NEW YORK — Chris Wallace turned and blew a kiss to a giant portrait of his father, "60 Minutes" journalist Mike Wallace, after memorializing him Tuesday as "the best journalist I have ever known."
The Fox News anchor also told of when his father tried to steal an interview from him and, when his infuriated son called to confront him, paused when told he had to choose between Chris Wallace and Chris Rock. Mike Wallace didn't take the interview, but handed if off to Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" instead.
Former colleagues, friends and family members swapped stories about Wallace in an auditorium a few blocks from where he worked, before an audience that included GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and journalism luminaries like Roger Ailes and Carl Bernstein. The public face of TV's most enduring newsmagazine for nearly four decades, Mike Wallace died at age 93 on April 7.
Some of the stories were flattering, some less so. And despite the somber purpose of remembering the recently deceased, some were hilarious.
"Let's be honest, at some point in time not just Morley (Safer), not just Ed (Bradley), many people in this room were not speaking to my father," Chris Wallace said.
After years of a tense relationship, caused in part by Chris trying to escape his father's giant shadow, his son recalled how Mike called him every day to see how he was doing when Chris was going through a divorce. "That's how we became father and son," he said.
As dementia began stripping away his intellect in his final years, "what remained of Mike Wallace was a sweet and gentle man," he said.
Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes" said Wallace was instrumental in bringing him onto the show, but that didn't mean he was immune to his competitiveness. Some colleagues once asked Kroft whether he knew that Wallace tried to steal one of Kroft's earliest scoops, a 1992 interview with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton about the future president's alleged infidelities.
Kroft said no, "but I just assumed it."
"There was a greatness to him," he said, "and besides the fact that he was a real pain in the ass, you knew that deep down you were never going to get a chance to be around someone like Mike."
Former colleague Safer had his own complicated relationship with Wallace — the two once didn't speak for a year for reasons Safer no longer remembers — but remembered him fondly as a man "who did not merely live life. He attacked it."
Safer recalled when his colleagues, as a practical joke, composed a fake letter from a sperm bank seeking a donation from Wallace to join the Nobel prize winners and other notables who had made their own contributions. Wallace proudly showed the letter around the office, he recalled.
"It took an hour to convince him he had been had," Safer said.
Speakers poked fun at Wallace's vanity, and how he relished the attention when in 2004 an altercation with a police officer over Wallace's double-parked car led to tabloid headlines. He would have loved Tuesday's memorial at the Time Warner Center, and would have asked for a crowd count "to see if more people showed up for his memorial than showed up for ("60 Minutes" founding executive producer Don) Hewitt's," said Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and current executive producer of "60 Minutes."
"He loved being in the spotlight," Kroft said. "In some ways, it was like his drug."
Even with the driving competitiveness, Wallace was not afraid to show that he was human, making public his battles with depression. At his memorial, a portion of Safer's interview in which Wallace admitted to a suicide attempt was played, along with clips of some of his memorable interviews.
Speakers recalled how Wallace remained a force of nature, even around the office.
Once he went into producer Josh Howard's office and suggested doing a story on Willie Nelson. That's unusual for Mike, Howard thought, but said Willie Nelson could be a good idea.
"Why the (expletive) would I want to do Willie Nelson?" Wallace thundered. "What I said was, 'Winnie and Nelson.' You know, Mandela? Possibly you've heard of them. I hadn't realized I had wandered into the toy department."
And, as he left the office, Wallace said, "good luck with your next career choice."
"He drove all of us crazy, he made us think on our feet, he made us laugh and he constantly reminded us that we were a few pounds overweight," Fager said.
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