Chris Wallace at the National Press Foundation dinner on Wednesday. (Greg Gibson )

Want to land a prime Sunday news spot? “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace, who was honored at Wednesday’s National Press Foundation dinner, explained how he hit it big, thanks to three “giants of broadcasting” in his life.

The first? Not who you think. Wallace, 64, cited not his father — legendary “60 Minutes” newsman Mike Wallace — but his stepfather, the late CBS President Bill Leonard, as “the single most important person in my life.” That’s who introduced young Chris to the news biz, anchoring pretend “special reports” while Wallace played a White House correspondent. Because his parents divorced when he was a baby, Wallace didn’t get to know his dad until he was in his teens.

“It’s funny,” Wallace told the crowd at the Washington Hilton. “I spent so much of my early life trying to get out from under his shadow. Now as my father nears his 94th birthday and is slipping away, I don’t want you to forget him.”

The elder Wallace, now suffering from dementia, was not an easy man, his son said, but vibrant, funny, demanding and “a truly great reporter. As someone once said, he had an underdeveloped sense of other people’s privacy.”

Wallace’s third mentor: Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, the “best boss I have ever worked for.” Only 15 years old, the cable giant is now, “whether you like it or not, a central part of the national conversation.” And a nice place to work, Wallace insisted. No, really! “Roger likes to say, ‘Negative people make positive people sick.’ No one — well, almost no one — is a jerk because Roger won’t allow it.”

Also at the podium: Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, sounding more like he was testifying before Congress than entertaining a boozy dinner crowd: “Much of the existing privacy debate centers on the tension between the public’s right to know and the very important right of individual privacy.”

Video: National Press Foundation dinner on C-SPAN