In 1982 Don Hewitt called my parents home looking for me. He had seen a story I had done for WOR-TV and wanted to talk to me about a job. My mother answered the phone. "I like to offer your son a job," he told my mother. "He is not interested," she said. "He has a job already."
I overheard the conversation and asked my mother who was that on the phone. "Don Hewitt," she said. "He has a lovely wife."
I quickly called Don back, and tried to apologize but Don would hear nothing of it.
"Listen kid," he said, "I don't know about you, but I like your mother. If you don't want the job, it's hers."
Fortunately my mother was busy making kugels and had little interest in becoming Mike Wallace's producer. Years later I asked Don why he hired me. I was 26 years old, less than six months of television experience, and before that, had been bouncing from one newspaper job to the next.
"I had a hunch," he said.
Fortunately for me, Don always hired and edited pieces with his fingertips.
He rarely hired from the elite Ivy League schools. He attended the College of New Rochelle, and preferred producers who had to overcome hardships in their lives, those with a little hustle to their step.
Don would teach storytelling almost every day not in any organized classroom, but in office banter.
"Hey kid," he shouted down the hallway, "Take a look at this watch. Guess how much I paid for it?"
"Twenty bucks," I said.
"Where did you get yours," Don asked.
He was cut from the Hildy Johnson mold of journalism always looking for the scoop and he inspired the staff with his boundless energy and humor. And he would edit like Hildy too.
Once he told me to take out a character in a story by saying "take that yutz out of the piece, she has nothing to do with your story."
Another time he said of another character I had in my story, "she is a lox, you don't need her."
The Don and Mike Wallace show at the office would today make a great reality show. The two of them would yell and fight and tease each other endlessly. I asked Mike why he was always picking a fight with Don and he said, "It gets your blood moving, it makes you feel alive."
Mike and Don needed each other and the success of the show depended on them. Once Mike blacked out at an airport and was lying on the floor. "Get up," Don said, "Don't die on me. We haven't beaten Cheers (in the ratings) yet."
Though Don was a brilliant editor, he also had a keen understand of his own shortcomings. One time I was doing a story about how Nazis after World War II were smuggled in to the U.S. to help in intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union. I obtained top secret documents to back up the story. "Don, as editor you are entitled to know who my source is," I said.
"Don't tell me, don't tell me," he said. "I can't keep a secret."
What Don did do was come up with brilliant ideas for stories. He famously told Ed Bradley to do a profile of Muhammad Ali; Bradley said Ali can't speak. Don replied, if he could speak it wouldn't be a story.
He once sent me down to Plains, Ga. to get former President Jimmy Carter to do his first interview after he left the White House. That interview would make front page news.
But another time he had me go down to the federal court house in New York during the mafia commission trials and try to convince mafia boss Paul Castellano to go on 60 Minutes.
When I got back from court, I went into Don's office. "What happened," he asked.
"Well I was able to get a seat next to him in court and I gave him my business card and told him we would like him to be on 60 Minutes this Sunday," I said. "He said nothing but folded my card a few times and began to pick his teeth with it."
"You should have given the guy a toothpick," Don replied.
We all hated to disappoint him. The goal was always for him to jump up from his chair after screening a story and utter one word, "SENSATIONAL."
"I hire people who are smarter than me and they make me look good," he often said.
But no one was fooled by that since Don was smarter than all of us.
Ira Rosen is a producer with 60 Minutes. He first began working on the show in 1980 and later left to be senior producer of "Prime Time Live" with Diane Sawyer. He returned to 60 Minutes in 2004.