march 2012

mike wallace

Classical (and Classic) Mike Wallace

When the dogged reporter and interviewer took on his time’s greatest classical artists

The great CBS correspondent Mike Wallace, who died on April 7 at age 93 following a long illness, is best remembered for tough, dogged interviews with tyrants, presidents, celebrities and major cultural and political figures of his time. Wallace was also a devoted classical music lover whose daunting portfolio of interviews includes several tête-à-têtes with some of history’s most important classical artists, posing the same tough questions he would to his subjects from other disciplines.

Wallace was no dilettante. He played the violin while growing up in Brookline, MA, and served as concertmaster in his high school orchestra. He also spent summers at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.

In his 2005 memoir, Between You and Me, Wallace described his upbringing. "Because I grew up in a musical family (my sister, Helen, was a gifted pianist) and because of my own teenage adventures with the violin, I felt comfortable in and conversant with the worlds of concerts and ballet.”

Despite one of his most famous 60 Minutes interviews being with Maria Callas, Wallace wrote that no matter his enthusiasm for classical music, the “dubious charms” of opera “always eluded me.” He adds: "Still, exceptional talent must be recognized wherever it is found, so I made occasional visits to that hybrid world of robust arias and florid librettos."

Three of his acclaimed interviews were with the elusive Vladimir Horowitz and equally elusive Maria Callas, and with a genial but guarded Luciano Pavarotti.


Vladimir Horowitz (1977)

Wallace cited his 60 Minutes interview with pianist Vladimir Horowitz as his personal all-time favorite. He adopts his confrontational mode when discussing the 74-year-old pianist's salary and his long self-exile from the concert hall: "The fact remains that you did not face the public for 12 years…On one occasion, you did not leave this house for two years," says Wallace. It is defused with an anecdote; Horowitz’s wife, Wanda, recalls a patron who boasted, "I waited in line 12 hours" for Horowitz's triumphant return concert in Carnegie Hall and her reply: "That's nothing; I waited in line 12 years."

Here Wallace also goads Horowitz into playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

‘When I’m on a stage I feel I’m a king’: Mike Wallace’s 1977 interview with Vladimir Horowitz


Maria Callas (1973)

Wallace walks the soprano through her storied and tempestuous career, and ventures boldly into her long love affair with Aristotle Onassis, even to the point of probing the touchy diva on her feelings towards Jacqueline Kennedy. He grills her on her “walk-outs and sicknesses and affairs and anger and jealousy” before asking, “what’s the drama?” She replies, “If you don’t get angry sometimes, you don’t obtain the results.”

‘What’s the drama?’: Mike Wallace interviews Maria Callas in her Paris apartment, February 3, 1974

Mike Wallas interviews Maria Callas, part 2


Luciano Pavarotti (1993 and 2003)

In 1993, Wallace got Pavarotti to admit to feeling the pressure of critics and fans. “Now, at my age, when everybody is trying to kill me… If you do something wrong, they can protest, they can boo you.” The piece cuts to a clip of the loggionisti at La Scala expressing their displeasure. Wallace also talks with the tenor about his marriages and, for a charming moment, rides with him on his scooter.

‘You know something else? I am lazy’: Mike Wallace’s 2003 interview with Luciano Pavarotti

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