BETWEEN YOU AND ME: A MEMOIR, by Mike Wallace with Gary Paul Gates, Hyperion, 292 pages, $26.95 (includes an 82-minute DVD of Wallace's most famous interviews).
From his unique perspective on "60 Minutes," television's most respected and watched magazine show for almost 40 years, Mike Wallace has interviewed the great, the famous, the controversial, the interesting — people from all walks of life.
In this volume, actually his second memoir (he wrote his first when he was 65; "A lot has happened since then") Wallace tells the behind-the-scenes accounts, anecdotes and off-camera antics engaged in by many of the people he interviewed — including presidents, first ladies, religious leaders, entertainers, social revolutionaries, international politicians, con men, whistle-blowers and a host of others.
Always known for the probing questions and the deep preparation he made prior to each interview, his style has often been copied by others — but no one has equaled the reputation and star status he retains at the age of 87.
As good as the book is, it is the DVD accompanying the book that is most exciting. Viewers can see some of Wallace's most famous interviews as they happened, thus getting a sense of his charisma, and his ability to catch a subject off guard. Included is the gut-wrenching interview Wallace had with Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who rode alongside John F. Kennedy's caravan in Dallas in November 1963 — and who revealed the strong sense of guilt he still carried for the president's death.
Wallace even had some chilling interviews with members of the Mafia, such as Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno and Joe Bonanno. In 1981, Fratianno appeared on "60 Minutes" to talk about his book, "The Last Mafioso." He was in the government's witness-protection program, yet he talked openly about people he had killed and how. When Wallace asked if he considered himself "a good killer," Fratianno said, "I just had the talent to do things like that. I never made any mistakes."
Wallace's interview with Barbra Streisand is perhaps the most controversial of these interviews — because his incendiary questions angered Streisand, causing her to spar with him for several minutes. He seemed mean with Streisand, and it's hard to understand why. This is one interview that will almost certainly cause many
readers (or viewers) to feel uncomfortable as they find themselves almost certainly commiserating with Streisand.
His interview with Gen. William Westmoreland is one of the most important, since Westmoreland, the U.S. commanding general during the Vietnam War, sued CBS and Wallace for "smearing" him on national television. That was the low period of Wallace's professional and personal life, as he sank into clinical depression, requiring treatment. He still takes the antidepressant Zoloft. Fortunately for his recovery, the general unexpectedly withdrew his suit before it reached a conclusion.
Wallace had a highly memorable exchange with the legendary Johnny Carson, who smoked during the interview, thus reminding us today that he died because of those cigarettes. Because he quit smoking years ago, Wallace has low tolerance for those who still smoke. He and Carson looked good together, trading barbs and witticisms and revealing much of Carson's very private persona to the public.
Even though this book is written with Gary Paul Gates, a writer who has also assisted CBS' Dan Rather (why do they need him?), Wallace's strong, genial personality shines through. It's a fun book to read.