He was born on May 9, 1918, in Brookline, Massachusetts, as Myron Leon Wallace. He had terrible acne as a young boy that produced a rough skin and rougher personality that blew to the surface when he rose to fame in show business as Mike Wallace.

In “Mike Wallace is Here,” producer-director Avi Belkin puts together a brilliant, moving, rapid-fire, split-screen account of the man behind the cigarette and camera, Mike Wallace. (Note: Almost everyone in this film, interviewed or featured, smokes.)

America, indeed, the world, came to know Mike Wallace as the tough, take-no-prisoners, anything-goes-guy to reach the truth on “60 Minutes.” But did you know he also was the spokesman for Parliament cigarettes and Golden Fluffo shortening, Revlon lipstick, Ajax cleanser?

From there he got his first on-air job as an announcer for ABC, and Mutual Radio’s “Sky King.”

Mike Wallace did all of those things and more, even playing a detective on a crime mystery show, before a man named Dick Salant, then president of CBS News, hired him.

In 1968, Mike Wallace stepped into the American living room with 11 original reports on that show, where he eventually, after hundreds of interviews, had one of his best with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, a man he startled with one question.

Mike lowered his papers and leaned in.

“You understand me, don’t you? You speak very good English and you understand every word I’m saying.”

Leaning in even closer, “You don’t even need an interpreter, do you?” Gotcha, Vladimir.

Producer Belkin went through all of CBS and other archival sources and dozens of other interviews, and assembled them for this powerful and dramatic documentary that lifts the lid on more lives than Wallace’s.

The film opens with a verbal gunfight between Wallace and Bill O’Reilly, with O’Reilly leaning into the camera and calling Wallace, and others like him, dinosaurs.

Wallace fires back, “And you’re an op-ed columnist masquerading as a journalist.”

Belkin’s fast moving electric cutting style provides one insightful interview after another, all broken up with Wallace’s famous impatience.

“You guys ready?” He growls at the crew.

“Are we rolling yet?”

The interviews are, after all, what we are all here to watch, and Belkin gives us a star-littered screen of ground-breaking moments.

We watch a talk with Egyptian premier Anwar Sadat, followed by a hissing interview with Ayatollah Khomeini who threatened Sadat, calling him a traitor to Islam. Shortly after, we witness the assassination of Sadat in front of a parade and see his lifeless body spread out on the steps.

The interviews of the famous are many but brief, leaving us with more questions of our own.

Wallace goes deep into the lives of Johnny Carson, Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis and into the world of politics, questioning the now-dead and the soon-to-be-dead: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, who, Wallace asks, “Do you fear for your life?”

Malcom answers with a smile and chuckle, “I’m a dead man already.”

We get a few chilling lines from a puffy faced, orange haired 39-year-old Donald Trump, who says “There’s so much more to do in my life, so much.”

“Politics?” Wallace asks.

“No, oh no, not politics.” His first lie?

Wallace, who died in 2012 at the age of 93, ending a seven-decade career, leaves behind him as many of his colleagues, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather have, an electronic echo that will continue to reverberate down through the ages, forever penetrating the never fading cloud of mendacity that hangs over our hallowed halls.

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


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