Chris Wallace, the longtime anchor of Fox News Sunday, is the son of iconic 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace. The elder Wallace passed away in 2012 at age 93. Mike Wallace was instrumental in launching the news magazine show in 1968 and remained with the program for nearly 40 years before formally retiring in 2006.
As CBS Sunday Morning noted in a 2019 feature, Mike Wallace earned a reputation for his tough interview style and that his name could “strike fear in the hearts of brave men and women.” Like his father, Chris Wallace is also unafraid to ask challenging questions and has been known to correct guests with facts.
After Chris interviewed President Donald Trump about the coronavirus in June 2020, the Washington Post compared Chris’ style to that of his late father: “Wallace wasn’t merely prepared with the facts — he knew how to deploy them, with the experience and instincts to guide him on when to challenge Trump and when to lay back. He didn’t seek an explosive confrontation with Trump, in the style of his late father, the famously combative 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Mike Wallace Acknowledged He Was More Interested in Pursuing a Television Career Than Being a Father When Chris Was Young
Mike Wallace was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, according to his obituary in the New York Times. He was born in 1918 as “Myron Leon Wallace” and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he was an average student. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1939, he began pursuing a career as a performer. He worked for radio stations in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Chicago before World War II and adopted “Mike” as his professional name.
As the Times reported, Wallace married Norma Kaphan in 1940. Their older son, Peter, was born in 1942. Wallace joined the Navy the following year and was deployed to the Pacific. His second son, Chris, was born in 1947. Wallace and Kaphan divorced in 1948.
Wallace continued to pursue his broadcasting career in earnest. As NPR reported, Wallace appeared in commercials for products such as Revlon makeup, Parliament cigarettes and Ajax cleaning powder. He landed a few television acting roles during the late 1940s and 1950s, according to his IMDB profile. He also hosted interview shows, including more than 200 episodes of The Mike Wallace Interview between 1957 and 1960.
Wallace acknowledged in his later years how he had allowed his professional pursuits to overshadow his responsibilities to his family. The 2019 Sunday Morning feature on his life included a past interview with Wallace in which he admitted, “I was more interested in my work than in my family.”
Chris Wallace commented in an extended interview for the piece, “I certainly had the sense growing up that, not just me, that the family came second. If there was a call from CBS News on line one and a call from us on line two, he’d have taken the call from CBS first. That’s what mattered to him most. Did it hurt a little bit? Yeah. But that was him.”
The Death of Chris Wallace’s Brother, Peter, Changed Mike’s Outlook on Both Family & His Career
Chris Wallace’s older brother, Peter Jon Wallace, passed away in August 1962, just before his 20th birthday. He fell during a hiking trip in Greece, according to Yale64, a website dedicated to the Yale University class of 1964. Peter was buried in Kamari Village in Peloponnesus, Greece. The Associated Press published a photo of the family standing over Peter’s grave; Mike and Chris stood next to each other.
Peter’s death had a profound impact on Mike Wallace. He made the decision to get out of the advertising game and become a serious broadcast journalist. He told USA Today, “I felt I owed it to Peter” because his son had been interested in pursuing journalism himself.
Chris Wallace also recalls that his relationship with his biological father took a positive turn at that point as well. Chris, who was 14 when Peter died, told CBS Mike Wallace became a more active father after Peter’s tragic death.
Chris Wallace Calls His Father His ‘Best Friend’ But Labels His Stepfather as the ‘Most Important Person’ in His Life
Chris and Mike Wallace formed a closer relationship over the years. When the elder Wallace died in April 2012, Chris talked about their bond in a statement published by the Los Angeles Times:
My dad was everything you saw on television: fascinating and funny, challenging and exasperating. He was the best reporter I have ever known. And while work often came first for him, over the last 20 years, he worked hard to make connections with his family. He became my best friend. And at the end, he was surrounded by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. I already miss him terribly.
The two did have to overcome some professional competition. During a memorial service for his father, which can be viewed in full here, Chris discussed his own “Mike Wallace moment,” which occurred in the fall of 1997, when Chris was working for ABC News.
Chris explained he was getting ready to do an in-depth interview with comedian Chris Rock. Less than an hour before the scheduled shoot, he learned that Rock was backing out of the interview in favor of 60 Minutes. Mike Wallace had approached Rock about doing a profile. Chris said he got on the phone with his father and told him, “You’re gonna have to decide who’s more important to you: Chris Wallace or Chris Rock.’ Long pause. I finally said, ‘Mike, are you still there?’ He said, I’m thinking, I’m thinking!'” Chris said 60 Minutes kept the interview but Mike allowed Ed Bradley to do the interview instead.
Chris described his father as exasperating but also endearing and that he had a good heart at his core.
But the most important person in Chris’ life was not his father. Just a few weeks before Mike Wallace died, Chris was honored at the National Press Foundation. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Chris mentioned his father as a mentor.
But he described his stepfather, former CBS News president Bill Leonard, as “the single most important person in my life.” Chris further explained to Parade in 2014 that it was Leonard who encouraged his interest in journalism and secured him an internship as an assistant to Walter Cronkite during the Democratic and Republican conventions in 1964.