COMMENTARY | I didn’t get 60 minutes, I got 10, but I didn’t have to share my time with millions of people. It was one on one, Mike Wallace and me. I was surprised to meet him, but I don’t know why, considering the previous 48 hours.
I arrived in New York, and a few hours later watched Hugh Grant walk down the street while filming his latest movie. The next afternoon, on the way to the 72nd Street subway, I noticed a cute guy in a baseball hat. We made eye contact and I couldn’t help but smile — Jerry Seinfeld grinned back at me.
Thirty minutes later, I got off the train at West Fourth Street and walked toward the East Village. On the way, I saw a photo shoot with a definite diva all decked out commanding attention. Not sure who she was, I asked the couple standing next to me crossing the street. The man responded, “It’s Kimora Lee Simons, the fashion designer and model.”
The three of us tried to get a closer look, but security motioned to the crowd to move on. I walked away laughing; what super big movie set did I walk on to? Later that night, at Isabella’s on the Upper West Side, I was having a drink with my good friend Tanya, telling her about the day’s encounters.
She said, “I don’t see as many celebrities in a year as you see in a day. Every time I’m with you, we always see famous people. What is it about you?”
I shrugged, and sipped my coffee. Tanya then nudged me, “Oh my God, isn’t that Fran Drescher who just walked by?”
The following day, I had a meeting with my friend Kevin, who is the director of communications for “60 Minutes.” “You know Mike Wallace is retiring, don’t you?” he said.
“He’ll still be doing stories for us, but not all the time. Have you met any of the crew from ’60 Minutes’?”
I laughed, “The closest I’ve been to any of the 60 Minutes people was while working for CNN at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. My friend Merry and I were walking around, and Andy Rooney asked us for directions.”
Kevin smiled and showed me the press release he was working on about Wallace’s retirement and his accomplishments. It got me thinking of my own quest for a brand-new career. Mike Wallace was closing a chapter, and I was looking to open a new one.
“Kevin, I want your advice. I just started writing for a local Arizona paper — fun stories about skydiving in New Zealand, traveling alone, and surfing…. I think people want to see the good in the world, the happy, not just the negative news. What’s a good way to get my writing career going?”
“What exactly do you want to do?”
“I’d like to have a regular column, focusing on fun people, interesting topics and trying new things. I want to be ‘Fun Girl.'”
Kevin immediately threw out some creative ideas, and then said, “Do you want to meet Mike Wallace and Bob Simon? I can’t guarantee they’ll have so much time, but maybe you can talk to them and see what they think? I’ve got to run over to their offices in just a moment.”
Wow, who could turn down such an offer? Kevin excused himself for a moment, and I admit it, I pulled out my hairbrush, fixed my hair and powdered my face. He walked back, and motioned for me to come along.
Just then, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York walked by, flanked on both sides by his staff. I couldn’t help but think back to when I worked in TV, famous people, world leaders walking by, and it was just another day at the office.
I followed Kevin outside to another building. Big drops of rain splattered on my white umbrella as we crossed the street. After an elevator ride up, we walked into a gray hallway, and then we arrived at Mike Wallace’s door. He was sitting at his desk in a very cheerful office with the Manhattan skyline behind him. One wall was filled with photos, books and memorabilia, while on the other was a large couch and a variety of artifacts hanging on the wall above it. Kevin walked into his office. “Mike, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Masada. She used to work for CBS and now lives in Arizona.”
Mike majestically rose from his chair and shook my hand. He looked great, actually better and younger in person than he does on TV. One can only hope to look as good at 88. “What did you do when you lived here in New York?” he asked.
“I worked for CNN, Fox News Channel, CBS and went to Columbia for graduate school.”
Mike looked perplexed. “You did all that? You look like you’re 19.”
At that point I thought of bowing down, but refrained, smiled and said thanks.
“So what is it that you want to do?”
“Write. I’d like to be ‘Fun Girl’ and write happy stories. I covered September 11 for CNN and did a lot of terrorism stories for CBS, so now I just want to focus on positive, fun stories.”
“Fun girl,” he spoke the words slowly out loud, as if he could taste them. “I like it.”
Kevin interjected, “Yeah, she’s written about lots of the daring things she’s done, just like you — when you did a series of adventurous stories.”
Just then Bob Simon wandered in wearing a tan raincoat. “Kevin, I heard you were looking for me?”
“Yes, I wanted to introduce you to Masada, you probably know what her name means.”
“Of course, I lived in Israel for 14 years.”
Kevin smiled, “Yes, she had to explain to me she was named after the mountain in Israel when I first met her.” Bob hung out for a minute or two and then dashed off to his next adventure.
It was strange standing there with the three of them, almost as if I had somehow walked into my television set. Mike and I chatted for a few more minutes. I asked him, “When are you planning on joining me in retirement and becoming my neighbor in Arizona?”
He laughed and said, “I’ve already lived in Arizona.”
Kevin said, “Yeah, of all things, Mike lived in Arizona when he was in the Navy.”
“The Navy – in a landlocked state?” I asked in amazement.
Mike then told me of spending time in Arizona training to be a communications officer aboard a submarine tender. Hilarious. I had to come all the way to New York, was by chance in Mike Wallace’s office and was learning about the navy in Arizona. Before we were about to leave, I mustered up the courage to ask, “I hope you don’t mind, but I have my camera with me. Could we take a photo?”
Mike was so incredibly gracious; he walked over to where I was standing, put his arm around me and posed. As the flash popped, I thought, I really hope I didn’t blink, and just then Mike said, “Kevin, take another one, just to be sure.” It was if he had just read my mind.
A few moments later the unexpected tour was over. Rain once again splattered on my umbrella. I looked up at the sky to see if I could find the rainmakers as I felt like I was wandering around on a Hollywood set. Walking up 57th Street to my next meeting, I couldn’t help but wonder what else my day would bring, and really, could anything top 10 minutes with Mike Wallace?
Masada Siegel is the author of Window Dressing, which can be found on amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter at MasadaSiegel.