…before he was Mike-by-god-Wallace
A lot of journalists like to think there’s a little streak of Mike Wallace in them—the perceptive, persistent reporter unafraid to ask the hard questions, sometimes willing to confront an unwilling news source in a public place because that person won’t return calls and won’t be interviewed in the comfort of their own office. He died the other day.
I met him a couple of times. Nice guy.
(Why is it that people are surprised when they ask a friend who has met somebody famous what kind of a person they are and the answer is, “They’re nice folks. Just like you and me?” Most of us are nice folks. even famous ones).
Mike signed a couple of his books for me. He tried to get Andy Rooney to sign something for me but Rooney refused. Mike also signed a couple of peanut butter jar labels. Peanut butter jar labels? Yes, indeed. Mike Wallace and I shared a profession. But long before that, we were bound together by peanut butter.
You see, before Mike Wallace became famous for asking tough questions to people who didn’t want to be questioned, he asked fluff questions to Peter Pan.
I first heard Mike Wallace when I was a kid listening to “Sky King” on the radio in the afternoons after getting home from school. Before Sky King was a staple of early television shows with Kirby Grant, it was on the Mutual Radio Network and then on ABC Radio, part of the afternoon juvenile radio programs such as Straight Arrow, the Green Hornet, Bobby Benson and the B-bar-B Riders. The Lone Ranger came on at our house during the dinner hour.
I used to have a recording of the Sky King program that featured Mike interviewing Peter Pan but I sold it and a second autographed peanut butter jar label at a fund-raising auction for the Radio-Television News Director’s Foundation several years ago and I haven’t found a replacement for the recording. But I did find a recording on the internet of Mike Wallace doing a straight Peter Pan peanut butter commercial back in the day.
Long before Mike Wallace exerted any influence over me as a young journalist, he convinced me that Peter Pan was my lifetime peanut butter of choice. There aren’t a lot f products still around that sponsored many of the radio shows that we used to listen to. I haven’t seen Dreft detergent or Tushay lotion, or Dr. Lyons Tooth Powder, or Fitch Shampoo, or heard a commercial for Ionized Yeast for decades. But Peter Pan remains. And it’s good. Mike Wallace said so. And I believed in Mike Wallace.
Later, Mike got into television, also pitching Peter Pan peanut butter on a Chicago television show called “Super Circus”. Mike did an long interview with the Archive of American Television and talked in part of it about his brief career as a spokesman for Peter Pan on Super Circus—and a pretty funny example of the perils of live television in the early days.
My wife goes out and buys “natural” peanut butter these days. She says it’s more healthful than Peter Pan.
A couple of generations of Americans don’t know who Sky King was and think radio is a place where men and women talk incessantly and call other people names. Mike Wallace, a nice guy and a helluva reporter, is dead. And I can’t have Peter Pan peanut butter for lunch at home.
Life goes on and I’ll have to make the best of it somehow anyway.