RIP Mike Wallace, 1918-2012.
He’s hardly an icon of noir, I’ll grant. But Mike Wallace was one of the last of a dying breed. They don’t make hardboiled newsmen like they used to. The kind of reporter that Jimmy Stewart played in Call Northside 777. Peter Jennings is dead. Walter Cronkite is dead. David Brinkley is dead. Mike Wallace is now dead. Hadn’t been on television for several years, even before news of his death saddened us. Ted Koppel isn’t hardly around anymore. Reporting is a lost art. All we have now are talking heads and would-be cults of personality. And that ain’t reporting, I don’t care how many dopes can’t tell the difference.
So pause to remember Mike Wallace today. He started as a radio announcer for pulpy programs like The Green Hornet. Interviewer, game show host, pitchman. Wallace even starred in a short-lived police drama, Stand By for Crime. Wallace’s early career would make Anderson Cooper green with envy. The difference is that Wallace was a young man growing into his role as a newsman. Cooper was a newsman who abandoned journalism to become a celebrity.
The ironic thing is, Mike Wallace played himself in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, which presaged the rise of the celebrity commentariat. Andy Griffith is brilliant in his dark turn as Lonesome Rhodes, a narcissistic folk hero-turned-demagogue. Mike Wallace plays himself in the film and interviews Rhodes. It isn’t exactly noir, but it is a brilliant and prescient film from one of my favorite directors.