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Mike Wallace Memorial: New York City Embraces The Great Journalist One Last Time

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"IT'S THE story. It is the feeling that you really make a little bit of a difference. You're doing something useful...helped somebody out of some trouble, you've righted a wrong, you've exposed something worth exposing."

This is the quote under splendid photos of the late Mike Wallace from his handsome "Remembrance" memorial program by CBS. The memorial took place Tuesday in Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It played to a packed house.

How I wish that every person in the world who loved, admired, hated, decried my onetime boss, Mike, could have seen what happened in Rose Hall just as I experienced it. This two-hours should have been filmed (maybe it was) and it should be in a constant exhibit at CBS News and the Newseum in Washington, D.C. where anyone might see it.

When CBS News puts its mind to something -- the old network that used to lead with all-serious, all-important news, all-the-time -- can still pull it off. For instance, this was the very best memorial I have ever attended and being of my own great age, I have attended some doozies. Most of them are simply terrible; put on in excesses of grief or shock or simple unpreparedness. And everybody talks too long.

Of course, Mike's had the virtue of simply wonderful film, selected professionally, and it brought him back to life as an immortal who never should have left.

On April 11, I wrote here my own personal loving tribute to the man I began my professional career with back about 1953. But I am so admiring of what I experienced in the Rose Hall, I must rave on about it.

When I saw the hour "60 Minutes" devoted to Mike the other Sunday evening, I was disappointed. It seemed choppy and throw-away. But CBS really had itself totally together for this remembrance and it also had the virtue of even more great film clips, encounters, Mike-isms, with his friends, colleagues, and extended family taking up a lot of seats. CBS took the full two hours to remember Mike and it was a masterpiece.

With a few of its stars, we spent two hours remembering Mike, sometimes not so proudly, or -as they say -- warts and all. In one sequence, the late Ed Bradley attacks Mike asking, "Why were you such a pr---k!" Mike laughed and answered genially, "I studied pr---kdom!"

Then, he and Bradley, who was dying at the time, reminisced about a falling out they'd had but they couldn't remember what it was about. Bradley said softly: "I'm going to miss you Mike." And Mike said nothing at all for a few moments; then leaned over and tapped Bradley sweetly on the leg giving him an affectionate squeeze.

It was just great! There is also a rare movie Mike made after semi-retiring where he portrayed himself as old and feeble and run-down-at-the-heel and with nobody knowing who he was any longer. (He was a very good actor.)

I congratulate the head of CBS News and "60 Minutes"-- one Jeff Fager--for how he opened and closed. He said of the crowd at first that Mike would have loved being there, but he'd want to know the count! Then followed clips of "Mike's Methods" which included lots of shots of Wallace saying, "Forgive me" over and over, for asking tough guys like Putin, Malcolm X, and the Ayatollah Khomeini follow-up questions.

Steve Kroft was terrific discussing "Mike from the Beginning" -- that's when I had first known him --The film clips that followed were vintage Wallace. Producer Robert Anderson introduced "Mike and the Stars." They ran from Barbra Streisand to Johnny Carson to Tina Turner to Vladimir Horowitz. A cornucopia. Anderson told a funny anecdote about how Mike was used to recognition everywhere and people passing him, saying, "Thank you!" But in the huge Dallas-Fort Worth airport, Mike was late and took to a golf cart to rush from A to Z. As he sped past, elderly walkers tried to flag him down for a ride. Mike just thought it was good-natured recognition and waved back like a royal as he roared on without slowing down.

The elegant Morley Safer did a heart-felt tribute where he and Mike admitted jealousy, envy and the competitive nature of their relationship. That was "Mike and Morley," followed by Morley's tender remembrance of "Mike and Ed (Bradley)'.

One of Mike's best pals, a man he'd never worked with but liked to hang out with - James Greenfield, formerly of the New York Times. He paid a lovely remembrance. And,
Wallace Bourgeois, one of Mike's grandchildren told about how, in a taxi to an important baseball game, his famous Grandpa queried the taxi driver, asking, "What do you mean you think O.J. Simpson is not guilty!" The younger Wallace was humiliated but Grandpa told him "Not to worry." It was part of Mike being Mike.

After that, one of Mike's favorites, Barbara Cook, sang "Here's to Life." But it was Chris Wallace who scored the highest in closing with a truly touching sentiment about the father who he'd had problems with in life. All who knew Mike knew of these ups and downs.
So I wasn't expecting much. I was wrong. Chris Wallace redeemed their history. He was so surprisingly effective. And I am so glad that Mike's wonderful wife, Mary, was able to be there and hear us all crying, sniffling, and applauding like crazy.

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