I’d always heard stories about how tough Mike was to work with, and I’m sure he was when you were competing against him. I’m glad I never had to. By the time I met him in 2006 or 2007, he was still at 60 Minutes and I was starting there. He was incredibly generous and welcoming, and he went out of his way to be kind to me. He would call me ”kid” and gently rib me about being new to the show. I distinctly remember being in the edit room and him coming by and taking a look at what I’d been working on.
I had to record the on-camera intro where you say, ”I’m Anderson Cooper” for the show’s opening. You’re just sitting in front of a greenscreen, and they ask you to do it a bunch of times. So in your head, you’re saying to yourself, ”I’m Mike Wallace. I’m Steve Kroft. And I’m Anderson Cooper,” trying to figure out how your voice is going to fit in with the rest. Afterward, my producer put together a tape of me saying my name over and over, and Mike actually narrated it. He was totally making fun of me in his Mike Wallace voice, yet at the same time welcoming me to 60 Minutes.
He thrived in the unexpected moments of an interview, the give-and-take, the spontaneity of it. He could be talking with Barbra Streisand or Nancy Reagan and he could show them to you in a different way. Or he could be confronting a really bad guy, and Mike would be the voice of everybody who was yelling at the screen at home saying, ”Come on! Get him!” He famously said he wanted his epitaph to be ”Tough but fair.” In a day and age when people are shouting their opinions at the top of their lungs on TV news broadcasts, I think ”tough but fair” is the best anybody can achieve.
The last time I saw him was in the offices of 60 Minutes. He was in his final days there. I just remember him wearing this tweed jacket. He was 88 years old, but he still had this remarkable vitality. When I heard he had passed away, I thought about watching him walk the halls of 60 Minutes, this show that really came to define him and that he helped create. That’s the way I want to remember him. In the offices of 60 Minutes. Radiating strength. Tough but fair. That’s what he was. That’s what he always will be.
(As told to Tim Stack)