The Mike Wallace Interview

My friend Craig showed me this utterly fascinating archive of Mike Wallace Interview videos from the 1950s, which are hosted online by The School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin.

It's astonishing to watch television in which the host asks real questions and the guests answer in full sentences. Wallace never lets people off the hook and he smokes cigarettes like the world is ending tomorrow, piling on fulsome praise for his beloved Winstons before each interview begins.

And what a list of guests! He interviews Frank Lloyd Wright, Salvadore Dali, Leonard Ross (a 12-year-old California school boy who won a total of $164,000 on the game shows The Big Surprise and The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Challenge), Aldous Huxley, Gloria Swanson, Tony Perkins, Eldon Edwards (Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan), Philip Wylie, Jean Seberg, Earl Browder (former head of the Communist Party in the United States), Mary Margaret McBride (the "First Lady of Radio"), David Hawkins (the youngest of 20 prisoners to defect during the Korean War), Dr. Henry Kissinger, and many more.

200804042000 Mike Wallace rose to prominence in 1956 with the New York City television interview program, Night-Beat, which soon developed into the nationally televised prime-time program, The Mike Wallace Interview. Well prepared with extensive research, Wallace asked probing questions of guests framed in tight close-ups. The result was a series of compelling and revealing interviews with some of the most interesting and important people of the day.


  1. The cigarettes must have given people of the 50’s much longer attention spans.

    Oh look, a birdie…

  2. The interview with Leonard Ross is intriguing. The $64,000 Challenge was rigged, as has been well documented. The Big Surprise was never implicated, but that could be due to its cancellation before the quiz show scandal broke. And who was the host of The Big Surprise from 1956 through 1957? One Mike Wallace…

  3. We shouldn’t be so sad, all that wonderful content has moved to the net now. One possible equivalent might be the TED conference.

    The only ones left on TV are the mouth breathers.

  4. Everyone should watch the Aldous Huxley interview. I watched it a few years ago and it haunts me how much he predicted has happened over the past 6 years.

  5. Philip Wylie’s 50-year-old comments about fundamentalist religions’ influence on politics are pretty prescient, too.

  6. The Erich Fromm interview is similarly forward-looking and insightful.

    Among other things, it was pleasant to be reminded of what I think is one of the great accomplishments of mankind so far: not destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons. Getting a glimpse of that big uncertainty looming on the horizon from Fromm’s point of view gave me some hope that we’ll be able to deal with the climate change crisis we’re currently facing. Hopefully with the impending removal of the Bush administration we’ll be able to contribute a little more to both of these aims here in the U.S.

  7. … This was absolutely amazing. I merely clicked on the names that I recognized and I ended up spending over three hours on this stuff. I can’t get enough of it, and I can’t wait to watch the Ayn Rand videos. It’s one thing to read books, to hear stories. It’s another entirely to watch the men and women speak for themselves.

    One of the few experiences I have that can compare to this to the difference I felt the first time I heard a Sylvia Plath reading of her poetry. I believe the first one I heard was “Daddy,” and later, “Lady Lazarus.” It completely changed my view on her – and understand how someone can get away with talking for an hour on a single 8 stanza poem.

  8. What’s up with the subtitles on the Kissinger video?

    Kinda scary when he’s talking about the imminent collapse of the free world unless we are allowed to engage in “limited war” – sounds like he could be on Meet the Press today.

  9. So far my favorite is Charles “Commando” Kelly. The guy single-handedly took out 40 Germans in 20 minutes. He enjoyed killing them not for the sake of killing but because he could finally get some peace and quiet and get the wounded fixed up. His attitude was basically shut up, get the job done and move one.

    His opinion about Europeans being uncivilized because they’re always starting wars is a classic. I’ll bet he’d have a few choice things to say about the idiots in our country that are in control right now and also the ones who will be shortly voted in.

    I love hearing this old-timers opinion’s. I wish more people would talk from their personal experience’s with something rather than depending on the newest politically correct attitude propounded in whatever form of media they choose to peruse.

    A politician this guy ain’t.

  10. These videos are great except that they are tiny and that they have disabled full screen viewing. So, I hacked together a viewer which enables full screen viewing for each of videos here:

    Note: Use the video on the right for fullscreen. I made an iframe with the original page so you can see the text, etc. Hope you guys enjoy watching it in full screen as much as I do. :)

  11. There’s an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (early 60s) in which Rob Petrie, against everybody’s advice, goes on a tough interview show that’s clearly modeled after “Night Beat” — dark set with pin spot lighting, cigarette smoke, etc. — where the bulldog host corners him into spilling the beans about his boss, Alan Brady (as I remember it, he reveals that Alan wears a toupee).

  12. It is amazing to think that average viewers back in 1958 sat still long enough and thought hard enough to watch one of these episodes. I just can’t imagine the majority of viewers today tuning in to an intellectual program like this. I wish I could but I can’t.

    I think people today have been conditioned through careful manipulation (as Huxley would say) to expect that TV’s primary purpose is to entertain with minimal thought. Thus people think if they’re starting to feel bored, it must not really be something they should pay attention to because if it was important enough, media moguls would’ve put more money into the entertainment value. The reverse of that: if it’s high-energy, high-tech, full of beautiful people and stirring music, gee it must be something really worth while!

  13. I feel compelled to direct people to Newsnight, which, if you have satalite is on BBC America Friday evening and repeats on Sunday morning. It really is the only mainstream news programme worth watching. May be slightly left of centre to people in the US, but it is amusing watching politicians forced to answer questions rather than skirt around an issue. Paxman, the interviewer, famously asked one politician the same question seventeen times without an answer, which did said politician considerable damage to his career.

  14. Wonderful. Thank you for posting this. I’ve seen his interview with Ayn Rand and loved it and I can’t wait to watch these.

  15. The collection of virtually every kinescope of “THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW” at The University of Texas at Austin [thank god HE saved them when the network didn’t!] are from the period (1957-’58) when Mike had a weekly half-hour program on ABC’s Sunday {or Saturday} night schedule, at 10pm(et). It was the success of his late-night “NIGHTBEAT” program on New York’s WABD [now WNYW-TV] in 1956-’57 that ABC, and sponsor Philip Morris, wanted him to do a late evening prime-time edition in the spring of 1957. However, Mike had a reputation at that time for being quite relentless in his choice of guests and questions to ask them- and that eventually cost him his sponsor. However, his relationship with Philip Morris lasted longer than the program itself; after they dropped their sponsorship in April 1958, he continued to pitch Parliament cigarettes for them in radio and TV commercials until he decided he wanted to return to “serious” news reporting in 1963- he joined CBS News that fall, and began anchoring their daily “CBS MORNING NEWS” for three years…which led indirectly to “60 MINUTES” in 1968. After the ABC “INTERVIEW” series ended in September 1958, Mike returned to local TV, and eventually revived his late-night interview format on New York’s WNTA {now public TV station WNET} in 1959, which was eventually syndicated until 1961. Any surviving kinescopes of those (including his famous interview with Rod Serling in September 1959) are NOT on deposit at the Harry Ransom Center…

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