IT WAS IN the last muddy chapter of the war in Indochina, when the military was collapsing inside and out, when the kingpins of the American war effort had begun to weigh the prospects for recycling their reputations, that retired Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert launched his invasion of the Fourth Estate. A brilliant field tactician in Korea and Vietnam, Herbert had netted a sliver and three bronze stars within the incredible space of fifty-eight days, and his success was no less dazzling when he turned from the faceless yellow enemy in Asia to engage the giants of the American press. The New York Times sank to its knees in swooning surrender.The four television networks followed, each in its turn telling how this outstanding specimen of our youngmanhood had been sacked for trying to report atrocities to army superiors. Anti-war talk has always sounded best, for some reason, from the lips of those who have waged a little war themselves. From Colonel Herbert, it sounded very seductive indeed.

The legend of Anthony Herbert was fast freezing into the history books when he sat down for an interview with CBS's Mike Wallace in January 1973. Their conversation began mundanely enough. Herbert was led again through a description of the war crimes he had struggled to have the army investigate, including the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" committed by South Vietnamese police under American supervision at Cu Loi in 1969. Then the questions started arriving more rapidly, and with allegations attached and the smell of more allegations where those came from. The Colonel Franklin to whom Herbert claimed to have reported his massacre remembered spending St. Valentine's Day 1969 on R-and-R in Honolulu. There were witnesses. There was a hotel register. There was a canceled check . . .

Wallace: A check, signed by Ross Franklin, 14 February, in Hawaii, for the full amount of that hotel bill that you have there, which means that he had to be in Hawaii to pay his bill himself on the 14th of February; therefore, he could not have been where you said he was on the 14th of February.

Herbert: Mm-hum. I can probably find you checks - I don't know. I can probably find you - I don't know about this check. I can probably find - . . .

Wallace: You have no documents to show, not a piece of paper to show that you ever reported a war crime to anybody prior to the time that the Mylai trials were going on at Fort McPherson in Georgia. you were in Fort McPherson, Georgia, at the very same time that those Mylai trials were going on and then suddenly you went public.

Herbert: Let's say that we - I'm not going to say we don't have documents to show I reported war crimes in Vietnam. That's not for me to say here . . .

Herbert did not break down and confess, Perry Mason-style, for the "60 Minutes" cameras, but he did volunteer the peculiar observation that it might not be so important whether he had reported those atrocities or not. "Let's say I didn't, just for the sake of the discussion. It would make absolutely no difference if I waited five years to do it . . . The question is: Did the war crimes occur or didn't they?"

"Oh," said Wallace, his eyes dilating with surprise.

And if this were not enough, "60 Minutes" went on to present interviews with several combat buddies of Herbert's who portrayed him as a chronic liar, and with two who told of alleged incidents in which Herbert himself had subjected Viet Cong prisoners to rather extreme methods of interrogation, such as being suspended from the running board of an airborne helicopter.

Herbert had walked into his interview a heroic figure. He walked out a wreck. No one, not even Richard Nixon in 1960, has sustained a more grievous blow on nationwide television. Indeed, the $44 million for which he has sued Wallace and an array of co-defendants seems, if anything, modest in proportion to the severity of the injury - facts aside, of course. Wallace's final "Oh" alone might have inflicted several millions in damage.

It is tough to imagine anyone else firing those questions at Colonel Herbert.

With most television interviews, the subject has got something to say which the rest of us may or may not wish to hear, and it will probably be said come hell or high water. In those circumstances, it scarcely matters who's doing the asking. But when the interviewee is an uncertain or unwilling party, when there is for whatever reason the fear or the hope of learning something unexpected, then only Mike Wallace will do.

He has been interviewing folks for upwards of thirty years - H.R. Haldeman, Aldous Huxley, Eldridge Cleaver, Dita Beard, Mickey Cohen, Elsa Maxwell, Ronald Reagan and the Shah of Iran, to name a few. A number of professional television watchers have tabbed Wallace the best interviewer in the medium, but lately he has achieved a more note-worthy pre-eminence. Playing with a third of "60 Minutes," CBS's "news magazine of the air," Wallace has become virtually the only on-screen figure in TV news whose presence consistently promises that a story will be enlightening, entertaining, and maybe even important.

Tha Mike Wallace should be a star in his late middle age is no particular surprise; he has been one almost since the dawn of television, and no radio before that. Certainly, he had established himself by the spring day in 1940 when he was calling up housewives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, trying to give away $20 of a local radio station's money.

There was a woman sobbing violently on the other end of the line. Wallace hadn't said a thing. Neither had she. So he asked what was the matter.

"My husband just this instant passed away," the woman replied.

"Oh, Jesus Christ! That's terrible!" said Wallace.

This was strong language for the air waves of the day, and as soon as he could collect himself Wallace explained the provocation to his audience. The next time that giveaway show went on the air, it happened to be Wallace's day off, and the station was flooded with irate letters from listeners who assumed he had been fired for his indiscretion.

The path of his career has been a gentle ascending curve from then to now, but the nature of his current success is radically different from where he seemed to be headed twenty-five years ago, after he had come to work for CBS in New York. He was fast on his way then to becoming that anomalous creature of the video age, the Celebrity with a capital "C," for whom fame itself is an occupation (a breed exemplified by Zsa Zsa Gabor and Alan King). Besides an occasional news or interview program, he did commercials, quiz shows, spots, guest appearances and even plays. "Mike Wallace," wrote Walter Kerr on the morning of September 9, 1954, "makes the transition from radio to Braodway with ingratiating case." He had opened the night before in Harry [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Reclining Figure. By [WORD ILLEGIBLE] appearances, he was going [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a matinee idol on top of anything else.

His career as a Broadway actor had sprung from his second marriage, to Buff Cobb, actress, socialite and granddaughter of the writer and raconteur Irvin S. Cobb. Miss Cobb gave up the stage to become Mrs. Wallace, but the couple was soon so-hosting a program of chit-chat, the "Mike and Buff Show," first on radio in Chicago and later on television in New York. (Such husband-and-wife shows were all the rage back then; New York also had Tex and Jinx McCrary, and Ed and Pegeen Fitzgerald.)

Among Wallace's duties after joining CBS in 1951 was a radio documentary program called "Stage-struck." Through the show and through his wife, he began to associate with people in the theater. The Wallaces gave parties, too, and at one of them he was importuned to acquire some first-hand experience of the stage. Director Abe Burrows invited him to audition for Reclining Figure. He did, and he got the part, that of an idealistic young art dealer with a newly discovered Renoir for sale. (The Renoir is a forgery; complications ensue.)

There was a love scene of sorts toward the end of the second act, between Wallace and Georgiann Johnson, a young actress from Iowa. It started with Miss Johnson, as the daughter of the millionaire art tycoon on whom Wallace was trying to unload the supposed Renoir, muttering something about marrige:

Johnson: . . . Sometimes a wife . . . the right kind of wife - and I admit they're rare - can be . . . you know, a loyal willing helpmate by your side, struggling with you every step of the way and never leaving your side even at the darkest moments.

Wallace: That really sounds ghastly.

Johnson: I guess it does. But a wife can be an asset -

Wallace (looking away): I suppose so. I imagine that one of these days I'll be thinking about it.

Johnson: Why don't you start now?

Wallace (turns to her): Start what?

Johnson: Thinking about it.

Wallace: Now?

Johnson: Now.

Wallace: Right now? (She nods. They kiss, and break apart.) I didn't know I was such a fast worker.

In the middle of this torrid exchange one evening, Wallace leaned over the brushed his hand across Miss Johnson's cheek - a gesture they had never rehearsed and which was quite unmotivated. At the first opportunity, she asked him why he had done it. "You had a smudge on your face," he explained.

Georgiann Johnson knew from that moment that Wallace was no actor. "He didn't realize he was in over his head," she recalls. "He was not an actor, and I was, and he felt much more secure."

Wallace was coming to the same conclusion - that he was not an actor. he had what you might call the leading role, but it was one of those young leads who stand around a lot. Had he been an actor, instead of a mere confident and presentable young man, he might well have spend his loose time onstage and backstage agonizing over the next line of dialogue or bit of business. Not being an actor, he was aable to devote some of that time to an assessment of his circumstances.

The play was not a hit. It ran ninety-six performances, and on Christmas and New Year's Days only about seventy-five of the Lyceum Theatre's 958 seats were filled. On one of those gloomy afternoons, Wallace thought to himself (or so he claims): "This is really a boring way to make a living. You say the same things over and over again." It was a verdict on more than just his stage career. In the months to come, he scanned his life as though it were a closet full of old clothes and the Salvation Army was at the door. Out went the guest spots, the panel shows, the commercials - and the marriage.

His wife (according to the New York Post) had decided that the bridge of her matinee idol's nose was rather too broad, and she suggested he have an operation to correct the problem. The surgery he opted for instead was divorce, followed in short order by remarriage to a non-showbusiness woman.He met his third, and current, wife while in Puerto Rico emceeing a dinner-dance for the March of Dimes. Lorraine Perigord, herself divorced with a 14-year-old son, was living in Haiti and operating art galleries there and in San Juan. Wallace stopped in at the San Juan gallery, bought a painting (though not one of hers), and they were married in July of '55.

Normally, it takes adversity in one of its customary guises - hunger, sickness, lack of advancement - to untrack a career. Mike Wallace pulled the biggest switch of his life in a period of enormous personal success and at an age (35) when professionals are usually pretty well settled in their professions. He didn't foresake television - on the contrary, he became markedly more dedicated to the medium, and he could no longer find time for the party-giving and going that had consumed a lot of his evenings. What's more important, he planted his feet squarely on the path to becoming, exclusively, a newsman.

Then came "Night Beat." Wallace had left CBS and gone to work for WABD, Channel 5 in New York, where he and producer Ted Yates (a long-time associate ultimately killed in the Six-Day War) reorganized the news department. Wallace was the anchorman for evening news broadcasts at 7 and 11 p.m., and the 11 o'clock News developed into "Night Beat." "Ted Yates felt that the time had come for something that was a cut different from the ordinary interview minute," Wallace explains. "We would interview eight people in the course of a week [two per show, four nights a week] . . . We would interview politicians and athletes and lawyers and writers and . . . bon vivants."

The interviews were conducted on a spartan set lit as though someone were trying to conserve electricity. Typically, the two guests would represent a balance of the frivolous and the serious - say, a rabbi and a woman alligator-wrestler. Until then, television interviewers usually had a list of polite questions to ask of their subjects, and would rarely deviate from the script beyond an occasional "Wonderful!" or "Fantastic!" Wallace had a script, too, but he did two things that were unprecedented. He brought up personal subjects like drugs and homosexuality that had not been considered suitable for the nation's communal living room. And he listened to what his guests had to say. When Senator James Eastland declared that there were no barriers to black voting in his native Mississippi, Wallace persisted: "As far as you're concerned, then, you'd like to see every eligible Negro in Mississippi vote?" he asked. "I would like to see just what we have," Eastland replied.

When Senator James Eastland declared that there were no barriers to black voting in his native Mississippi, Wallace persisted: "As far as you're concerned, then, you'd like to see every eligible Negro in Mississippi vote?" he asked. "I would like to see just what we have," Eastland replied.

When Ben Hecht said growing old was "horrid," Wallace cited Eleanor Roosevelt as one whose meaningful work, she had testified, made growing old a pleasure. "Mrs. Roosevelt," said Hecht, "has been repeating herself like some parrot with three cliches for the past fifteen years. I don't regard anything she's been doing as important."

Wallace's apparent lack of diplomacy won him a reputation as a kind of self-appointed public prosecutor. He had a way, and still has it, of calling people to account - telling gangster Mickey Cohen, for instance: "You have made book. You have bootlegged. Most important of all, you've broken one of the Commandments - you've killed, Mickey. How can you be pround of not dealing in prostitution and narcotics, when you've killed at least one man, or how many more?" (Cohen, incidentally, took the occasion to call the then-chief of the Los Angeles Police Department a "sadistic degenerate," among other things. The show was live. There was a lawsuit - the only such action filed against Wallace prior to the Anthony Herbert piece - and an out-of-court settlement.)

Occasionally the questions were of a lower order. "Does it bother you," Wallace asked Peter Ustinov, "that you are only a minor genius?" (Ustinov claimed it didn't bother him.) "You have a reasonably good figure," he informed Zsa Zsa Gabor. "Will you wear a gunny sack?" One thing Wallace never did, though, was to invite obvious crackpots on his program for the purpose of bullying them - a staple of the many "Night Beat" imitations that have popped up through the years.

In 1957, Wallace moved to ABC, and, not long afterward, to Channel 13, then still a New York commercial station. He continued to do interview shows for his new employers, but with more and more guests outside the entertainment world. He interviewed industrialist Cyrus Eaton, who warned that scores of government agencies were engaged "in investigating, in snooping, in informing, in creeping up on people." Hitler at his height, said Eaton, "never had such spy organizations as we have in this country today."

In 1963, Wallace returned to CBS, where he has remained. That move - back and up - meant more numerous and, for a while, less interesting duties, though all news-related. His was the face behind the anchor desk of the CBS Morning News from '63 through '66, and he could be found also from time to time delivering the CBS Mid-Day News, narrating an excellent documentary series, "Biography," and, in season, reporting election returns and campaigns, usually from the Northeast (which he still does). In 1967, he was dispatched as a network correspondent to South Vietnam. And in 1967, after producer Don Hewitt had persuaded CBS to underwrite "60 Minutes," Wallace joined Harry Reasoner as the new show's "co-editor."

These days, when he is not in London or Teheran or Hollywood on assignment, or in Port-au-Prince helping his wife establish Ambience, their department store, Mike Wallace can generally be found in the catacombs of the CBS complex on West 57th Street. The place has the same light airy charm as the bunker where Hitler spent his final days. From the front security desk, you pass through an automatic door as though into an airline terminal, hang a right down a corridor as long as a football field, left fifty yards or so to a dead end, then another right and . . . well, before you know it, you're in the offices of "60 Minutes." You have a vague sense of being far removed from 57th Street, but decide on balance that you may still be somewhere on, or under, the island of Manhattan.

Wallace's office is windowless - where would a window lead, anyway? A wall for bookshelves faces the door, and the next wall clockwise, the one behind the chair where Mike Wallace is typing sixty words a minute with two well-muscled index fingers, is dominated by a tall canvas of yellow blending into orange, Lorraine Perigord Wallace's work. Most of the floor space - there isn't much - is consumed by a substantial Formica-topped desk with a low center of gravity, on whose surface, as on every other horizontal plane in sight, are accumulating stacks of memos and magazines. The office is not, strictly speaking, a mess, but it's on the brink.

Wallace's smile of welcome betrays only a few more wrinkles than a few more wrinkles than are evident to the home viewer. It isn't that he looks particularly younger than 59 but he makes it seem a good age. When he speaks, the pitch of his voice rises and falls like a normal person's - not, a la David Brinkley, in mathematical cycles of down and up. This is reasuring, and encourages the expectation that Wallace will be a good interview.

Before he gets around to exploding that theory, Wallace has an interview of his own to conduct - by transatlantic phone to Tongsun Park - "The Korean Connection," as "60 Minutes" had christened him - at London's Dorchester Hotel. (The subjects of "60 Minutes" profiles are frequently to be found at the Dorchester.) While a camera crew sets up in deliberate fashion, Wallace himself seems to give no thought whatever to the upcoming confrontation until the time arrives for him to dial the operator. He has just left a burning cigarette in an off-camera ashtray, and when somebody complains about a cloud of smoke in the picture, Wallace casually restores the cigarette to its original post between his lips. There will be smoke, but the world will know where it is coming from.

On the first try the circuits are busy, and the operator wants to call Wallace back. But that won't do, of course - the camera crew can't stay ready-to-roll forever - so Wallace launches the call once more, and this time manages to make contact with Tongsun Park's suite. Mr. Park isn't there, according to an associate; he will be back in four hours. Wallace and the crew make a date to dial again at 8 p.m. (New York time), all parties understanding that the exercise is likely to be futile. Park has left the country rather than respond to a congressional subpoena, so why should he talk to "60 Minutes"? But the attempt must be made.

Otherwise, Wallace could not truthfully state on the air, with the appropriate graveity, that "Mr. Park declined to speak with us," leaving the audience to conjure up the implications.

As the camera crew is clearing away its equipment, Wallace slips out of his office to escape the heat and the clutter, picks up the phone at his secretary's desk, and starts to make a personal call. Midway through dialing, the fingers stop dead. He stares dumbfounded at the instrument in his hand. The receiver is conspicuously minus its working parts - they have been plucked out for the abortive taping. The crew laughs raucously. Wallace's own grudging chuckle creeps in a couple of measures late.

Interviewing Mike Wallace is a little like performing a heart transplant on Dr. Christiaan Barnard. He is polite; he says nothing to impugn your technique; but he has, after all, seen first-hand all the bad ends to which the unwary interviewee may come, so it is not surprising that he displays more than your ordinary Joe Newsmaker's skill at avoiding talk he could possibly live to regret.

He takes special care, for instance, to scatter the credit for "60 Minutes'" best pieces and for the show's general excellence. It is a producers' show, Wallace explains; there are fifteen producers who spend far more time on individual stories than do Wallace, Morley Safer or Dan Rather, the troika of on-screen "editors." Money is a second explanation; money to lavish on researching and assembling the pieces that are aired, and, just as important, to invest in ideas that never pan out. By contrast, when a local station sends a reporter and crew to the scene of a presumed news event, it is a foregone conclusion that something will be produced and something broadcast, often to the viewer's regret.

On "60 Minutes," says Wallace, "very seldom do you have to jam a piece on the air in a hurry." When producer Barry Lando first proposed having a look at Colonel Anthony Herbert, Wallace was not thrilled with the idea. Lando had already done a short, assentially favorable profile of Herbert for the CBS Saturday Night News, and "remained a kind of fan of Herbert's," according to Wallace. "And I said - I don't know why - some strange sense of . . . tha he seemed to be a confection of the media worried me. I had nothing but a hunch. And he and I had an exchange of conversations and memos on the subject, until finally he began to wonder if my hunch wasn't right. And then he set out to investigate. And he investigated off and on for about a year."

The same kind of preparation characterized "Night Beat" and "The Mike Wallace Interview," says Wallace. As a result, in all his years as a television interviewer and newsman, he claims to recollect no instance of being caught off-guard more horrendous than the occasion when he had neglected to read the tear-jerking novel Back Street, and Fanny Hurst "let me know about it on the air."

For all the sharing and merging of responsibilities, the personality of "60 Minutes" is Mike Wallace's personality. The show and the man betray the same mixture of native cynicism and affected innocence. The pieces Wallace does best, "60 Minutes" does best: crisply paced exposes of fraud, often with the participation of victims and perpetrators alike; leisurely portraits of the jet set; precisely engineered assaults upon the citadels of liberalism.

When he isn't lacing into some scheme or another for the expropriation of our tax dollars, Wallace and his camera are frequently to be found nestling among the rich, from Beverly Hills to Baghdad. "60 Minutes" is fascinated with millionaires, and Wallace seems to relish asking them just how much money they have accumulated by fair means or foul; yet he is appalled by the suggestion that he might be giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the free enterprise system. "If you can make four hundred thousand dollars, or a million dollars, and do it honestly," he inquires, "what in the world is wrong with that?" (Of course, his won salary, sufficient for the launching of department stores in Haiti, is not to be sneezed at.) His profiles of oil magnates and motion picture moguls wallowing in extravagance are mere efforts (yawn) "to understand manners and mores in a community which has a palpable impact on our whole society."

Franklin D. Roosevelt was revered by the Wallace family in Brookline, Massachusetts, but the grown-up Wallace has no political heroes. "I'm not a great admirer of politicians," he explains tersely.

It's hopeless, this effort to smoke out a political philosophy from the underbrush of the Wallace consciousness.

There's nothing lurking back there, and that may be his secret. Dan Rather seems to be on a constant lookout for causes and outrages, for heroes and villains; and some of his "60 Minutes" pieces have a tendency to be obsequious, condescending, or just over-calculated. Wallace - the on-screen Wallace at any rate - has no politics to speak of, and his journalism generally packs a heavier political punch.

Most of the visible lions of network news are men from the South and Midwest, country boys who came to the city and matured into polite liberal-minded fellows who might grace your dinner table or marry your daughter. Mike Wallace is a scrappy Jewish kid from Boston - the name was "Wallik" when his father left Russia in the late nineteenth century - who got hooked on the magic of radio while a student at the University of Michigan.

It was also during his undergraduate career that he was chosen to join a quiz panel on the radio program "Information Please." A fellow student offered him five bucks if he would contrive to tell a joke on the show. He was to remark, "There's going to be tough sledding ahead." Someone was expected to ask why. "No snow," was the punch line.

As it happened, no one brought up the subject of sledding during the broadcast, so when the panel failed to answer a tricky sports question, Wallace moved in. "John Kieran, being such a famous sports expert," he said brightly, "will have tough sledding for not knowing the answer to that one."

CLifton Fadiman, the moderator, looked a little blank and sort of nodded.

"You didn't ask me why," Wallace protested.

"Are you sure you want me to ask you?" inquired Fadiman. Wallace was sure. "All right, why?"

"No snow," said Wallace. There was a stunned silence. People glanced furtively at one another. Eventually Fadiman and the staff recovered sufficiently to complete the show.

That episode caused him nightmares for years, Wallace divulged to a New York Post interviewer in 1957. But while he may have had spasms of self-consciousness in his sleep, he has remained utterly fearless when there's a microphone in the vicinity, focusing his atttention on how others answer his questions, and directing his mental exertions to the task of fetching better answers.

Back when "60 Minutes" was still trying to lure away Marcus Welby's patients on Tuesday nights, he did a story entitled "Not Wih My Kid You Don't," about child-rearing practices among the advocates of school busing. Congressman and Mrs. Donald Fraser had recently transferred their daughter Jeannie from public to private school, and Wallace - cameras rolling - asked Jeannie to compare the two.

Jeannie: I think I like it better because we have sports and because they give you harder things than in the public schools. And in the public school I was about the head of the class and here I'm about in the middle.

Wallace: And you like better being in the middle?

Jeannie: Uhuh.

Wallace: What about - were you the only white girl at your public school?

Jeannie: I think that there was one more white girld in the class.

Wallace: And was that uncomfortable for you? Truly?

Jeannie: Yes. I'm more used to having more white people close, you know, closer to me and working with me.

Wallace: Of course, there are lots of black kids here.

Jeannie: Yes, there are. They're only about three or four in each class, but they're much nicer than the others. I don't really know why but they seem like it.

"Out of the mouths of babes . . ." says Wallace.

He is certainly not scared of asking the obvious question. Did Mrs. Fraser see any hypocrisy "in the journalists, and legislators like your husband, and jurists, who talk busing, who talk integration in the schools, but then make darn sure that their kids go to private schools?"

"Well, no," said Mrs. Fraser, "I guess I really don't, because you've got to say that your kids only get educated once . . ."

What advantage did the Frasers see flowing from their participation in the busing piece? Who knows? No matter how unpromising the public relations possibilities in a given story, it seems that people will talk to Mike Wallace. In the first of two "60 Minutes" pieces on Medicaid, producer Marion Goldin produced Dr. Clarence Edwards, a black obstetrician and gynecologist with 12,000 active patients, and annual Medicaid fees of a third of a million dollars. Dr. Edwards invited "60 Minutes" on a tour of his life, at work in his Washington clinic and at play in Snowmass, Colorado, with his five condominiums and his private plane. Wallace interviewed Edwards at the close of a tough day at the clinic:

Wallace: Dr. Edwards, you told me that today you performed four surgical procedures, one delivery, saw sixty-eight patients, and it's only ten minutes of seven. Who knows what's going to happen tonight?

[The Doctor chuckles.]

Wallace: You can hardly give tender loving care to sixty-eight patients in the course of a five-hour office session?

Dr. Edwards: Well, we did . We gave tender loving care to all sixty-eight.

Later in the piece, after Edwards had defended himself against the D.C. Medical Society's charges of "over-utilization of diagnostic procedures," Wallace asked him how many patients he [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] of [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] face a [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] of these days," said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "And I think that if I were to face a situation like that, one of these days, I would probably render $75,000 worth of care."

Unable to get their second Medicaid-related story straight from the horse's mouth, Wallace and Lando resorted to more roundabout methods. They helped set up a phony Medicaid clinic in Chicago, then waited (with concealed cameras and recording equipment) for representatives of diagnostic laboratories to offer kickbacks in return for teh clinic's business. Because of an Illinois law prohibiting secret recording of conversations, "60 Minutes" taped only its own operatives, not the lab representatives, as [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] course, from [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] ward, but said [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] discourage the impression that the words already spoken had been recorded, too. A candid and lawfully recorded discussion of the kickback system ensued.

That piece - "The Clinic on Morse Avenue" - inspired a debate within the pages of the New York Times between television critics John O'Connor and Jack Gould. Gould defended the piece as sharp investigative reporting. O'Connor charged "60 Minutes" with engaging in unscrupulous tactics amounting to "entrapment." (Technically, O'Connor was mistaken twice over: the [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] stein? [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] trinity."

But there have [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] been occasions when Wallace and his associates have employed devious means in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] suit of lame ends. DUring last spring's segment on "Kid port," for instance, a "60 Minutes" agent walked into a Los Angeles dirty bookstore to ask ofr a volume of photographs of children engaged in acts of sex. Although no such book was on display, the store's manager found one and obligingly made the sale. First act curtain. Intermission. Second act: Enter Wallace and his camera crew to request the same sort of photo anthology of the same now rather distressed employee. The manager, naturally, denies that he or the store would stock such an item. And here "60 Minutes" rests its case, having demonstrated through its trickery that a man [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in a disreputable [WORD ILLEGIBLE] will indeed try to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] proclaiming the fact on nationwide television.

Wallace hasn't talked to Norman Mailer, a former friend, since a "60 Minutes" piece three years ago about Mailer's book on Marilyn Monroe. Mailer was upset by that piece - "I know," says Wallace, "because he went around the country announcing that he was going to punch me in the nose the next time he saw me . . . I'm told by people who know Norman that he felt we had apparently edited the interview in such a way as to focus on his broken sentences, stutttering and so forth . . ."

It is true that Mailer spun out some broken sentences in the interview as broadcast on "60 Minutes." But basically he had been snafued by the same old question Wallace has asked a thousand times of great men and small: "Aren't you embarrassed . . ." "Isn't it hypocritical . . .?" "You don't really believe . . .?%

Wallace : You don't believe that she was murdered, though, really. Down bottom.

Mailer : I - well - No, I don't know. I didn't know her. I -

Wallace : I say, you don't believe it.

Mailer : If you ask me -

Wallace : Yeah.

Mailer : - to give a handicapper's estimate of what it was, I'd say it's ten-to-one that it was an accidental suicide. Ten-to-one, anyway.

Wallace : At least.

Mailer : But I would not - I - I could not rule out the possibility of a murder.

Wallace : And do you believe that Bobby Kennedy was there, had been with her, that night?

Mailer : It's possible.

Wallace : I'm asking you again.

Mailer : I don't know.

Wallace : Handicap it.

Mailer : I'd say it's even money. Because he was the kind of man, I think, who if -if-

Most television interviewers ask questions like, "What was running though your mind when you hit that home run?" - leaving the interviewee and the audience to squirm in unison. Wallace asks questions that people have already asked of them sleves. And when he lowers the boom, he does it with a smile on his face, as, for instance, when he reminds Arnold Palmer. "You represent or are a spokesman for United Artist . . . Perolator . . . Lady's Home Journal . . . Samsonite . . . Rolex . . . Westinghouse . . . Cadillac . . . You're shill!"

Does Palmer [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] him with a twelve-iron? Certainly not. He grins right back. "It's fun," Arnie explains.

In November, "60 Minutes" did a piece about Gallaudet College, a federation financed liberal arts school for the deaf. In the course of an interview with Deeardra Blaylock, a beautiful and articulate Gallaudet student, Wallace asked.

"Would you prefer to marry a deaf boy, or would you prefer to marry a hearing boy?"

"Oh, deaf. Deaf people," answered Blaylock.

"Really?"

"Uh-uh."

"Why?"

"Because I'm in love with a deaf boy, that's why," was her answer.

Wallace was floored. "Icouldn't believe that the girl had said something as simple, and as moving and as honest as the . . . It just knocked me on my . . ."

Would you punch that man in the nose? Of course you wouldn't. If you had a scoop, you'd hand it over. And if he asked you a question, you'd answer up. And so, I'll wager, would Norman so, Mailer to this day.