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Mike Wallace Learned To Fake It In Chicago

"CBS News' Mike Wallace, who died over the weekend at 93, is being hailed as an icon of broadcast journalism for his foundational role as 60 Minutes' investigative bulldog," former Tribune staffer John Cook writes for Gawker. "This is bullshit. He was a failed soap actor and vaudeville hack named Myron who just wanted to be on television."

For evidence, Cook cites in part Wallace's time in Chicago as a radio announcer. Indeed, Wallace got his start here - in a variety of roles including actor and shill but not journalist.

Let's take a look.


"In his decade in Chicago - interrupted by a two-year hitch in the Navy during World War II - Wallace was best known as a writer and broadcaster for a news program called The Air Edition of the Chicago Sun," Gail Shister wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1984. "He also hosted Famous Names, a puff-and-patter celebrity interview show.

"Dorothy 'Buff' Cobb, an actress he interviewed on Famous Names, became his second wife in 1949. Wallace persuaded the local NBC radio station to hire him and Buff as a husband-and-wife team for a nightly interview show. By 1951, the program - renamed Mike and Buff - was a staple on the CBS-TV afternoon schedule. Three years later the show died, and so did the marriage.

"By 1955, Wallace's life was in disarray. At 36, he says, his career lacked focus. To pay the bills, he became 'the king of schlock,' pitching everything from Parliament cigarettes to Fluffo shortening.

"While on vacation in Puerto Rico, Wallace met Lorraine Perigord, a divorced painter with two children. Within months, they were married. Deciding that his real interest was in news, Wallace won a job as anchor on a small independent New York TV station. That led to Night Beat, the inquisitional late-night interview show that established his reputation."


A statement by CBS News following Wallace's death noted:

"He began at the Network in 1951, when he and his wife, Buff Cobb, with whom he hosted The Chez Show on local Chicago television

"He joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and served aboard a submarine tender in the Pacific as a communications officer. In 1946, he returned to Chicago to resume his broadcasting career. There, on WMAQ radio, he hosted his first interview program, Famous Names, which led to a raft of broadcasting appearances, including his first network television appearance as the lead in a police drama, Stand By For Crime. The 1949 show was the first to be transmitted from Chicago to the East Coast. Two years later, Wallace joined CBS in New York, where he lived ever since."


"Wallace had done some television acting in Chicago, and he auditioned for and won a role in the Broadway production of Reclining Figure," Business Week reported. "He declared the experience too repetitious for his liking."


"Wallace moved on to Chicago and continued in radio, broadcasting the news and serving as an announcer on such popular serials as The Guiding Light and Ma Perkins," the Hollywood Reporter noted. "His narration of First Line, a drama series that was part of the U.S. Navy's recruiting program, inspired Wallace to enlist in the Navy during Would War II, and he served as a communications officer. He was placed in charge of radio entertainment of the Great Lakes Naval Training station outside Chicago.

"Following the war, Wallace broadcasted the air edition of The Chicago Sun and moderated Famous Names, a popular radio quiz program. He used his vocal flair to introduce such network radio programs as Curtain Time, Fact or Fiction and Sky King.

"With his actress wife Buff Cobb, Wallace soon hosted a 90-minute talk show from the Chez Paree, at the time Chicago's hot nightspot. With Mike and Buff a hit, the couple were lured to New York, where the show thrived until 1954. They divorced in 1955, and Cobb died in July 2010."


"Wallace found his broadcasting niche in Chicago in the 1940s, first as radio news writer for the Chicago Sun and then as reporter for WMAQ," according to Buff Cobb's entry on Wikipedia. "He laid the ground work for his life work on a show for Chicago's WGN Radio called Famous Names, where he first conducted his trademark one-on-one interviews at the Blackstone Hotel.

"Cobb, while touring with Private Lives in Chicago, Illinois, met broadcast journalist Mike Wallace. As Wallace later recalled, "Buff Cobb was in Chicago when I got out of the Navy in '46. I think she was playing with Tallulah Bankhead in Private Lives at the time. She was an actress and a bit of a glamorous figure to me at that time. So I succumbed and taught her how to do interviewing, and we did a husband-and-wife broadcast for a while on NBC [radio] in Chicago. The interview show stopped first, and the marriage shortly thereafter. Maybe it was vice versa."


"By 1941 he was in Chicago, where he wrote and broadcast news for the Chicago Sun and acted in The Crime Files of Flamond," Variety reports. "He also announced several radio series. His narration of First Line, a dramatic series that was part of the Navy's recruiting program, led to his enlisting in that branch of the armed forces during WWII. He was a communications officer in Hawaii and Australia and in charge of radio entertainment at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station."


"In Chicago recently to speak before a meeting of Chicago Communications, a forum of journalists and public relations executives, and at an interview beforehand, Wallace engagingly retold tales of interviews past and of his days as a radio narrator and newsman in Chicago," Steve Johnson wrote for the Tribune in 2006.

"Announcing jobs at Michigan stations led to work in Chicago, where his first job was announcing a soap opera called Road of Life. When that show was canceled, he landed on his feet writing and reading news for an on-air version of the then-Chicago Sun.

"A talk show with his second wife, actress Buff Cobb, called the Chez Show here, was heard by CBS-TV in New York, and brought there for national telecasting, as Mike and Buff.

"'That lasted about a year and a half,' he says, 'because it's very difficult to do a husband-and-wife show if you're not married.'

"He then did anchoring and some reporting on a local news program, and out of that came Nightbeat, the program that placed Wallace one-on-one in a darkened room with his subject, almost like a police interrogation.

"'The persona, the role, I was the intrusive, sometimes abrasive, investigator, and it worked because first of all we did a lot of research.'"


In other words, he wasn't an investigative reporter but he played one on TV.


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 10, 2012

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