The Mike Wallace Interview
Note: Episodes of The Mike Wallace Interview are available for viewing online at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Mike Wallace, after years working in radio and television, began hosting The Mike Wallace Interview in April 1957 on ABC. Controversial nearly from the start, it drew lawsuits, network retractions, charges of censorship and more, all in the span of 15 months. One broadcast was canceled at the last minute by the network. Wallace was direct and occasionally confrontational and there were those who wouldn’t even consider appearing on his show, fearful of what he would ask. That didn’t keep him from interviewing senators, authors, actresses, politicians and a Klansman. The series ended in September 1958.
Mike Wallace was one of the hardest working men in television during the 1950s. Beginning Monday, October 3rd, 1955 he anchored a fifteen-minute newscast called Mike Wallace and the News twice a day over station WABD in New York City, from 7-7:15PM and 11-11:15PM. On Saturday, March 10th, 1956 he took over as host for NBC’s The Big Surprise game show, replacing Jack Barry. And on Tuesday, October 9th, 1956, he began hosting Mike Wallace’s Nightbeat (also known as Night Beat).
On Night Beat, shown Tuesday through Friday from 11PM-12AM on WABD (replacing one of his fifteen-minute newscasts), Wallace would interview two or more guests during each broadcast. Guests for the debut were Robert Wagner, mayor of New York City, and Victor Riesel, a labor columnist who had been blinded in an acid attack on April 5th, 1956. Other guests during Night Beat‘s first month on the air included Betsy von Furstenberg, Kitty Carlisle, Maura Lympany, Danton Walker, Katy Jurado, Attorney General Jacob K. Javits, Joshua Logan, Sol Hurok and Finlay Currie.
Critic Jack Gould, writing in The New York Times, called Night Beat “a new and promising show” that “could very easily turn out to be a late-evening hit” . He praised Mike Wallace, stating that the host “conducts some extremely good interviews with worth-while people and doesn’t shy away from controversial matters” . Of the second broadcast, Gould wrote:
Mr. Wallace received his baptism of fire on Wednesday and acquitted himself most creditably. Incidentally, he also hewed to a pattern of journalist behavior that could be copied more widely on the TV airwaves.
As a reporter, Mr. Wallace proved himself forthright and to the point without ever becoming opinionated or irritable himself; on the midnight shift in broadcasting this is something of an innonvation. 
He closed his review by suggesting “if Mr. Wallace has reportorial luck and meets enough interesting people, his show should find its niche” . Gould wasn’t the only critic enamored with Mike Wallace and Night Beat. “Some of the most absorbing interviews on television,” wrote J.P. Shanley in November of 1956, “have been heard and seen recently on ‘Night Beat'” . Shanley, also writing in The New York Times, explained that Wallace “makes the program interesting by asking direct and unequivocal questions of his guests, whether they are actors, business men or politicians” .
Quoting Wallace, Shanley gave some background on the production of Night Beat:
“We aren’t going out of our way to ask controversial questions just for the sake of controyersy [sic]. We do a lot of research in newspaper files and elsewhere and try to find key ideas.
The show is very carefully prepared in advance. The guest is not rehearsed, however. Occasionally if he seems a bit leery about being questions, I tell him ‘we’re going to start here’ just to give him an idea of how the interview will begin.” 
As part of his year-end review of the television industry, Jack Gould crafted a set of “viewer’s resolutions” that included Night Beat: “Mike Wallace, with his ‘Night Beat’ program on Channel 5, shall receive a cluster of blue ribbons for demonstrating the excitement and interest of intelligent interviewing that does not sidestep controversy” .
On January 8th, 1957 The New York Times reported that Mike Wallace would soon be signing a long-term contract with ABC to present a half-hour series similar in tone to Night Beat, only with just one guest per broadcast rather than two . WABD planned to continue Night Beat without Wallace, who was contracted with the station to present the interview series until June (his contract for Mike Wallace and the News ran until October) .
Val Adams worried that moving to network television could pose problems for Wallace: “On a national network, will he have as much freedom as he enjoys on a local station to ask sensational questions and engage in explosive topics” ? A minor problem involved the title of the new show. After announcing that the title would be “Profiles,” The New Yorker sent ABC a letter explaining that the magazine “had long run personality pieces” using that title; in response ABC and Wallace decided to change the name of the show .
Copyright © The Chicago Daily Tribune 1957 
Eventually, the series was given a simple title: The Mike Wallace Interview. It premiered on Sunday, April 28th, 1957 at 10PM with actress Gloria Swanson in the guest seat. Jack Gould wasn’t impressed, writing that “by no means was it one of his [Wallace’s] better efforts” . Swanson, on the other hand, was “responsive, cooperative and articulate” . Gould lamented that “much of his questioning dealt at tiresome lengths with sex, Hollywood morals and divorce .
Following the fourth broadcast of The Mike Wallace Interview on May 19th, controversy erupted. Mickey Cohen (described by The Los Angeles Times as an “ex-mobster”) was the guest that evening and he “unleashed a stream of abuse against [Los Angeles] Police Chief William Parker” and “accused [him] of having a low moral character and questioned his political motives . Cohen also attacked former Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron and Captain James Hamilton of the Department Intelligence Squad, among others .
Following the live broadcast of the interview on the East Coast, ABC officials offered Parker equal time to respond but he turned them down. The network considered not showing it at all in Los Angeles, with Parker warning that “any damage to him from the show would be compounded if it were seen in” the city . Ultimately station KABC aired the interview three hours after it had been shown on the East Coast but not before informing viewers that “all individuals named had been offered equal time to answer Cohen” .
In response to the Cohen broadcast, Walter Ames of The Los Angeles Times wondered what impact it would have on Wallace:
It’s too soon to determine whether the Mike Wallce interview with Mickey Cohen Saturday will enhance or detract from his future shows. One thing is sure. Mike will have a tremendous audience Sunday night but whether he can regain any prestige he might have lost by allowing the tirade against Chief Parker is another question. My personal poll indicates that Mike didn’t do himself any good with the show. 
On May 25th, ABC announced that it would publicly retract the interview prior to the start of the May 26th episode of The Mike Wallace Show . The retraction was delivered on air by Oliver Treyz, ABC’s vice president and stated that the network “deeply regrets the wholly unjustified statements made on this unrehearsed program and offers its most sincere apologies” to everyone Cohen named . Cohen, for his part, released his own statement: “Any retraction made by those spineless persons in regard to the television show I appeared on with Mike Wallace on A.B.C. network does not go for me” .
The retraction wasn’t enough to satisfy Parker and Hamilton, who filed separate lawsuits against ABC, Wallace, Cohen, sponsor Phillip Morris and others on July 8th, asking for a combined $3 million in damages . In September, in response to the lawsuits, the defendants argued that “the broadcast involved only ‘fair comment and criticism of a public official'” . A third lawsuit was filed on October 4th by C.B. Horrall, former Los Angeles chief of police, who had also been attacked by Cohen in the broadcast .
Parker and Hamilton also filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. On November 7th, the FCC responded that “it found no basis for action on their request for a hearing looking toward suspension or revocation of the licenses of stations which carried [The Mike Wallace Interview]” .
On January 2nd, 1958, Parker and Hamilton settled their suits against ABC, Mike Wallace, Phillip Morris and others (but not Cohen himself), collecting $45,975.09 and $22,978.55, respectively . Two weeks later, Fletcher Bowron filed his own lawsuit; he would collect an undisclosed sum from ABC and Wallace on December 30th [29, 30]. The outcome of C.B. Horrall’s lawsuit is unknown.
Even as the various lawsuits were winding through the courts, The Mike Wallace Interview was still on the air with new guests each week (Wallace’s last episode of Night Beat was broadcast on May 31st, 1957). The night of ABC’s retraction, Wallace interviewed Senator Wayne Morse. The following week, Earl Browder, former head of the Communist Party of the United States of America. According to Jack Gould, however, Wallace’s ABC program was not “in the same league” as Night Beat:
In his network show Mr. Wallace appears to be handicapped by much the same problem that often afflicts Edward R. Murrow on “Person to Person.” He seems committed to a predetermined set of questions and doggedly adheres to them even when the course the conversation clearly dictates a different tack.
The great virtue of Mr. Wallace’s local program has been its relaxed quality. He has not operated under any compulsion to regard his presentation as a contest which he always had to win. On the network, however, he has assumed more of the role of a prosecuting attorney who had to prove a point. There is a tension and a combativeness which have not shown Mr. Wallace at his best; he may disown any inclination to sensationalism but his approach may create the environment in which it thrives. 
Gould also noted that “by building carefully on a sound journalistic foundation [Wallace] could achieve a lasting place in national TV; his present risk is that by pushing too hard he may probe to be only a fleeting fad” . Guests during the summer of 1957 included Mary Margaret McBride, Steve Allen, Diana Barrymore, Dagmar and Frank Lloyd Wright.
In early September, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger announced that she had been dropped from The Mike Wallace Interview “because of pressure from two prominent New York Roman Catholic priests” . Wallace denied the charge and explained that an appearance by Sanger had only been discussed. A few days later, The New York Times reported that Sanger was tentatively set to appear on the September 21st broadcast and that the confusion arose from “an incorrect inference” during a conversation between Sanger and Wallace .
Furthermore, the paper reported that sponsor Philip Morris had renewed The Mike Wallace Program for an additional thirteen weeks; the show would shift to Saturdays beginning September 14th although an additional Sunday broadcast would take place on September 15th on a sustaining basis. The move was intended to give the show “a greater inheritance of audience” by placing it after The Lawrence Welk Show .
Sanger would ultimately appear on the September 21st broadcast. A second interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, on film, was shown the following week while Wallace was in Europe . On October 12th, The New York Times reported that the British Broadcasting Corporation had expressed interest in acquiring The Mike Wallace Interview for broadcast in the United Kingdom, after earlier showing Wallace’s interview with Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus .
Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been scheduled to appear on The Mike Wallace Interview on October 19th, was forced to drop out after remembering she had promised to appear on NBC’s Meet the Press on October 20th. She would be replaced by Arlene Francis . On October 16th, however, Francis was forced to cancel after NBC contacted her agent (at the time she was under contract to NBC) and explained the network “disapproved of her appearance on” a competing network . Wallace’s eventual guest on October 19th was Malcolm Muggeridge. Eleanor Roosevelt appeared on the November 23rd broadcast.
A month later, CBS told John Crosby he couldn’t appear on The Mike Wallace Interview on December 21st as planned. Said Hubbell Robinson, Jr., executive vice president in charge of network programs: “We have a contract with Mr. Crosby that calls for exclusivity. What’s the point of having a contract if within a month or six weeks you don’t pay any attention to it? We have exclusive contracts with many performers. Why should we make an exception in this case” . On December 21st, Wallace would interview Leonard Ross.
In a December 1st article in The Los Angeles Times, Cecil Smith discussed Wallace’s inability to get Hollywood stars on his show. Said Smith: “The average film and TV star of this celluloid city has no interest in facing Mike’s lethal barrage of questions. Most of them see no reason to appear on his show, despite the publicity attendant to its high national rating” . According to Smith, of the “numbers of major personalities” he asked about The Mike Wallace Interview, only one expressed any interest in a guest appearance on the show.
That major personality was Zsa Zsa Gabor. But after remembering that Wallace was “‘the one who goes back and brings up all the old things you’ve ever said and throws them at you'” she decided she didn’t want to talk to him after all . Smith quoted Celeste Holm: “‘Almost everyone has some foolish or unpleasent incident in his life he’d like to forget. These are the things Mike fastens onto” . Wallace, said Smith, “has a genuine story instinct, though one geared to cameras and airwaves rather than headlines” .
However, it was headlines that Wallace’s December 7th broadcast made after guest Drew Pearson stated that Senator John F. Kennedy was not the author of Profiles in Courage, which had won a Pulitzer Prize. Once again, ABC sent Oliver Treyz to make a retraction. At the start of the December 14th broadcast, Treyz explained that “this company has inquired into the charge made by Mr. Pearson and has satisfied itself that such charge is unfounded and that the book in question was written by Senator Kennedy” .
As 1957 came to a close, The New York Times reported that The Mike Wallace Interview would be sold internationally, first to English-speaking countries and then, perhaps, places where English wasn’t spoken, although the show probably wouldn’t be dubbed “because the basis of the interview is talk and nuances of voice and expression” . Guests during the first months of 1958 included John Gates, Jean Seberg, Walter Reuther, Rudy Vallee, Ben Hecht and Rudy Vallee.
On March 17th, 1958 ABC announced that The Mike Wallace Interview would be discontinued after its April 19th broadcast . On April 18th, The New York Times reported that Wallace would present a thirteen-week series around the themes of “Survival and Freedom” beginning April 27th. Production costs would be paid by the Fund for the Republic and ABC would donate the airtime, Sundays from 10-10:30PM .
Wallace’s first guest under the “Survival and Freedom” banner was Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr. Unlike the earlier interviews, which for the most part were presented lived, the “Survival and Freedom” programs were videotaped in advance . This would lead to a new controversy following the June 8th broadcast of The Mike Wallace Interview, with guest Sylvester (Pat) Weaver. ABC cut both sound and video during the broadcast and later cut just sound. According to the network, “the statements were deleted because company attorneys believed a legal question was involved” .
President of the Fund for the Republic, Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, sent a letter of protest to Oliver Treyz, who explained that it was Wallace’s production company, Newsmaker Productions, that had decided to delete the statements, not ABC . In a statement, however, Wallace wrote that ABC’s attorneys and the attorneys for the company insuring both the network and Newsmaker Productions agreed that “potential defamation was involved” and therefore the “deletions were necessary for the program to go on the air” .
Regardless of who was responsible for the deletions, the Weaver controversy was but a prelude .
On Sunday, June 15th, an interview with Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to the United Nations, was pulled by ABC before it could go on the air. The network explained that “the deletions Mr. Lodge had insisted on constituted ‘editorial censorship’ in violation of company policy” . Again, Dr. Hutchins protested. According to him, twice before interviews had been “wholly or partly redone at their request and in the presence of [ABC’s] legal and press departments” . In those cases, involving Reinhold Niebuhr and Erich Fromm, the network had not objected.
John Daly, ABC’s vice president in charge of news, public affairs and special events, stated that Lodge had asked for several cuts in the interview but that the network would only agree to one . Jack Gould praised Daly for “taking a firm stand” in cancelling the interview, writing that “Mr. Daly moved to stop the practice of allowing a guest on an interview program to amend or alter the substance of his remarks before actual broadcast” .
Gould pointed out that a viewer, not aware that guests on The Mike Wallace Interview have the option of editing their comments, is “left with the impression that he is witnessing an orthodox interview in which Mr. Wallace is fulfilling the reporter’s traditional role, that of the public’s proxy” . Instead, in cases where guests are in charge, “the broadcaster abdicates his responsibility for what goes on the air and the public is never the wiser. Sooner or later the integrity of all taped interviews will be suspect” .
An editorial in The Los Angeles Times agreed with Gould:
There may be a backlash to this controversy. Many politicians appearing on television interview or panel shows are asked embarrassing questions and sometimes give embarrassed answers. If they get the notion that taped programs can be cleaned up afterward to give them a better posture before the public the whole television interview fabric will collapse into a tiresome, suspected series of set pieces, with everybody having a second thought.
We hope Mr. Daly acted in time to save TV’s one original contribution to electronic journalism. 
So, too, did the American Civil Liberties Union:
“Since the program is offered to the public as a news interview, the audience assumed that it will see the give-and-take of a regular journalistic interview in which the subject presents his opinion in direct response to questions.
“But to charge censorship when a network declines to allow what it regard as an improperly labeled program to be shown strains the bounds of the First Amendment. If A.B.C. had ordered deletions in the program, a real question of censorship would be raised. However, the deletions in this instance were the responsibility of Ambassador Lodge and the fund, not A.B.C.” 
There was, however, widespread agreement that ABC had mishandled the earlier Weaver interview by not informing viewers that certain portions of the interview had been deleted over concerns of libel .
Following ABC’s cancellation of Lodge’s interview on June 15th, exactly what was broadcast from 10-10:30PM is unknown. The following week, however, The Mike Wallace Interview resumed its series of “Survival and Freedom” with guest Monsignor Francis Lally. Other interviews were held with Henry Kissinger and Harry Ashmore. The last broadcast in the series, on July 20th, was with Dr. Robert Hutchins.
An additional six broadcasts were sponsored by the Fund for the Republic, only this time with a contract amendment “giving [ABC] strict control over the programs and content of the series” . A repeat of the Wallace’s interview with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (originally broadcast on May 11th, 1958) was shown on July 27th. The following week, the first of the six new interviews was aired.
The Mike Wallace Interview was pre-empted on August 10th by the Gold Cup Championship. The last five episodes were shown in August and September. Guests included Dr. Henry M. Wriston and James McBride Dabbs. The final episode was broadcast on September 14th, 1958 with Arthur Larson as a guest. Although Wallace’s contract with ABC ran until May 1959, he would not appear on the network again.
In January 1959, Wallace returned to radio as a news commentator over the Mutual Broadcasting System . On February 11th, The New York Times reported that Wallace was negotating with National Telefilm Associates to host both a nightly newscast and an interview series WNTA-TV/Channel 13 in New York City . Less than a week later, contracts were signed for Wallace to host a half-hour interview series Monday through Friday from 10:30-11PM on Channel 13; he was released from his ABC contract and also left Mutual . On March 3rd, it was reported Wallace would also host a daily newscast from 7:30-8PM .
Both programs premiered on Monday, March 9th. The newscast was referred to as both Mike Wallace’s Newsbeat and Mike Wallace News Beat and the interview series either The Mike Wallace Interview or Mike Wallace Interviews. His initial guest on the interview series was June Havoc. In his review of the premiere installment, Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote “the discussion was much in the nature of an amateur psychiatric study. Mr. Wallace’s questions were never very tough, just singularly unattractive” .
The WNTA-TV version of The Mike Wallace Interview ended on Friday, September 15th, 1961. In September 1968, Wallace began the association he is most famous for as a 60 Minutes correspondent on CBS. He retired from the news magazine in May 2006 and died in April 2012.
In 1960, Wallace donated kinescopes and other material relating to the ABC version of The Mike Wallace Interview to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. They were digitized and made available for viewing online beginning in April 2008. A total of 65 episodes are available, although five are audio only.
5 Shanley, J.P. “Personalities In Television This Week.” New York Times. 18 Nov. 1956: 145.
8 Gould, Jack. “For TV in 1957: A Viewer’s Resolutions.” The New York Times Magazine. 30 Dec. 1956: 9.
9 Adams, Val. “Wallace to Walk New ‘Night Beat’.” New York Times. 8 Jan. 1957: 63.
10 Adams, Val. 9 Jan. 1957: “WOR-TV Plans a Bowling Show with a $100,000 Prize Reported.” New York Times. 9 Jan. 1957: 63.
11 Adams, Val. “News of TV and Radio.” New York Times. 13 Jan. 1957: X11.
12 Adams, Val. “TV-Radio Notes.” New York Times. 24 Feb. 1957: 115.
13 Gould, Jack. “TV: Mike Wallace Asks.” New York Times. 29 Apr. 1957: 36.
16 “Parker Angry Over Mickey Cohen TV Tirade.” Los Angeles Times. 20 May 1957: 1.
20 Ames, Walter. “KTTV Wins New Billboard Award; Mae Coming Back.” Los Angeles Times. 22 May 1957: A10.
21 “A.B.C.-TV Will Retract.” New York Times. 26 May 1957: 92.
Ames, Walter. “KTTV Wins New Billboard Award; Mae Coming Back.” Los Angeles Times. 22 May 1957: A10.
22 “A.B.C.-TV Retracts Remarks By Cohen.” New York Times. 27 May 1957: 44.
24 “Parker Asks $2,000,000 in TV Suit.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Jul. 1957: 1.
25 “Cohen Blast at Parker Called Fair Comment.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Sep. 1957: 2.
26 “Horrall Sues Mickey Cohen for $2,000,000.” Los Angeles Times. 5 Oct. 1957: B1.
27 “No FCC Action On Mickey Cohen.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Nov. 1957: 1.
28 “Chief Parker Collects $45,975 for TV Slur.” Los Angeles Times. 3 Jan. 1958: 1.
29 “Bowron Sues Over Cohen TV Remarks.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Jan. 1958: B1.
30 “Bowron Wins Judgement in Cohen Suit.” Los Angeles Times. 31 Dec. 1958: 7.
31 Gould, Jack. “Mike Wallace: His Network Show Does Not Have Same Quality as His Local TV Program.” New York Times. 2 Jun. 1957: 123.
33 “TV Interview In Doubt.” New York Times. 6 Sep 1957: 28.
34 Adams, Val. “Sponsor Renews Wallace’s Show.” New York Times. 9 Sep. 1957: 53.
35 Adams, Val. “‘Studio One’ Fate Is Up To Sponsor.” New York Times. 19 Sep. 1957: 60.
36 Shepard, Richard F. “B.B.C. May Import Wallace Show.” New York Times. 12 Oct. 1957: 39.
38 Adams, Val. “N.B.C. Bars Star From A.B.C. Show.” New York Times. 17 Oct. 1957: 51.
39 Adams, Val. “John Crosby Off Wallace TV Show.” New York Times. 19 Nov. 1957: 67.
40 Smith, Cecil. “Stars Dodge the Mike Wallace Interview to Avoid Being Tagged ‘It’ in Public.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Dec. 1957: G3.
44 “A.B.C. Answers Pearson.” New York Times. 15 Dec. 1957: 73.
45 Shepard, Richard F.” “News and Notes from the TV-Radio World.” New York Times. 29 Dec. 1957: 63.
46 Adams, Val. “A.B.C. Radio Plans a Major Shake-Up.” New York Times. 18 Mar. 1958: 59.
47 “Reply Is Ordered to TV Bias Charge.” New York Times. 18 Apr. 1958: 47.
48 Adams, Val. “News of TV and Radio.” New York Times. 18 May 1958: X11.
49 “ABC Scored for Cutting Mike Wallace Interviews.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Jun. 1958: 11.
50 Adams, Val. “C.B.S. Sets TV Hour Out of This World.” New York Times. 11 Jun. 1958: 71.
52 “Lodge TV Interview Canceled By A.B.C. After He Asks Cuts.” New York Times. 16 Jun. 1958: 1.
55 Gould, Jack. “TV: Sound Journalism.” New York Times. 17 Jun. 1958: 59.
59 “Dr. Hutchins Is Caught Off Base.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Jun. 1958: B4.
60 Shepard, Richard P. “A.B.C. Defended on ‘Censorship’.” New York Times. 23 Jun. 1958: 45.
63 Adams, Val. “Wallace Series Extended on TV.” New York Times. 28 Jul. 1958: 39.
64 Anderson, Robert. “Air Story of Tribune Magazine.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 6 Jan 1959: C6.
65 Adams, Val. “Wallace May Get New TV Programs.” New York Times. 11 Feb. 1959: 79.
66 Adams, Val. “Crosby Program Planned March 2.” New York Times. 17 Feb. 1959: 63.
67 Adams, Val. “Carney to Star in Musical Fable.” New York Times. 3 Mar. 1950: 67.
68 Gould, Jack. “TV: New Wallace Beats.” New York Times. 10 Mar. 1959: 71.
Originally Published March 28th, 2009
Last Updated April 21st, 2013