Mike Wallace died this past weekend at 93 and I only started this sentence with his name because I wasn’t sure if it was more accurate to put iconic or legendary in front of it. The 60 Minutes correspondent worked into his late 80s, but he eventually finally did leave the show and now the program has lost yet one more link to its unparalleled past, as Wallace joins names like Bradley, Reasoner, Hewitt and Rooney.
60 Minutes itself obviously remains – and endures. It still produces occasional groundbreaking pieces. It can still produce unique interviews with athletes and musicians, with actors and artists.
And the ticking will live forever. The ticking. Tick… tick… tick…it’s such a famous sound, and the image of the ticking watch such a famous image, that it was the name of a book about the show from a few years ago.
I still watch the show a few times a month, as I gracefully enter my 80s. But even today when I hear that opening, it brings me back to my younger days and to late Sunday afternoons and to Madden and Summerall on CBS football games. I hear that sound and it’s 5:45 p.m. Central Ttime and the Cowboys are driving against the Redskins and Summerall is telling us 60 Minutes will immediately follow the game, except on the West Coast. Hearing that sound today conjures up images from 25 years ago. Years from now I probably won’t remember many 60 Minutes episodes, but when I hear that opening – and who’s betting against the show actually still being on regular TV then, and not just on YouTube? – I’ll again be in our basement, cursing a Danny White interception and dreading the beginning of 60 Minutes. Not because my dad was a shady doctor whose medicare antics were about to be exposed by Mike Wallace, but because 60 Minutes meant football was winding down and Sunday was coming to an end and Monday was near and so was school. The weekend was about over. The countdown – tick…tick…tick – was on.
Science tells us how closely smell and memory are linked. But for me, the sounds of the television still bring me back to old times and old memories. 60 Minutes is but one of them.
Mornings in the Fury household meant mornings listening to WCCO on the radio. Boone & Erickson greeted me at 6:30 as I sat down at the table to eat my breakfast and share the paper with my dad. I hate mornings now and hated them even more then. But WCCO wasn’t to blame, as it provided the background noise as I scoured the sports section for all the scores, especially Lakers games. Inevitably, as Boone and Erickson greeted Eric Eskola or Sid Hartman, I’d find the NBA scoreboard in the Mankato paper or the Star Tribune and see the tiny, infuriating, heartbreaking (n) or (late) by the Lakers’ score and in the days before we got cable I knew I’d have to wait another 24 hours before I’d know how Magic, Kareem, Jamaal and the boys did against the Nuggets or Blazers or some other Western patsy. The only time WCCO really thrilled me was on those snowy mornings when Mother Nature teased Minnesota schoolchildren with the potential for a school closing. The Janesville superintendent had a reputation as being the administrator who was voted Least Likely to Call Off School at the annual Superintendent Awards Banquet held each year in northern Minnesota. Got a trophy and everything. Unless 10 feet of snow joined with 60 mile an hour winds, we’d be at school, or so the legend went. But still I listened to WCCO, praying for at least a two-hour late start, if not a cancellation, hoping to catch Janesville after Jackson and feeling bitter when I’d hear an “anesville” sound but realize it was actually Paynesville.
Not sure why I dreaded Sunday nights so much during school year. I loved school, other than math and industrial arts. And I was no good at regular art. And the sciences proved problematic. And music class, even in elementary school, was troublesome. But I liked school. So what was it? It must have been the early mornings, those WCCO mornings. Regardless, Sundays weren’t just about 60 Minutes. There was another, rarer, Sunday tradition that I simultaneously enjoyed and disliked: James Bond movie night on ABC. Every once in awhile ABC broke out a Bond flick for the first night of the week and the last night of the weekend. I loved the Bond movies but hated the timing. They also always ran well past the 10 p.m. hour. My parents let me stay up late – I needed to know, would Bond survive Goldfinger’s dreaded plan – but going to bed at 11:30 meant 6:30 – and Boone and Erickson – was even closer.
When we finally got cable, we also got HBO. Movies! HBO’s theme from those days remains one of my favorite from any time period. I hear this and I can see myself waiting to watch Johnny Dangerously or Real Genius or the Karate Kid or the HBO original series The Hitchhiker. This theme makes you think you’re about to witness a real event and usually you were. Of course, it might have also signaled you were about to watch O.J. Simpson in 1st & Ten.
I was a Dallas Cowboys nut as a kid. Cowboys pajamas, Cowboys underwear, membership in a Cowboys fan club when I was 8, weeping over the Cowboys failing to make the playoffs in 1984, bawling over The Catch when I was 6 and my uncles taunted me, Cowboys hats, Cowboys shirts, everything. And as part of all that, I always tried to catch the opening of Dallas, just for the theme and just for the few seconds when the plane soared over Texas Stadium and we caught a glimpse of the famous turf, sharing the same view God had while looking down on his team (don’t blame me, blame the marketers). Once I saw that shot I’d turn away from the show because Friday night soaps did not really interest me. Instead I’d go out into the yard and pretend to be Tony Dorsett. I knew it was only two days until the Cowboys played again. And then only, oh no, two nights until 60 Minutes and the final night of the weekend. Vicious cycle.
M*A*S*H was one of mom’s favorites. More specifically, M*A*S*H reruns were mom’s favorites. They always seemed to come on at 10:30 at night, though at times it seemed they actually played on a 24-hour network devoted to the show. Saturday afternoon? There’s Hawkeye. Monday at 6:30? There’s Winchester. Sunday at 10 a.m.? What’s Klinger up to now? But it’s the late-night ones I can still remember, always kicked off with one of the most haunting theme songs in television. I was never the biggest M*A*S*H fan, but even today when I hear the famous opening song I can picture my mom on the couch, smoking a cigarette, reading or doing a crossword and looking up occasionally to catch a scene she’s probably already seen a dozen times and quite possibly saw earlier that weekend on another station.
These are all shows and sounds from my youth. But the images they conjure up now are as clear as they were 30 years ago, and that will still be the case 30 years from now. The only mystery? Will Morley Safer still be doing 60 Minutes then?