On Sunday morning (April 8, 2012) I heard the sad news of Mike Wallace’s death. I was and still am a fan of the TV show “60 Minutes,” dating back to the CBS news magazine’s initial Tuesday night broadcast in September 1968, at a time when “Hey Jude” and “Those Were The Days” were dominating radio play lists.
Mike Wallace was an integral part of “60 Minutes” from the start, providing memorable stories and interviews. He was a relentless investigative reporter, asking tough questions and often putting less-than-honest people in “gotcha” situations, exposing their misdeeds. For years, those who took advantage of others learned to fear the words, “I’m Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes.” But he also did amazing human interest stories as well. A truly remarkable journalist and man.
As a fan of “60 Minutes,” I never dreamed that I would one day have the privilege of speaking with Mike Wallace. But then again, I never dreamed I would ever meet those in the Beatles inter-circle and spend time at Abbey Road studios. Life can be full of wonderful unexpected moments.
In 2003, I began work on a book that would cover the arrival of the Beatles in America. I knew the press and “The Ed Sullivan Show” would be important parts of the story. I was assisted in these areas Gay Linville, who is a Beatles fan with connections in the television industry.
After my research uncovered that a story on the Beatles ran on “The CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace,” Gay contacted Mr. Wallace about the broadcast. She first asked him if he had any recollections of ever running a story on the Beatles while hosting the “CBS Morning News.” Mr. Wallace said he did not and asked when the story ran. When Gay informed him the story was broadcast on November 22, 1963, Mr. Wallace replied, “Christ Almighty, you know what happened that day, don’t you?” He, like the rest of America, had no memory of the story on the Beatles because President Kennedy was assassinated a few hours after its broadcast.
Gay told me about her conversation and gave me Mr. Wallace’s contact information. I called Mr. Wallace and provided him with the CBS archives information enabling him to obtain a copy of the five-minute story, which had not been shown in its entirety in nearly 40 years. (A portion of the story was shown on the “CBS Evening News” the day after John Lennon died.)
In February 2004 I was in New York for a series of events centered around the 40th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America. One morning I dropped off a copy of my book “The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America” to Mr. Wallace’s “60 Minutes” office. The next morning I received a call on my cell phone from an unidentified number. The voice said, “Mr. Spizer, this is Mike Wallace. I want to thank you for dropping off a copy of your book to me.” This was the same distinguished voice I had heard so many times on television. He was very complimentary of the book, telling me it was a fine piece of journalism. He said he was impressed with the thoroughness of the research and that I was to be commended for my efforts. I thanked him for taking the time to call.
After the conversation ended, I sat there for a few minutes reflecting on how much his compliments meant to me. One of my journalist heroes respected my work and took the time to let me know. I jokingly wished I had said, “Mr. Wallace, would you mind repeating those words this Sunday on “60 Minutes”? But, of course, I never would have done that. The call from Mr. Wallace was enough. It was one of those moments in my life I’ll never forget.
I’m often asked if I got to interview any of the Beatles for my book “The Beatles Are Coming!” I tell people that I did not, but that I was blessed to have interviewed three of my other heroes, Walter Cronkite, Edwin Newman and Mike Wallace. All were great newsmen who, like the Beatles, left their mark on the world.