For Chris Wallace of NBC's Prime Time, His 60 Minutes Rivals Are Dan, Morley, Harry—and Dad
07/30/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT
Ten weeks ago Chris Wallace, an NBC News comer, was promoted to correspondent of the premiering Prime Time Sunday, the poor network's 60 Minutes. Ever since, he has found himself away from home at least half the time. "You pay a price with your wife and especially with your children," frets the 31-year-old father of two. No one empathizes with that problem more readily than Wallace's own dad, who remarks: "Now Chris finally understands where I've been all these years." Dad, needless to tell any viewer who has caught the similarity of voice inflection and body language, is Chris' 60 Minutes rival, Mike Wallace, 61.
"When the job was offered to me, I was concerned that I was hired as the 'house Wallace,' " notes Chris. "But, frankly, I now think it was more because of my age and [the cast] chemistry." He is 14 and 12 years younger than his Prime Time partners: the co-correspondent, shaggy Californian Jack Perkins, and the star, Tomorrow showboat Tom Snyder. But Chris is assigned the "serious stuff" and investigative pieces—of Hare Krishna panhandlers or auto repossession outfits—a TV art form practically invented by his dad.
Competition "improves the breed," smiles Mike. With his own series perennially in the top 10, he can afford to be gracious, appraising Chris as the "better writer" and "a great reporter—he has the same energy and about equal motivation." Does "about equal" mean that the second generation is less hungry? "Sure, I'm going to be compared to my father, and it isn't something I particularly like," confesses Chris. "But I don't feel in competition with him. I love my father. If anything, this has given us more to talk about. It's like the stonecutter in the Middle Ages sharing secrets with his son."
Actually, Chris is doubly blessed with mentors. His parents divorced soon after his birth. Then, when he was 8, his mother, Norma Kaphan, who had custody, married Bill Leonard, then a local correspondent in New York and now president of CBS News. Leonard had six sons of his own and, predictably, the family breathed broadcasting. Mike has remarried twice since but kept close to the Leonards over the years, recalling that "as a child Chris would always be saying, 'This is Chris Wallace reporting.' "
At Harvard Chris was blooded on the campus radio station, getting arrested covering an SDS takeover of the administration building. A week out of Yale Law School, he spurned the bar for the Boston Globe—"I was hired because I came from Harvard, not because I was Wallace's son." Covering city hall, he met Elizabeth Farrell, then working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority "and making more money than I was." When Chris took a job at the CBS-owned channel in Chicago, they married. Two years later the NBC station in New York made a bid to raid Wallace away. "I told my father and stepfather not to say anything, but of course the word leaked, and CBS offered me a network job in Washington," says Chris. He declined, fearing that "it would raise questions and that I would be operating under a cloud."
The only fog on the horizon now is the limited time he can spend in his comfortable two-story Washington, D.C. home with Elizabeth, who quit work to care for their two children. "It is one part of the job I'm not reconciled to," he says. "But you can't be a network correspondent and not travel." They have a daughter, Megan, 1, and a son, Peter, 4, named after his late brother. But even if Chris is away a lot, the Wallace dynasty doesn't seem jeopardized. "Recently," laughs Dad, "Peter pulled out a retractable tape measure and said, 'Here, speak into my microphone.' "