In its second season, the show began airing weekly as "The Mike Wallace Interviews" on ABC.

Wallace faced his first libel suit in 1957 on the ABC program when his guest, mobster Mickey Cohen, "filled the air with an outburst of vicious slander" against then Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker, Wallace wrote in his memoir. Parker settled his $2-million suit for $45,000.

After that, Lloyd's of London agreed to insure the show only if a lawyer sat across from Wallace during interviews holding cue cards printed "be careful," "stop" or "retreat."

Because of friction with ABC executives, Wallace left the network in 1958 and returned to local television in New York and a weekday interview show.

He covered the 1960 presidential race for Westinghouse and did an around-the-world interview series that introduced him to Vietnam.

In 1961, Wallace had a talk show called "PM East" for Westinghouse; actor Burt Lancaster walked off the program. But Wallace was still regularly doing commercials, for Parliament cigarettes and others.

The death of his 19-year-old son, Peter, in a hiking accident in Greece in 1962, made Wallace vow to devote himself solely to serious journalism.

He thought, "Hey, do something that would make Peter proud of you," Wallace told The Times in 2006.

Peter had hoped to pursue a news career. Wallace's younger son, Chris, also went into broadcast journalism and is the host of Fox News Sunday.

In 1963, Wallace returned as a correspondent to CBS. He reported from Vietnam and covered the 1968 presidential campaign of Richard Nixon, who asked him to be his White House press secretary.

He turned down Nixon after CBS President Frank Stanton warned that it would ruin him for any future news career.

Instead, Wallace helped found "60 Minutes," the show that would be his enduring showcase.

The "60 Minutes" clock first ticked on nationwide television Sept. 24, 1968, hosted by Harry Reasoner and Wallace.

The hosts were "the perfect fit — the guy you love and the guy you love to hate," Hewitt said in the 2006 Times article.

By its third season, the show had moved to Sunday evenings, where it — and Wallace — stayed. By 1978, "60 Minutes" ranked among the top 10 programs in the country, a position it held for 23 seasons.

"When we found our audience, it was the middle of the civil rights revolution, then Vietnam and Watergate, and we simply got behind the scenes to a lot of those stories, whereas the rest of television did not," Wallace said in 2003 on "Larry King Live."

Other "60 Minutes" correspondents made names for themselves — including Dan Rather, Morley Safer and Ed Bradley — but Wallace remained "the heart and soul" of the broadcast, Bradley said in the "60 Minutes" tribute. Bradley died months later.

Wallace's 1975 interview with former Secret Service agent Clint Hill had no equal in terms of "power and poignancy," Bradley said in the broadcast. Hill had climbed onto John F. Kennedy's car in Dallas seconds after the president was shot in 1963.

After Hill said, "It was my fault," Wallace responded by saying "Ohhh. No one has ever suggested that for an instant." When Wallace pointed out Hill's bravery, he replied, "Mike, I don't care about that. If I had reacted just a little bit quicker. And I could have, I guess. And I'll live with that to my grave."

The Hill interview was a favorite, Wallace told Newsday in 2002, as were his conversations with Malcolm X, who said months before his death that he feared that his enemies were plotting his assassination; Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he talked to seven times; and actress Shirley MacLaine, with whom he sparred about reincarnation.

He insisted his interview subjects knew what they were getting into, often describing a "chemistry of confidentiality" that took hold during the process.

On the CBS salute, correspondent Steve Kroft turned the tables on Wallace, pointedly saying that some people considered him a "grandstander" who could be "egotistical, cruel."

Wallace paused to lick his lips, stammered a little, and said, "Well, I gotta plead guilty, I suppose."

Oliver is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com