The Entertainers Mike Has Met

Lesley Stahl Looks Back At Mike Wallace's Interviews With Entertainment Legends

When you think of Mike Wallace, you think of him barging in on bureaucrats and bad guys, loaded for bear. But over the years, some of his most memorable interviews have been with entertainers.

Lesley Stahl sat down with Wallace to screen some of his greatest show biz hits, beginning with an example of almost every interviewer's nightmare: a performer so quick and so funny that right from the start, you weren't sure who was interviewing whom. In this case, it was Mel Brooks.

"Is that a hundred-dollar watch? Let me see that watch," Brooks asked Wallace.

"It's about a $40 watch," Wallace replied.

"Really?" Brooks asked.

"Yeah. Lights up in the dark," Wallace explained.

"What a cheap son of a bitch you are," Brooks said.

"You got that right," Wallace responded. "You're a great judge of character."

Next, Brooks quizzed Wallace about the jacket he was wearing, which Wallace claimed was made out of hopsack.

"Am I right? It's like burlap shrunk down. Do you know that six months ago that, your jacket carried coffee beans? Do you realize that? I'm telling you. That came from Colombia full of coffee. Wait a minute," Brooks said, taking a whiff of Wallace's jacket, "It reeks of Colombian coffee, I gotta tell you."

While some would say Brooks had hijacked the interview and taken control, Wallace says that's not hijacking an interview. "I was grateful to him for what he was doing," he says.

Over the years he has matched wits with the best that Broadway, Hollywood and the music world have to offer. He has interviewed longhairs from Leonard Bernstein to Luciano Pavarotti and divas of all stripes, from Janis Joplin to Julie Andrews to Oprah.

Asking Oprah whether God was important to her, the talk show host replied, "Oh yeah. I love her. I do!"

Another memorable encounter was Wallace's 1992 interview with actor Kirk Douglas.

"You had a reputation as a real horse's behind in this town," Wallace remarked. "Even your own kids said that you were very difficult."

"They didn't say I was a horse's ass, did they?" Douglas asked.

"No, they did not," Wallace replied.

"Who besides Mike Wallace would start an interview by saying, 'People say you're a horse's behind?'" Stahl asked.

Wallace says his interview subjects know who he is and what kind of questions he might ask — and thinks that many of them think they can beat him.

Not many do. Wallace got to hang out with Johnny Carson in 1979 for the only in-depth profile the TV host ever did.

"Why are you doing this now? I'm not running a boiler room operation. I have no phony real estate scams. I'm not taking any kickbacks," Carson asked Wallace.

The interview was pleasant and innocuous enough, until Carson mentioned his rule about never joking on "The Tonight Show" about people's drinking problems.

"It takes one to know one," Wallace remarked.

"Ahhhh. You're cruel. You're cruel," Carson said.

Carson went on to admit that he didn't handle alcohol well. "And when I did drink, rather than a lot of people who become fun-loving and gregarious and loved everybody, I would go the opposite, and it would happen just like that," he told Wallace.

"I loved that man. I really did," says Wallace, adding that Carson wasn't upset with this interview.

"He loved it. And of course, the one thing that he did not like was that I beat him at tennis. You laugh. That was very important to him," Wallace explained to Stahl.

Carson was very competitive. "Whaddya waiting for, your pacemaker to start? I think it's gotta kick in just about when you serve," he joked with Wallace on the court.

  • Daniel Schorn

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