carried reports of Tisch's alleged remark. Playboy contacted Tisch, who denies ever having made such a remark.]

Playboy: Has being Jewish ever been an issue in your life? Were you discriminated against as a kid?

Wallace: Never. Not once. I grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, which was an O'Connor and Goldberg town—Irish and Jewish. The Kennedys lived six doors down from us. John F. Kennedy was born there about one year before I was. One Jewish family there was that of Harry Dickson, who had a daughter named Kitty, who became the wife of Michael Dukakis. Harry became conductor of the Boston Pops. He was my fiddle teacher.

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  • anonymous
    Farewell to an important man.