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Mike Wallace: A Life Hardcover – April 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“In his earliest broadcasting days, Myron "Mike" Wallace would've given Regis Philbin a run for his money. Long before the Massachusetts-born Wallace (who died in April) became synonymous with hard-edge TV journalism on"60 Minutes," he was a TV personality and host of variety shows. In fact, Peter Rader explains in his recent biography, Wallace was a "breezy raconteur who hosted chat shows, quiz shows and the like … a pitchman for Parliament Cigarettes and Fluffo shortening...."
So how did his broadcasting transformation take place? That's what Rader's book explores as it traces his long career, his encounters with politicians, Ku Klux Klan leaders and plenty of celebrities (who can forget his sparring with Barbra Streisand?). And all the while, Rader shows, Wallace fought bouts of despair and depression that tormented him even when "he was at the top of his game … [and] commanded a movie-star salary as well as the accompanying fame and mystique."
Rader's book does a fine job of tracing Wallace's life and times, but it does an even greater service in showing us the unexpected, private side that nearly capsized — but didn't — his celebrated career.”
Los Angeles Times

“During four decades on 60 Minutes, Wallace was famous for his tough interviews of major newsmakers, including Malcolm X, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But behind his assertive and self-confident facade was a man troubled by anguish and selfdoubt since childhood. Filmmaker Rader examines the twists and turns of Wallace’s career that landed him in the position of esteemed television reporter and the messy personal life he lead. Wallace began his career as a showman, a game-show host, a past he fought for years to shake off in his desire to be taken seriously as a journalist. He’s been married four times, including in a tempestuous union with a Hollywood starlet who prodded him into the new medium of television. Rader chronicles Wallace’s slow climb out of entertainment into serious journalism, his hard-charging work ethic, and his fractious relationships with his wives and children. He also chronicles Wallace’s emotional ups and downs as he struggled with depression. Fans of Wallace will enjoy this revealing look at a complicated man and respected news reporter.” —Booklist

"Bold, well-crafted biography of a long-elusive and controversial public figure."—Kirkus Reviews

“It’s not widely known that 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace started in Chicago radio-television of the 1940s as actor Myron Wallace, appearing in Ma Perkins and other soap operas. And earlier, as Rader reminds readers in this colorful biography, Wallace was The Green Hornet’s announcer. With Night Beat in the late 1950s, after having moved to New York, the ambitious Wallace became an “overnight celebrity” because of his aggressive, rapid-fire interviews: “Night after night, Mike eviscerated them like a matador.” Abrasive bulldog tactics became his signature style, and when 60 Minutes began in 1968, Wallace’s investigative reporting and “ambush interviews” eventually brought him both controversy but also acclaim as one of the best broadcast journalists. Wallace has written his own memoirs more than once (Close Encounters in 1984; Between You and Me, 2005), which spliced in memorable interviews. Rader fills in the gaps with comprehensive coverage that includes accusations of “juvenile” sexual antics, self-doubts, lawsuits, the 1962 accidental death of his son, failed marriages, bouts with depression, a suicide attempt, and his “Jekyll and Hyde personality—sometimes magnanimous and charming, other times almost sadistic.” Influenced by his screenwriting, Rader (Waterworld) employs a cinematic writing style for this vivid portrait of Wallace set against a backdrop of technological television innovations.”—Publishers Weekly

“Mike Wallace was a television pioneer who transformed the news interview. In his quest to make news reporting less deferential and more hard-hitting, he also helped blur the lines between factual program making and entertainment. This makes him a controversial figure in the history of popular culture – and Peter Rader has done an excellent job of putting him in the context of a fast changing America. Rader’s greatest accomplishment is to show how the drama of Wallace’s private life reflected...the complex revolution going on in television journalism. Full of repressed desires, ambition, foolishness and regret, this book is a fine example of how one life can represent the triumphs and tribulations of an entire generation.”—Timothy Stanley, author of The Crusader: the Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan

“Mike Wallace as a groundbreaking, tough-minded journalist and Mike Wallace as a thin-skinned, self-doubting bully. While the broad outlines of Wallace's trajectory have been told before, no one has probed as deeply, or with as much intelligence, insight and good judgment, as Peter Rader. This is a first-rate biography that captures the life of a man who has shaped his profession and embodies all of its myriad strengths and weaknesses.”—Timothy L. O'Brien, Executive Editor, The Huffington Post

“Mike Wallace, whose probing TV interviews with everyone from Malcolm X to Barbara Streisand to Richard Nixon made him, too, a household name – was both a journalist and an entertainer: a career-split which exacerbated the personal insecurities of an over-achiever prone to crippling bouts of depression.  Peter Rader neither dwells on nor ignores his hard-charging subject’s less attractive traits, in a swift and cinematic narrative that earns a verdict Wallace once suggested for his own epitaph: ‘Tough But Fair.’”—Tom Nolan, author of Artie Shaw, King of the Clarinet: His Life and Times

“If you think you know Mike Wallace, think again. Peter Rader’s thought-provoking biography draws a nuanced portrait of a man bursting with ambition who was fearless in the face of fame and power, yet also one who loathed his looks and throughout his life battled his inner darkness. Rader goes deep to reveal the journey Mike Wallace took to the top, describing in detail how the path was littered with broken hearts, broken promises and broken spirits – often Wallace's own.”—Nancie Clare, Editor, LA Times Magazine

“A spellbinding narrative about broadcast journalism; the amazing, personal story of one fascinating icon in our business, writ large across this current, tortured media landscape. A terrific read that makes vivid the ironies of the 60 Minutes legend, and chronicles the central debate in TV journalism for the past 40 years. What a story!”—Kathy O'Hearn, The Daily Beast

About the Author

PETER RADER was raised in Rome and educated at Harvard University. A filmmaker and screenwriter, he has developed projects for all the major Hollywood studios. Rader resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (April 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312543395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312543396
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,335,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Rader recently published his first book, "Mike Wallace: A Life." He previously worked as a film and television writer/director in Hollywood for some twenty years. Rader's first script, "Waterworld," was produced in 1995 by Universal. He developed numerous projects for other studios, including a remake of "Escape to Witch Mountain," which Rader wrote and directed for ABC/Disney.

Rader attended Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude. He has taught writing workshops and is accomplished in a broad range of fields, including music and photography. Rader has directed episodes of the hit nonfiction TV series, "The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan" and also worked as a cinematographer on a number of award-winning documentary projects. Currently, he is producing a documentary about Yogananda, the Hindu mystic who brought yoga to the West.

Customer Reviews

After all, that's why he became the very famous Mike Wallace.
Nathan A. Gordon
His many personal challenges may well have served to imbue him with the fairness and penchant for truth that characterized his professional life.
Knowing that this man was a "calculating provocateur would make for an interesting interview.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis on April 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Through a piercing examination of Wallace's personal and professional life, Rader provides a new perspective of this complex human being. We learn that this tough, respected, and ofttimes feared American icon had the same vulnerabilities and frailnesses as do lesser mortals. These discoveries serve to enhance Wallace's humanity, and provide insight into the many dimensions of his long, bittersweet, dramatic existence. Rader's masterful opus demonstrates that, personal trials notwithstanding, Wallace managed to retain his professional persona with grace and dignity. His many personal challenges may well have served to imbue him with the fairness and penchant for truth that characterized his professional life. Bravo to this author's riveting work. It is a must read for history-lovers as well as for observers of human nature. The timeliness of its publication at the finale of Wallace's life is not only a fitting farewell tribute to this truth-seeker, but also an introduction into the daunting efforts and expertise of a dedicated new author.

Phyllis Eisenstadt
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mediaman on August 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This overview of Mike Wallace's life contains mistakes, made-up conversations and distorted observations that keep it from being objective. I'm not sure what the other Amazon reviewers were reading but they must not have looked at the last few pages where the author admits his sister worked for Mike Wallace (how can Rader claim objectivity?) and where he writes, "Where specific information was not available, I employed a narrative convention: constructing a plausible situation with imagined dialogue that reflects the attitudes and feelings that I know to have been present at the time."

Namely, he admits to fictionalizing parts of this book.

And how did he "know" the "attitudes and feeling" that were present? He wasn't there and he cannot know someone's internal thoughts. Instead most of the book's "research" comes from old articles, books and tapes that the author borrows from.

The pages are filled with hyperbole that makes claims about Wallace that are exaggerated while underplaying his faults. Wallace refused to be part of this book but would appreciate that the author treats the newsman as a "hero." Wallace might even support the author's fictionalizing conversations, since Wallace was often caught misrepresenting information on 60 Minutes. While Wallace certainly did some good interviews and fronted some major stories (with the work actually done by his producers and editors), his many ethical lapses are only briefly mentioned. The author says that Wallace's influence on journalism "cannot be overstated" but that's exactly what happens here.

The book is only for those not interested in reading the many other books out there on the show (include two of Wallace's own memoirs) and those that like books written in puffy tabloid style that lack fairness and objectivity. Make sure to first read the acknowledgments and author's note in the back so you can read it skeptically, just the way Mike Wallace would have looked at it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By BobTz on April 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A wonderful bio. It not only portrays a difficult, fascinating man in a wonderfully balanced light, it also conveys a clear sense of why this man was important. I was never particularly fond of the guy, but I now have the greatest respect for the profound impact he had on our media-driven culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Todd Windyhill on September 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book allows the reader to effectively "connect-the-dots" on Mike Wallace. We know him from "60 Minutes", spanning five decades, but that's only what the camera shows up. There is the boy, the college student, radio personality, Navy cadet, gameshow host, husband, father, professional cohort, medical patient, and media legend.

Mike is largely the same person in all these modes. He doggedly strives to be the best at whatever he undertakes or in whatever mode he finds himself. He rises to the pinnacle of his core life endeavor because of a laser focus on excellence and a fierce competitive spirit. At the same time, these qualities translate to chroic mediocrity and periodic failure in a number of the modes mentioned, and this may have exacerbated the clinical depression that afflicts him for the better part of his adult life.

Mike realizes he has special talents and gifts at an early age, and parlays them to the stardom he achieves. He needs all those attributes in a cut-throat industry that lives and dies on weekly ratings and the whims of the weekly audience. The book shows Mike thriving on the competition. The adrelalin rush he feels becomes functionally addictive, at the expense of personal pursuits, vacations, relationships, vacations, and ultimately traditional retirement.

The book places emphasis on these numerous ironies that mark Mike's life, including an enlightening and constructive treatment of clinical depression. A dynamo like Mike, and notables like Bill Styron and Art Buchwald are simply laid out by debilitating but treatable clinical depresssion.

The latter chapters of the book become the last years of Mike's life, and the reader observes some of Mike's retrospectives and efforts at some belated fence-mending.
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Format: Hardcover
Over the past week I have been struggling with the extremely long Cronkite bio which I am enjoying with plenty of breaks. Mike Wallace: A Life has provided a terrific respite as well as a counterpoint because it manages to condense a lot of Wallace's career points while still presenting a detailed story of the legendary newsman's long broadcasting career while intermingling a huge amount of information about Wallace's personal demons which at times included a screwed up family life.
While I think the public's awareness of Wallace is normally associated with his long career at CBS, he initially started his career at a radio station in Grand Rapids. This lead to a job in Chicago where he apparently had his hand in a little bit of everything, including a career as a radio announcer and a soap opera actor. A true pioneer in the medium of television he eventually moved from Chicago with his second wife Buff Cobb to take on NYC and a stint as the stars of a husband and wife interview show. From there his career and public profile took off and he became a household name as well as earning a reputattion as a serious television journalist.
When looking at the personal side of Mike Wallace, this book portrays a man who sometimes was filled with self-doubt. He was married four times, not always a faithful husband, had two children by his first wife who he didn't see nearly enough while they were growing up, dealt with depression so severe that he contemplated suicide, yet was also a magnificent interviewer who was often at the top of his game.
This was a very good book that satisfies on many levels. It managed to chronicle Wallace's career which coincided with the development of network television news which was a male oriented organization for decades, while providing a strong sense of who Mike Wallace was.
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