Mike Wallace: Game Show Host?

What you may not have known about TV's "grand inquisitor".

Nearly all the obituaries about Mike Wallace spoke about his journalism career, largely focusing on "60 Minutes".

While none of that is inaccurate, he didn't spend all of his career doing "gotcha" interviews and chasing bad guys.  During a large part of his long career, in both television and radio, he could have been called a "personality"; a general term which could also mean "jack of all trades" in broadcasting.

In radio, in the 1930's and '40's, for instance, he was the announcer on the crime drama The Green Hornet, and even did some acting.  And he was, among other things, a co-host on several daytime variety shows, including one with another long-time personality, Virginia Graham.

He jumped into television in the 1950's, once it was obvious that was the medium of the future. But, again, it wasn't until well into that decade when he began to become a probing news interviewer. In the early '50's, he co-hosted a daytime show with his then-wife, Buff Cobb, which, in clips, looks a lot like Regis and Kathie Lee.

His Bob Barker-era also took place during this time. He was the host of several game shows, including a short-lived entry in the big-money quiz show era called The Big Surprise. It was reportedly investigated in the quiz show scandals, although Wallace, like most emcees, wasn't found to be involved in any fixing. 

In television, producers record a "pilot", basically an audition of a show they're trying to sell to a network or syndicator.  One of those which sold was a game show called Nothing But The Truth, in which Wallace was host.  It went on the air in 1956 as the classic game show To Tell The Truth.  Wallace wasn't the host on the series, but he did appear frequently as a panelist in the show's early years.

And he did commercials.  One I have seen was for a tobacco company which also sponsored his short-lived Mike Wallace Interview program, in which the interviewee was often surrounded by cigarette smoke.  Its subject matter was so controversial that ABC, which aired the program subsequently cancelled it.

It wasn't until 1963 when Wallace, mourning the death of his oldest son, Peter, in an accident in Greece, decided to give up everything else and just focus on news.  That is when he joined CBS News full-time, as anchor of the first version of The CBS Morning News. 60 Minutes began five years later.

For years, Wallace reportedly didn't like to be reminded of his non-news career. While doing a 60 Minutes story on the game show business in the mid-1970's, Wallace interviewed the legendary producer Mark Goodson, who asked him what he would do if he brought up Wallace's game-show career.

Wallace is said to have replied, "I'll cut it out of the story".


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