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Monday, April 23, 2012

Doris Day

Doris Day will celebrate her 88th birthday on Tuesday, April 3.
Enlarge Sony Picture Archives Doris Day will celebrate her 88th birthday on Tuesday, April 3.
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April 2, 2012
The biggest female box-office star in Hollywood history, Doris Day started singing and dancing when she was a teenager, and made her first film when she was 24. After nearly 40 movies, she walked away from that part of her life in 1968, and started rescuing and caring for animals.
Now 87, the actress lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Last year, she released My Heart, her first record since 1967's The Love Album. She's also the subject of a new four-DVD box set of her films — and was named TCM's star of the month for April, which means 28 of her movies will air during prime time this week on the network.
Doris Day's hits include "Sentimental Journey," "Till The End of Time" and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'."
Enlarge Sony Picture Archives Doris Day's hits include "Sentimental Journey," "Till The End of Time" and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'."
The Making Of A Star
Day started her career as a teenage dancer in Cincinnati. She was spotted by a Paramount Pictures talent scout who wanted to fly her out to Hollywood, but a car accident on the night of her going-away party shattered her leg and her dreams of being a professional dancer. As Day recovered from her injuries, she listened to the radio and discovered she had a talent for singing.
"I had to lie down, and I was just laying down all the time, and a couple of years went by. And the bones in my right leg from the knee down were not healing," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And that went on for a few years. ... And [then] when I started to heal, that's when I started to sing — by myself — in a beautiful club in Cincinnati at the age of 16."
The club was 18-and-up, so Day's bandleader lied to the club owners and told them that his young singer was, in fact, a legal adult.
"I kept forgetting that I wasn't two years older for years," she says. "As the years go on, and my mother said to me, 'You know what, it just occurred to me. You're not really 30. You're 28.' And I looked at her and said, 'Oh my gosh, I forgot all about that.'"
'Romance On The High Seas'
Day's singing career eventually led her to Hollywood, where she got a part in the 1948 film Romance on the High Seas, without knowing she was auditioning for the role.
"I was just out in Hollywood singing, and my manager was with me, and we were going to have lunch," she says. "And he drove out to the studio, and I knew nothing about that. We were standing around, and I said, 'What are we doing?' and he said, 'I'm arranging something.'"
Day's manager told her that a young man was auditioning for a role in a movie and she needed to help him out. That man, unbeknownst to Day, was actually the film's director.
"So I read my lines, and after that, he came up and took my hands and said, 'Darling, you were very good' and I thought, 'How funny' and said, 'Thank you so much, it was nice to meet you.' And with that, we left," she says.

Doris Day Collection

The Doris Day DVD Collection from TCM contains four of Day's movies, including 'April in Paris' and 'Starlift.' The CD collection, pictured below, features songs curated by Day herself.
With a Smile and a Song
Day was due to leave Los Angeles the following morning, but received a phone call in her hotel room. It was actor Jack Carson.
"And he said, 'Miss Day, this is Jack Carson. I know it's early in the day to be calling you, and I heard that you were leaving for New York. I want to tell you something — you are going to be in the best part, the most important part, in the movie I'm doing next. And I want you to be in it,'" she says.
Day accepted the offer and soon began working on the film. On her second day of work, she was invited into a studio to watch herself on the screen for the first time.
"I went in and I just stood there, and Jack came up to me and he put his arms around me," she says. "And he said, 'Everything is just perfect. And you're the one. And I really enjoyed it today.' And he gave me a big hug."
In the '50s and '60s, Day starred in a string of romantic comedies, but frequently played an independent working woman. In 1959's Pillow Talk, she played an independent interior designer opposite Rock Hudson. In Love Come Back, she worked in the advertising world. In Touch of Mink, with Cary Grant, she played a career woman.
"I didn't feel different in any of them," she says, "even though they were different. I loved being married, and I loved not being married but working on it. And doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked."
Working With Animals
Day stopped making movies in 1968, in part because she wanted a quieter lifestyle than what was available in Los Angeles.
"I came out to Carmel and it was so nice, and I have so many doggies," she says. "And I thought that this would really be nice."
In 1971, Day co-founded Actors and Others for Animals, and began to take an active role in animal rescue work with the SPCA. She placed dozens of rescue dogs in people's homes and rescued many on her own. At one point, she had 30 dogs living in her house.
"It was another area of the house," she says. "There was a lovely outside place to eat, and it was so pretty and lovely with the fountain and everything. And on the other side of that was where I had the dogs. And they had a big area to run and they had a huge area to play. They were just fabulous and I kept them all."
Day currently has six dogs and four cats.
"If I come across a doggie who needs a home, that's when I take them," she says. "They're in a special area — an outdoor area — but the ceiling is all glass and they look up there and see the trees. They have two big rooms inside and then one outside. They just love it."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Charlie chaplin as "The Tramp"

TREADING WATER IN OUR MEDIA OCEAN it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the frenzy that surrounded Charlie Chaplin in his early years, when movies were all there was, and Chaplin had become, in critic Gilbert Seldes's words, "the universal symbol for laughter." In 1921, when he finally came home to London, crowds camped out for two nights to watch him drive from Waterloo station to the Ritz, and when he cruised by, they greeted him with more enthusiasm than their heroes marching home from war.

It wasn't Chaplin they cheered, of course; it was the Tramp. From his first pictures for producer Mack Sennett, who didn't credit actors, in a Los Angeles where the Times didn't take movie ads, the Tramp was an instant sensation. As Seldes remembers, he leapt to fame as a splay-foot cardboard cutout hung outside the theaters, beckoning young and old, first in America, but soon around the world.  

Chaplin-like Tramps
Chaplin look-alike contest: J.W. Sandison Collection, Whatcom Museum of History and Art

Once Charlie found the Tramp, he only played the Tramp. Why not?  Who'd have let him play anything else? This "many sided fellow," as Chaplin put it, "a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure," freed him to explore his complicated talent, and bound him to his audience. The Tramp touched his followers in a way only movie stars could when movies were new. Splashed huge on the screen, he was bigger than they were but they knew him like a brother. Their modest emotions, projected on the silver Tramp, expanded into passions deeper, subtler, and seemingly more important. Chaplin rubbed together greed and generosity, lust and love, triumph and disappointment, igniting a hotter, brighter laughter than they'd known before.  They loved the Tramp with a superhuman love.

Sennett admitted he didn't see much potential in Chaplin when he hired him. As he wrote, "Charlie revealed most of the trade skills of the music-hall people. He could fall, trip, stumble, summersault, slap, and make faces. These were stock in trade items we could use. I did not see then, and I do not know anyone who claims to have seen then, the subtleties and the pathos of the small, hard-pressed man in a dilemma which a few years later were known as the genius marks of Chaplin's art." In his first film, Making a Living, Chaplin played his music-hall persona, the burlesque dude, in the role of con man and aspiring reporter.

Shoving the newsboy isn't funny. Chaplin's Tramp is a bum who believes he's an aristocrat; Chaplin's dude is a bum conning others into believing it. There's a hint of Tramp charm when he adjusts his clothing, but Chaplin comes across as vain, mean-spirited, stiff and mannered. We root against him.

Chaplin wasn't happy, nor were Sennett or director Henry "Pathé" Lehrman. Lehrman, Sennett's top man, earned his nickname pretending to come from France. Sennett hated a picture that "drooled along" and liked Lehrman because he pushed pace and pushed his bang-bang gags to the edge and occasionally beyond. His actors, who paid the price for Lehrman's enthusiasm, called him "Mr. Suicide." In Making a Living the director also played Chaplin's straight-man competitor. 

Lehrman hated Chaplin's meandering rhythms. He hectored him about movie timing. Chaplin fought back. Sennett backed Lehrman, and suspended Chaplin for a week "to force him to follow instructions." Chaplin said he was close to quitting. His drunk act was a vaudeville staple; pictures were canned comedy.  He'd had enough of them.

Then, on January 6, 1914, three weeks after Chaplin first walked in front of Lehrman's camera, the Tramp waddled onto the hotel set for Mabel's Strange Predicament.

What wrought this miraculous transformation? How did Chaplin find such ease before the camera, such patience riding his instincts? Did he need any help? Chaplin claimed his costume was all he needed. "The moment I was dressed," he wrote, 50 years later, "the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was."

While Chaplin's stage persona was a well-known type, the Tramp was not so easily labeled. He wasn't faking wealthy, exactly, but he wasn't just dressed poor, either. "Everything a contradiction," Chaplin said, "the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large." He may have been rich at some time, or he may not. He was outside class, and outside the standard ethnic types that dominated vaudeville. He was American, the way anyone could be American, wherever they came from. We could all be the Tramp, yet he was uniquely himself. The Tramp dressed not to fit a type but to fill out a personal fantasy: formal on top, comfortable down below, self-conscious and oblivious at the same time.

Chaplin wrote that the Tramp came to him whole: "I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born." Sennett remembered otherwise: "It was a long time before he abandoned cruelty, venality, treachery, larceny, and lechery as the main characteristics of the tramp." Looking at the Tramp's early films, we have to agree with Sennett. And yet, before the Tramp was pathetic or lovable, he was wildly popular. His gentle nature let his audience enjoy his vices without hating itself. He was lecherous but not threatening, venal but not vicious, treacherous but somehow loyal.  

The contradictions that let the audience enjoy Chaplin's genius were bought with screen time. The Tramp didn't exactly drool along, but he chewed his mustache and swung his cane and second-guessed himself, and that broke Sennett's First Rule of Funny: it stopped the story. How did the Tramp, a secondary character at that, appear in the first frame of Mabel's Strange Predicament and then take 30 seconds to sit down? Chaplin claimed he invented the Tramp alone, but someone had to let him eat up film. Lehrman wouldn't stand for it. Who freed up Chaplin to be the Tramp? Was it Sennett, who had just suspended him for such shenanigans?

Mabel Normand Photoplay
Was Sennett even there? He was producing, not directing, and had three pictures going at the same time. Fifty years later Sennett claimed that Chester Conklin, who was there, said that when the actors were laughing at Charlie, "we didn't notice that the Old Man had come down from the tower and was standing in the rear. All of a sudden we heard him. 'Chaplin, you do exactly what you're doing now in your next picture. Remember to do it in that get-up. Otherwise, England is beckoning.'" The words Sennett puts in Conklin's mouth say exactly what he'd like us all, himself included, to believe.

Chaplin remembered a different scenario. In his version, all three pictures were being cranked on the same stage. Chaplin ambled out in his street clothes, and he wrote, Sennett was "looking into a hotel lobby, biting the end of a cigar. 'We need some gags here,' he said, then turned to me. 'Put on a comedy make-up. Anything will do.'" Chaplin returned as the Tramp. "The secret of Mack Sennett's success was his enthusiasm. He was a great audience and laughed genuinely at what he thought funny. He stood and giggled until his body began to shake." Then Chaplin explained his character in detail, for 10 minutes or more, "keeping Sennett in continuous chuckles. 'All right,' he said, 'get on the set and see what you can do there.'"

Chaplin's story honors Sennett, perhaps, but it also confirms Chaplin's version of creating the Tramp whole, as a single stroke of genius. But Chaplin's version ignores the fact that the character he plays in the picture is essential to the story, not simply an add-on in the first scene. He couldn't have just ambled into the story, because there was no story without him.

Mabel and Mack
Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett

These two eyewitness accounts, sharpened by novelistic detail (the voice from behind, the chomped cigar) can't both be true. Sennett's account is hearsay, so perhaps Chaplin deserves precedence, but if Chaplin's account were true, wouldn't Sennett have told it himself? Sennett says he wasn't there until the Tramp showed up. Wouldn't he want to take credit for ordering Chaplin into the scene?  What if they both have it wrong? How did the volcanic, dictatorial Mack Sennett let pesky, supercilious (and by all reports, foul-smelling) Chaplin, coming off a week's suspension for bloody-mindedness, violate his First Rule of Funny?

Chaplin hinted at Sennett's doubts when he wrote, "It was a long scene that ran seventy-five feet. Later Mr. Sennett and Mr. Lehrman debated whether to let it run its full length, as the average comedy scene rarely ran over ten." But Lehrman had nothing to do with Mabel's Strange Predicament. If someone fought Sennett over Chaplin's screen time, it wasn't Mr. Suicide, and if Sennett was fighting, it wasn't because he wanted more time for Chaplin, but less.
Mabel on the set.
Mabel Normand on the set, 1919

Only one person on the Keystone lot could shout down Mack Sennett, and her name was on the title of the picture, the little lady with the big plume who walks out on Chaplin. Mabel Normand was Sennett's meal ticket and his perpetual fiancée. Sennett's Keystone didn't credit actors, because they might want more money, but Sennett hung Normand's name on her pictures, because Mabel on a picture brought in crowds. She started as a Gibson girl in her early teens, pushing Coke. She met Sennett when he was a failed opera singer making comedies at Biograph for tomb-faced D.W. Griffith. Sennett took her to Los Angeles, and made her immensely popular. She made him a fortune.

Normand was an inventor of the movie star, the first woman allowed to be both sexy and funny. She was a high diver, a bareback rider, a race car driver, and a flapper a decade before flappers. Photoplay called her "a kiss that explodes in a laugh, cherry bonbons in a clown's cap, sharing a cream puff with your best girl, a slap from a perfumed hand, the sugar in the Keystone grapefruit." By the time the man who would become the Tramp walked onto her set, Normand had worked on sets for four years, and made over a hundred pictures. She was 22.  

Shouldn't we credit the director, the one who decided to shoot 75 feet, for the success of the Tramp? Keystone didn't have writers in those days, but did the director of Mabel's Strange Predicament unleash the Tramp? Doesn't Sergio Leone deserve some credit for Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name? Doesn't the director dictate tempo and decide who gets the camera's attention? Isn't the director's job to seek out the hidden talents of his actors and make sure they end up on screen? Doesn't a good director jump on a happy accident like the Tramp and ride it with a prayer of gratitude?

What Sennett and Chaplin both neglect to mention in their memoirs is that Mabel Normand was among the very first stars to direct their own films, and Normand directed Mabel's Strange Predicament. Perhaps in the intervening decades they forgot. It was certainly in their interest to forget. Why diminish their own roles in creating the miracle of the Tramp? Normand remembered it differently; she recalled Sennett's fury after seeing Chaplin's performance, screaming that Lehrman "had hooked himself up with a dead one." Normand said she begged him to give Charlie another chance.

Sennett acknowledges her effect on Chaplin:

After Mabel saw what Charlie could do in his new costume and tramp character, she changed her mind about 'that Englisher.' She not only wanted to work with him but wanted to help him. Charlie knew nothing about screen acting. He did not know how to behave in front of a camera, or why he was directed to move left to right in order to match a scene shot the day before. He was baffled by instructions to react to someone off camera — someone who would be inserted in the next day's shooting. Mabel patiently explained these and other simple techniques to Charlie, who had rebelled when Pathé Lehrman gave him orders.

I submit that Normand did a good deal more. As director and star (and the second most powerful person on the Keystone lot) she shaped Mabel's Strange Predicament. She saw Chaplin's potential and worked to bring it out. Chaplin said he was surrounded by rough and tumble types, admited he was anxious and found Normand reassuring. He called it a "unique atmosphere of beauty and the beast." Isn't it reasonable to believe that Normand, his director and acting partner, loosened up Charlie? That she gave him confidence in his own rhythms, and when she saw what she had, she knew he was the key to making her picture work, and let him run on at unprecedented length? He was a secondary character, but she built the picture around him. Normand the star stepped back and let the Tramp take over. Here she plays with Chaplin in the key scene of the picture, the predicament scene, when she's locked out of her room wearing only her pajamas, and the Tramp happens along. Notice how she plays to his tempo, and gives him the scene:  
Normand was known for a subtle comic style that isn't on display here. She vamps along, buying time for Chaplin to wring his contradictions, from surprising to calming her, to seeing they're alone, to eyeballing her, to coming on to her, to chasing her tail. Sennett characters didn't have time for such transitions, just as they didn't take 30 seconds to sit down in a hotel lobby. I submit that Normand the director won Charlie's confidence and drew this out of him, and that Mabel Normand the star sacrificed her scene for the good of the picture.

Then Normand the director protected what she had in the can. In his first picture, Lehrman cut away from Chaplin whenever he could, so he could snip out what he saw as dead time, returning only for what he saw as action. These were the 10-foot scenes Chaplin talked about. Normand guards Chaplin's rhythms and lets him breathe. Given Sennett's obsession with pace, it is likely he had words with her during dailies. When they edited the picture, it is likely he wanted to chop up Chaplin as Lehrman had done. If so, Normand the director fought him on that, and made sure Chaplin's pregnant pauses stayed in the picture. Could Sennett have denied his director, his fiancé, his biggest star?

Unless you've made a movie, it's to hard to conceive how difficult it is to read your own picture before an audience sees it. This was as true for Star Wars and Casablanca as it was for Howard the Duck and Ishtar. In fact, as William Goldman put it, nobody knows. Alan Pakula said he could write the good review and the  bad review, but which is the audience writing? Once an audience sees the picture, all comes clear. Once audiences saw Mabel's Strange Predicament and loved their Tramp, Normand's insights became obvious and her strength of conviction just good sense. But that doesn't diminish the courage or vision it required before the fact.

When Chaplin became the Tramp on Normand's watch, he also learned to be a movie actor. As Sennett put it, Normand, "the greatest motion-picture comedienne of any day, was as deft in pantomime as Chaplin was... She worked in slapstick, but her stage business and her gestures were subtle, not broad." Normand, the first movie star actress who wasn't stage trained, hadn't been taught the comic conventions of the theater, or to project to the back of the house. She had a movie-bred patience for living in the moment. She was a movie star because while she was beautiful, she let you see inside, and people liked what they saw. Movies are supremely intimate, and Normand was consummate at drawing people in, and holding them. We can watch Chaplin learning Normand's delicate skills.

Three months after the Tramp showed up, Sennett was cranking the first feature-length comedy ever made, and Normand and Chaplin were part of it, though neither one was above the title. Sennett's old boss was making his first magnum opus, The Clansman, later called The Birth of a Nation, and so Sennett wanted to match him. Smart money said a movie audience couldn't laugh for more than half an hour, and Sennett bought insurance in the form of Marie Dressler, star of the Broadway hit Tillie's Nightmare. She would bring in the middle-class audience that was only beginning to warm to cloth-cap darling Normand. Sennett paid Dressler her stage rate, $2500 a week, or 10 times what Normand earned.

Dressler was a skilled comedienne in the pre-Normand pattern of the grotesque who thought herself a beauty, and she transferred well to pictures. Later, Chaplin preferred ingénues to comediennes, but in Tillie's Punctured Romance he plays against two of the best. Watching Chaplin play with stage-trained Dressler and with movie-star Normand, we can see how Normand's subtler style toned down Chaplin, and brought him closer to the mature Tramp. Here, in Tillie, Chaplin doesn't play the Tramp. He's a low-life con man, after Dressler for her money. Sennett directs.
Here are Chaplin and Normand in the same picture. Normand is Chaplin's moll. They've stolen Dressler's money and spent it on fancy clothes, and they're watching a movie about a pair of low-lifes like themselves doing the same thing. Sennett cut up their close shot into 10-foot bits, but even in bits we can see they have a comfort with each other that allows for nuance and grounds the scene. Would Chaplin have found his subtle style without Normand, with Sennet pushing pace?
Sennett wrote about what Normand taught Chaplin, but Chaplin is mute on the subject. In his autobiography Mabel is pretty, Mabel is sweet, Mabel is reassuring, but Mabel is not an experienced professional who helps perfect his art. Why is Chaplin so dismissive? In part because she's a woman but more, I think, because Chaplin needed to portray Normand as incompetent to justify the shabby way he treated her.

Before Tillie began, only six weeks after the Tramp first walked on stage, just as Mabel's Strange Predicament came out in the East and the Tramp first captured the public imagination, Sennett put Chaplin in a picture where he didn't play the Tramp. Lehrman had absconded to Universal with Ford Sterling, Sennett's most popular male star, and Sennett decided that Chaplin would play a Sterling role in his next picture. This had the double virtue of plugging the hole left by Sterling's departure and putting Chaplin in the kind of role Sennett could appreciate, because unfortunately for Chaplin, Sterling played the consummate scenery-chewing villain, a vaudeville Dutch with the volume jacked to 11.  Chaplin despised his style but went along with the gag. Perhaps suspension did its job.
To fans of the Tramp, a spectacularly bad idea. Oddly, when Chaplin recalls this picture he omits the fact that he played Ford Sterling. Here is his account. Chaplin was 24, and had acted in pictures for all of 10 weeks:

Now I was anxious to write and direct my own comedies, so I talked to Sennett about it. But he would not hear of it; instead he assigned me to Mabel Normand who had just started directing her own pictures. This nettled me, for, charming as Mabel was, I doubted her competence as a director; so the first day there came the inevitable blow-up ... Mabel wanted me to stand with a hose and water down the road so the villain's car would skid over it. [In fact Chaplin was the villain; Mabel drove the car.] I suggested standing on the hose so that the water can't come out, and when I look down the nozzle I unconsciously step off the hose and the water squirts in my face. But she shut me up quickly: 'We have no time! We have no time! Do what you're told.'

'I'm sorry, Miss Normand,'" Chaplin says he replied, "'I don't think you are competent to tell me what to do,'" and he walked off the set.

Sweet Mabel — at the time she was only twenty [she was 22], pretty and charming, everybody's favorite, everybody loved her. Now she sat by the camera bewildered; nobody had ever talked to her so directly before.

Chaplin said that his solution to their impasse was to strike a deal with Sennett: he offered to let Normand finish this picture in exchange for the right to direct his own picture next. Chaplin, a notorious tightwad, had saved up $1500, and to allay Sennett's very reasonable misgivings he offered it all to Keystone if his picture was unreleasable. Sennett, pressured by East Coast reports of Chaplin's instant popularity, took the deal. The rest, as they say, is history.
As Chaplin biographer David Robinson points out, the spritz-in-the-eye bit that Chaplin proposed was the oldest joke in movies, dating back to the Lumière brothers in 1896. Normand probably wanted something fresher. Not only had she already directed Chaplin well in Mabel's Strange Predicament, a few weeks later they'd partner up to direct Caught In a Cabaret together.

The deeper truth is that Chaplin was set on directing his own pictures, and Sennett wouldn't let him. The God Griffith could have helmed Mabel at the Wheel, but Chaplin knew he was popular back East, knew this was his chance to leverage himself into directing. To justify his dirty dealing, he had to paint Normand as incompetent. As he put it, "this was my work."

In 10 weeks Chaplin had gone from rank amateur to auteur. If he had anyone but himself to thank, it was probably Mabel Normand. He was lucky she was directing when he decided to take home his football. According to Mabel, a couple of extras offered to beat him up, and she talked them out of it. Had Mr. Suicide been talking to those extras, Chaplin might have had more painful memories.

Do we know what really happened? No. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To understand what happened, we have to play with the facts until we find the story that fits them together most comfortably. Mabel Normand is the missing piece that knits together the invention of Chaplin's Tramp.

We owe it to Normand to speculate. She didn't have her say decades later like the others.  She was mortally ill by the time sound came to the movies, and she died soon thereafter. It's easy to forget her brilliance, because most of her pictures are gone as well. Chaplin's remain.

We need to honor Normand for larger reasons. We all need genius. It's essential to know that Great Souls are out there, revealing the potential of the species, and we want to believe that true genius creates itself, and forces itself on the world. But we only know those geniuses who have broken through, and when we look at their stories, we often find that a random stroke of luck or a passionate believer made all the difference. If ever there was a movie genius, it was Charlie Chaplin. But anyone who works in movies will tell you that when it comes to pictures, nobody does anything alone.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace, CBS Pioneer of ‘60 Minutes,’ Dies at 93

By TIM WEINER Mike Wallace, the CBS reporter who became one of the nation’s best-known broadcast journalists as an interrogator of the famous and infamous on “60 Minutes,” died on Saturday. He was 93. On its Web site, CBS said Mr. Wallace died at a care facility in New Canaan, Conn., where he had lived in recent years. Mr. Wallace, who was outfitted with a pacemaker more than 20 years ago, had a long history of cardiac care and underwent triple bypass heart surgery in January 2008. A reporter with the presence of a performer, Mr. Wallace went head to head with chiefs of state, celebrities and con artists for more than 50 years, living for the moment when “you forget the lights, the cameras, everything else, and you’re really talking to each other,” he said in an interview with The New York Times videotaped in July 2006. Mr. Wallace created enough such moments to become a paragon of television journalism in the heyday of network news. As he grilled his subjects, he said, he walked “a fine line between sadism and intellectual curiosity.” His success often lay in the questions he hurled, not the answers he received. “Perjury,” he said, in his staccato style, to President Richard M. Nixon’s right-hand man, John D. Ehrlichman, while interviewing him during the Watergate affair. “Plans to audit tax returns for political retaliation. Theft of psychiatric records. Spying by undercover agents. Conspiracy to obstruct justice. All of this by the law-and-order administration of Richard Nixon.” Mr. Ehrlichman paused and said, “Is there a question in there somewhere?” No, Mr. Wallace later conceded. But it was riveting television. Both the style and the substance of his work drew criticism. CBS paid Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman $100,000 for an exclusive (if inconclusive) pair of interviews with Mr. Wallace in 1975. Critics called it checkbook journalism, and even Mr. Wallace conceded later that it had been “a bad idea.” For a 1976 report on Medicaid fraud, the show’s producers set up a phony health clinic in Chicago. Was the use of deceit to expose deceit justified? Hidden cameras and ambush interviews were all part of the game, Mr. Wallace said, though he abandoned those techniques in later years, when they became a cliché and no longer good television. Some subjects were unfazed by Mr. Wallace’s unblinking stare. When he sat down with the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader, in 1979, he said that President Anwar Sadat of Egypt “calls you, Imam — forgive me, his words, not mine — a lunatic.” The translator blanched, but the Ayatollah responded, calmly calling Sadat a heretic. “Forgive me” was a favorite Wallace phrase, the caress before the garrote. “As soon as you hear that,” he told The Times, “you realize the nasty question’s about to come.” Mr. Wallace invented his hard-boiled persona on a program called “Night Beat.” Television was black and white, and so was the discourse, when the show went on the air in 1956, weeknights at 11, on the New York affiliate of the short-lived DuMont television network. “We had lighting that was warts-and-all close-ups,” he remembered. The camera closed in tighter and tighter on the guests. The smoke from Mr. Wallace’s cigarette swirled between him and his quarry. Sweat beaded on his subject’s brows. “I was asking tough questions,” he said. “And I had found my bliss.” He had become Mike Wallace. “All of a sudden,” he said, “I was no longer anonymous.” He was “the fiery prosecutor, the righteous and wrathful D.A. determined to rid Gotham City of its undesirables,” in the words of Michael J. Arlen, The New Yorker’s television critic. “Night Beat” moved to ABC in 1957 as a half-hour, coast-to-coast, prime-time program, renamed “The Mike Wallace Interview.” ABC, then the perennial loser among the major networks, promoted him as “the Terrible Torquemada of the TV Inquisition.” The show came under attack after a guest, the syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, called Senator John F. Kennedy “the only man in history I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten.” The book was “Profiles in Courage.” The Kennedys’ lawyers forced ABC to retract, though in fact the senator’s speechwriter, Theodore C. Sorensen, was the book’s undisclosed co-author. Mr. Wallace’s career path meandered after ABC canceled “The Mike Wallace Interview” in 1958. He had done entertainment shows and quiz shows and cigarette commercials. He had acted onstage. But he resolved to become a real journalist after a harrowing journey to recover the body of his first-born son, Peter, who died at 19 in a mountain-climbing accident in Greece in 1962. “He was going to be a writer,” Mr. Wallace said in the interview with The Times. “And so I said, ‘I’m going to do something that would make Peter proud.’ “ He set his sights on CBS News and joined the network as a special correspondent. He was soon anchoring “The CBS Morning News With Mike Wallace” and reporting from Vietnam. Then he caught the eye of Richard Nixon. Running for president, Nixon offered Mr. Wallace a job as his press secretary shortly before the 1968 primaries began. “I thought very, very seriously about it,” Mr. Wallace told The Times. “I regarded him with great respect. He was savvy, smart, hard working.” But Mr. Wallace turned Nixon down, saying that putting a happy face on bad news was not his cup of tea. Only months later “60 Minutes” made its debut. The trademark ticking of the Tag Heuer stopwatch marked the moment. It was something new on the air: a “newsmagazine,” usually three substantial pieces of about 15 minutes each — a near-eternity on television. Mr. Wallace and Harry Reasoner were the first co-hosts, one fierce, one folksy. The show was the brainchild of Don Hewitt, a producer who was “in bad odor at CBS News at the time,” Mr. Wallace said in the interview. “He was unpredictable, difficult to work with, genius notions, a genuine adventurer, if you will, in television news at that time,“ Mr. Wallace said of Mr. Hewitt, who died in 2009. The show, which moved to Sunday nights at 7 in 1970, was slow to catch on. Creative conflict marked its climb to the top of the television heap in the 1970s. Mr. Wallace fought his fellow correspondents for the best stories and the most airtime. “There would be blood on the floor,” Mr. Wallace said in the interview. He said he developed the “not necessarily undeserved reputation” of being prickly — he used a stronger word — and “of stealing stories from my colleagues,” who came to include Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather and Diane Sawyer in the 1970s and early 1980s. “This was just competition,” he said. “Get the story. Get it first.” Mr. Wallace and his teams of producers — who researched, reported and wrote the stories — took on American Nazis and nuclear power plants along with his patented brand of exposés. The time was ripe for investigative television journalism. Watergate and its many seamy sideshows had made muckraking a respectable trade. By the late 1970s “60 Minutes” was the top-rated show on Sundays. For five consecutive years it was the No. 1 show on television, a run matched only by “All in the Family” and “The Cosby Show.” Mr. Wallace was rich and famous and a powerful figure in television news when his life took a stressful turn in 1982. That year he anchored a “CBS Reports” documentary called “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception.” It led to a $120 million libel suit filed by Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the commander of American troops in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. At issue was the show’s assertion that General Westmoreland had deliberately falsified the “order of battle,” the estimate of the strength of the enemy. The question turned on a decision that American military commanders made in 1967. The uniformed military said the enemy was no more than 300,000 strong, but intelligence analysts said the number could be half a million or more. If the analysts were correct, then there was no “light at the end of the tunnel,” the optimistic phrase General Westmoreland had used. Documents declassified after the cold war showed that the general’s top aide had cited reasons of politics and public relations for insisting on the lower figure. The military was “stonewalling, obviously under orders” from General Westmoreland, a senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst cabled his headquarters; the “predetermined total” was “fixed on public-relations grounds.” The C.I.A. officially accepted the military’s invented figure of 299,000 enemy forces or fewer. The documentary asserted that rather than a politically expedient lie, the struggle revealed a vast conspiracy to suppress the truth. The key theorist for that case, Sam Adams, a former C.I.A. analyst, was not only interviewed for the documentary but also received a consultant’s fee of $25,000. The show had arrived at something close to the truth, but it had used questionable means to that end. After more than two years of struggle General Westmoreland abandoned his suit midtrial, CBS lost some of its reputation, and Mr. Wallace had a nervous breakdown. He said at the time that he feared “the lawyers for the other side would employ the same techniques against me that I had employed on television.” Already on antidepressants, which gave him tremors, he had a waking nightmare while sitting through the trial. “I could see myself up there on the stand, six feet away from the jury, with my hands shaking, and dying to drink water,” he said in the interview with The Times. He imagined the jury thinking, “Well, that son of a bitch is obviously guilty as hell.“ He attempted suicide. “I was so low that I wanted to exit,” Mr. Wallace said. “And I took a bunch of pills, and they were sleeping pills. And at least they would put me to sleep, and maybe I wouldn’t wake up, and that was fine.” Later in life he discussed his depression and advocated psychiatric and psycho-pharmaceutical treatment. The despair and anger he felt over the documentary were outdone 13 years later when, as he put it in a memoir, “the corporate management of CBS emasculated a ‘60 Minutes’ documentary I had done just as we were preparing to put it on the air.” The cutting involved a damning interview with Jeffrey Wigand, a chemist who had been director of research at Brown & Williamson, the tobacco company. The chemist said on camera that the nation’s tobacco executives had been lying when they swore under oath before Congress that they believed nicotine was not addictive. Among many complicating factors, one of those executives was the son of Laurence A. Tisch, the chairman of CBS at the time. The interview was not broadcast. Mr. Wallace remained bitter at Mr. Tisch’s stewardship, which ended when he sold CBS in 1995, after dismissing many employees and dismantling some of its parts. “We thought that he would be happy to be the inheritor of all of the — forgive me — glory of CBS and CBS News,” Mr. Wallace said. “And the glory was not as attractive to him as money. He began to tear apart CBS News.” (Mr. Tisch died in 2003.) Mr. Wallace officially retired from “60 Minutes” in 2006, after a 38-year run, at the age of 88. A few months later he was back on the program with an exclusive interview with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “I hear this is your last interview,” the president said. Mr. Wallace replied: “What do you think? Is it a good idea to retire?” He won his 21st Emmy award for the interview. And he kept working. Only weeks before his 2008 bypass surgery, he interviewed the baseball star Roger Clemens as accusations swirled that Mr. Clemens had used performance-enhancing drugs. Myron Leon Wallace was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 9, 1918, one of four children of Friedan and Zina Wallik, who had come to the United States from a Russian shtetl before the turn of the 20th century. (Friedan became Frank and Wallik became Wallace in the American melting pot.) His father started as a wholesale grocer and became an insurance broker. Myron came out of Brookline High School with a B-minus average, worked his way through the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and graduated in 1939. (Decades later he was deeply involved in two of the university’s programs for journalists: the Livingston Awards, given to talented reporters under 35, and the Knight-Wallace fellowships, a sabbatical for midcareer reporters; its seminars are held at Wallace House.) After he graduated from college, he went almost immediately into radio, starting at $20 a week at a station with the call letters WOOD-WASH in Grand Rapids, Mich. (It was jointly owned by a furniture trade association, a lumber company and a laundry.) He went on to Detroit and Chicago stations as narrator and actor on shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet,” along the way acquiring “Mike” as his broadcast name. In December 1943 he enlisted in the Navy, did a tour of duty in the Pacific and wound up as a lieutenant junior grade in charge of radio entertainment at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Mr. Wallace married his first wife, Norma Kaphan, in 1940; they were divorced in 1948. Besides Peter, who died in the mountain-climbing accident, they had a second son, Chris Wallace, the television journalist now at Fox News. Mr. Wallace and his second wife, Buff Cobb, an actress, were married in 1949 and took to the air together, in a talk show called “Mike and Buff,” which appeared first on radio and then television. “We overdid the controversy pattern of the program,” she said after their divorce in 1954. “You get into a habit of bickering a little, and you carry it over into your personal lives.” Ms. Cobb died in 2010. His marriage to his third wife, Lorraine Perigord, which lasted 28 years, ended with her departure for Fiji. His fourth wife, Mary Yates, was the widow of one of his best friends — his “Night Beat” producer, Ted Yates, who was killed in 1967 while on assignment for NBC News during the Six-Day War in Israel. Besides his wife and his son, Chris, Mr. Wallace is survived by a stepdaughter, Pauline Dora; two stepsons, Eames and Angus Yates; seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Mr. Wallace and Ms. Yates were married in 1986 and lived for a time in a Park Avenue duplex in Manhattan and in a bay-front house on Martha’s Vineyard, where their social circle included the novelist William Styron and the humorist Art Buchwald. All three men “suffered depression simultaneously,” Mr. Wallace said in an interview in 2006, “so we walked around in the rain together on Martha’s Vineyard and consoled each other,” adding, “We named ourselves the Blues Brothers.” Mr. Styron died in 2006 and Mr. Buchwald in 2007. Mr. Wallace said that Ms. Yates had saved his life when he came close to suicide before their marriage, and that their marriage had saved him afterward. He also said that he had known since he was a child that he wanted to be on the air. He felt it was his calling. He said he wanted people to ask: “ ‘Who’s this guy, Myron Wallace?’ “