Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

Search Collections

Mary Margaret McBride
6/16/57

Mary Margaret McBride, the "First Lady of Radio," pioneered radio journalism with more than 30,000 interviews over more than 20 years. She talks to Wallace about career versus family, motherhood, religion, television, and bikini bathing suits.

Watch Video



Transcript
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW
Guest: Mary Margaret McBride
6/16/57

WALLACE: Good evening. I'm Mike Wallace. What you're about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My guest has been called the "First Lady of Radio" -- you see her behind me -- she is Mary Margaret McBride. She has interviewed on radio some thirty thousand persons since 1934. Tonight we'll try to find out what Mary Margaret thinks about her housewife audiences, about religion, spinsterhood, politics, and bikini bathing suits. Her opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's, or my sponsor's -- Philip Morris, Inc.--but whether you agree or disagree we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast. We'll talk with Mary Margaret in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: And now to our story. Mary Margaret McBride has been a gentle trailblazer all her life. While most of her friends were looking for husbands, she left Paris, Missouri to track down news beats as a reporter in New York City during the roaring twenties. Beginning in 1934 she spearheaded radio journalism by interviewing ex-convicts and statesmen, burlesque queens and society matrons, with a single-minded dedication that gave her virtually no time at all for a private life. Let's try to find out, among other things, why she has done it. Mary Margaret, according to the Kansas City Star on March 13, 1955, you said -- on the evening of March 12, 1955 out in Kansas City, you said the following: "Had I married the first man I was engaged to and settled here in Missouri, I would have made my children miserable. I would have reminded them that if it wasn't for them I'd be famous in New York." Now then... why -- seriously now -- why was being famous here in New York City so all out important to you?

MCBRIDE: Don't you understand that? Any... any ham understands that. You know you very well understand that.

WALLACE: You're confessing at being a ham and you're calling me one at one and the same time.

MCBRIDE: We're both hams, honey... we're both hams. And that was it -- how I got to be a ham -- born on a farm in Missouri I don't know... but I did. And it was the one thing I wanted... to be famous.

WALLACE: And yet, at the same time, you were willing to sacrifice a lot of other things for that hamdom.

MCBRIDE: But I didn't know. I didn't know I was sacrificing... it was so important. You don't know at the time.

WALLACE: The drive was there and you stayed with it.

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: Well, now, chances are some...thirty, thirty-five years later, that you're typical of a good many career women who have chosen that career instead of a family. You once said, Mary Margaret, and this was in the Women's Home Companion back in April of '49... you said: "My programs are my whole life." And though you admitted it was a temporary kind of thing, you described your interviews on radio as "conversational love affairs". Now then... have these "conversational love affairs" been worth devoting virtually your entire life to them?

MCBRIDE: You've worn me down, Mike.

WALLACE: What do you mean?

MCBRIDE: Well, you had me on another time when you were local -- and I said that they had been enough. Now... I'm not so sure. I think you just wore me down.

WALLACE: What do you mean? I had you on the local show about six months ago.

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: At that time you were convinced that everything was fine. It had been worth it. Now you really mean that you've changed your mind?

MCBRIDE: I really mean that I, I wonder about it... and I suppose I always did wonder about it. I suppose any woman wonders. But as you know, my life has changed somewhat. I had a business partnership that... well, that kept me going at the kind of thing I was doing. Made it possible. You know...I'm not a tough person.

WALLACE: You're not?

MCBRIDE: I'm the kind of person, Mike, who absolutely says to you or anybody else what I really think at the time. And in business, and in television and in radio too... you don't... you say a dozen other things first...and then finally you come to whatever is your real answer. I don't know how to do that.

WALLACE: Well now, Mary Margaret, I think perhaps we're arriving at something here. You said six months ago one thing. You've changed your mind a little bit. Is it television that has got you down? Here was a woman who for a period of a quarter of a century talked to virtually everybody in the United States of consequence -- had a chance to talk, to draw them out and so forth. You were the "First Lady of Radio." Is the feeling of a lack of fulfillment now due simply to the fact that television has not proved to be your great golden road?

MCBRIDE: I think probably. But I think just the thought... you know Stella Karn fended off the blows, the things that you have to take...

WALLACE: Stella Karn, of course, was your good friend and manager for years and years and years.

MCBRIDE: Who died about two and a half months ago. And when I talked to you I knew she was very ill, but I didn't know that she was fatally ill -- I thought she'd beat the thing. She had cancer. And I was talking then about what I really love. I do love the job. I love interviewing people. I love those "love affairs" on the air.

WALLACE: The kind of fame, the kind of career that you pursued, Mary Margaret -- was it not at all a lonely life for a woman?

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: Has it not been...and has the one been worth the loneliness... has the career been worth the loneliness?

MCBRIDE: It was up to a point. Now I'm not sure. That's what I'm trying to say. I'm just in a very uncertain state of mind and I'm not sure whether -- I think that those twenty years when I was interviewing people...it was very worthwhile. I worked 'til all hours and people would pity me. They'd say, "Why do you do this? You never have any fun. Why don't you have fun --what's life for?" And I would kind of pity myself a little. I'd think: "Gee, why do I do this?" And then one time I just analyzed it --and I suddenly knew this is what I like. I do this because it's the thing I like. I used to have my office in my home. I used to broadcast from my home. And it was wonderful for me when they all got out, and I was there alone with my books for the next day and... the guests. They weren't there, of course, in person, but they were there with me and for twenty-hours, they were my study. They were everything to me. And then I could put them on the air, and out there I knew were my real friends who wanted to hear about these people. They write me to this day, Mike, that they now know famous people better than they ever would have known them if I hadn't had 'em. Now, that means a lot to me.

WALLACE: Of course

WALLACE: Mary Margaret, on the surface -- and I'm not so sure that it isn't well beneath the surface too -- but on the surface you seem a good deal less sophisticated ...much gentler than most people in radio and television. But some people who know you have different and other ideas. For instance: syndicated columnist Robert Ruark... good friend of yours?

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: He wrote this about you back in '49. He said: Behind this frilly facade... she has a head as hard as a paving block and a canny brain that could tangle with Andre Gromyko and come out at least even. Is the Mary Margaret that we've seen through the years, and that we see here tonight, just a facade, an act by a shrewd business-woman, Mary Margaret?

MCBRIDE: My dear Mike... that's unworthy of you. You know very well it isn't an act. Maybe I have some brains somewhere, but... if they don't show then maybe I haven't. I don't know

WALLACE: Why did Bob Ruark write that? Do you think, was he just having fun?

MCBRIDE: Oh, he always has fun. He says that he was really Mary Margaret McBride all these years. He said that the other day on the air. No, he's a comedian, you know. He writes funny columns. I think that everybody has tried to figure how I could do it. You read those early pieces --

WALLACE: I did.

MCBRIDE: -- about me. They called me a phenomenon and you could just tell that these sophisticated people were thinking: How does this female do it? Here she is really dumb, they thought...and she stutters and stammers around and stumbles all over the place; and yet, here are these women who buy these things she says for them to buy and they never took into account the men... and I had a lot of men listeners, too, doggone it...

WALLACE: What has happened to all this now... tell me.

MCBRIDE: What's happened?

WALLACE: Yes.

MCBRIDE: Well...three years ago we gave up the interview programs and we didn't--

WALLACE: Why?

MCBRIDE: Because of Stella.

WALLACE: Because of Stella.

MCBRIDE: Because she was no longer able to fight as she'd been fighting to carry this on. And she didn't want to talk about it and I certainly didn't want to talk about it and people didn't know at all. They... we said that I was tired; that I'd been on the air twenty years -- and it was true; I was tired. I'd worked hard and I hadn't had very many vacations so that was the truth. But there was a deeper truth and I want to tell you that those three years were very difficult years. Because I am a ham and during those three years there were times when I couldn't turn on radio or television because I wanted so much to be part of it.

WALLACE: So here is an extraordinary situation really. Here is a woman in her middle fifties who's had a wonderful and a distinguished and an exciting and a worthwhile career who is now in a sense all dressed up with no place to go.

MCBRIDE: I asked Bob Ruark the other day if on the air too... whether he thought I would have to take the conflict out. I was thinking of you, of course, because you're supposed to be a person who needles and I never was supposed to needle. And yet there... you know... there are people who think we got somewhat the same results.

WALLACE: I was struck by that in reading old material of yours... stories about you... about that fact.

MCBRIDE: People often said things, but I didn't know they were going to say and that I'm sure they didn't know they were going to say. Is it because they forgot where we were, don't you imagine?

WALLACE: Did you ever get sued, Mary Margaret?

MCBRIDE: No.

WALLACE: Never did.

MCBRIDE: Did you?

WALLACE: Not yet.

MCBRIDE: Hooray.

WALLACE: Tell me this, Mary Margaret... when I talked to you on the local show again last winter you said something that I didn't have a chance to follow up on... this was pure gossip column item but I have to get it straight. You said something to the effect that some years ago when you were in Rome, you seriously considered having a child... in Rome.

MCBRIDE: Yes... and you nearly ruined me in Missouri. There's a man out there... a very nice man indeed said quite seriously and soberly and sadly... that in one hour I tore down everything I had spent my life building up, because he thought it sounded so depraved.

WALLACE: Was it depraved?

MCBRIDE: No, of course it wasn't.

WALLACE: Would you like to tell us the complete story and let's find out.

MCBRIDE: Well, I went to Rome and I met this nice man, um, Neapolitan and I fell a little in love with him. And it was about the period in my life when I decided that of everything in the world I'd rather have that I didn't have, it would be a daughter. So, I seriously considered marrying this man and I thought if I marry him in Rome I can -- well, get pregnant and go back to New York and have the baby and have it all to myself. This was my idea, but I assure you I meant to marry the man.

WALLACE: Marry him and then leave him, Mary Margaret?

MCBRIDE: Yes I did. That was what I meant to do, but I didn't do it at all.

WALLACE: What stopped you?

MCBRIDE: Well, he -- he seemed to have different ideas about marriage than I did.

WALLACE: You mean he wanted to marry you and then have you stay there in Rome, than come back to New York.

MCBRIDE: Yes, Yes. And it was just about the time when Mussolini was going strong and I didn't think I'd like Rome.

WALLACE: You think really now -- I'm quite serious -- that would have been a good idea, though, seriously to marry a man just for the purpose of having a child, then coming on home?

MCBRIDE: Of course I don't. You know why I said that to you that night ... I just suddenly -- we'd been talking and I'd been, I'd been having fun and I just remembered how much fun it was when people said unexpected things and it just came to me and I said it. I've regretted it a few times.

WALLACE: It sounded a good deal more emancipated than it really was.

MCBRIDE: Yes, I'm afraid it did.

WALLACE: Mary Margaret, you once said according to Sidney Field's column in the Daily Mirror, back in '53, you said: "Age teaches you that the values you once thought were corny are not corny." Now specifically what values did you mean?

MCBRIDE: Well, I think perhaps I told you that when I first came to New York, the people I liked -- did all sorts of things that I thought were almost wicked. And yet I thought, because these people did them, they're the things I must learn to do. And they gossiped and they were often unkind, they were sarcastic -- they were all kinds of things.

WALLACE: You did all of those things, too?

MCBRIDE: Mmm, I tried. I don't think I succeeded very well, because even then I had -- I have a guilty conscience.

WALLACE: Do you really?

MCBRIDE: I always feel guilty about things. And now I know that kindness and decency and -- that -- the kinds of things I was taught are the real things. As you get older you just know that. I don't care if I'm called corny now at all.

WALLACE: You have apparently lost at least one value from your Missouri upbringing. You come from Baptist stock, don't you?

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: Your grandfather was a preacher.

MCBRIDE: That's right.

WALLACE: But I understand, you almost never attend church. How come?

MCBRIDE: This is true. I think it's because -- I remember asking you this same question about religion --

WALLACE: Yes.

MCBRIDE: -- and you said you don't go to church either and --

WALLACE: Not very much.

MCBRIDE: No? I -- I've -- I think I'm religious, but I -- I -- church ... I hate to say this because church is a comfort to a lot of people. And I - I'm not one to be copied in this respect at all, but for me, church doesn't help my religion. Now and then, yes. And if my - if I had a chance to go and hear my grandfather again in Salem, Missouri, I'd go in a minute. And I think I'd come away with something.

WALLACE: But formal religion, as such, doesn't do much for you?

MCBRIDE: No, it doesn't.

WALLACE: Do you pray, may I ask?

MCBRIDE: Yes, I do.

WALLACE: By yourself?

MCBRIDE: Yes. I couldn't live without that.

WALLACE: Um-hmm. Do you -- Tell me to stop if you want me to, Mary Margaret. Do you ask for things when you pray?

MCBRIDE: Not any more.

WALLACE: What do you mean?

MCBRIDE: Because I don't think that is prayer, really. Prayer is getting in touch with a power that's greater than you are and trying to get to the point where you can relax and lean back as if you were in a hammock and let things happen to you. Now don't think for a minute, that I have got to that point, because I haven't. But that -- that's what I'd like. Then I'd be the poised, serene, kind of person who wouldn't be second rate, ever. Wouldn't have a single second rate ambition. Because hams are second rate.

WALLACE: What I don't understand about you, Mary Margaret, is this. You keep talking as though -- as though you don't have much confidence in yourself.

MCBRIDE: I have none.

WALLACE: But why? Here is a woman -- here you are, a person who has contributed so much to so many people through so many years. You've gotten personal acclaim. You've had professional success. You have good friends, you have the respect of your peers in this business and the respect of your friends out of the business. And yet you, you seem to feel unfulfilled. Why?

MCBRIDE: I wouldn't know. I suppose psychiatrists would say it's something I've never resolved. Something that happened to me when I was young. We were poor, I worried about my mother, I worried about mortgages. I worried about everything. I was the oldest child in the family and the only girl. And I think that had a lot to do with it. I - I'm sure I told you that I - I always have the feeling that they'll find out that I'm not as good as they thought. And it'll all end. And it went on and on and they didn't. For a good while.

WALLACE: Mary Margaret, I imagine you've sold more products for more sponsors than virtually anybody else in the business. Now, I'd like to talk to you about something terribly different now. About, commercials. The poet Carl Sandburg said last week about television commercials, according to Time Magazine, June 17th, he said: "More than half the commercials are filled with inanity, assinity, silliness, and cheap trickery." Do you agree with Mr. Sandburg?

MCBRIDE: I'm afraid I do.

WALLACE: You do. What is a good television commercial?

MCBRIDE: I think that honesty is the first principle of a commercial. Honesty. I could never talk about a product that I didn't believe in.

WALLACE: But can't you dress honesty up? In an appealing, in a different, uh, facade, in a different costume? And still have it honest, can't you make it entertaining and honest at the same time?

MCBRIDE: Well that's all right. I didn't say it couldn't be entertaining. I don't know what he's talking about. Did he go on and say what he...

WALLACE: He did ... but I don't have all of it. He'll of course he -- he went on -- he railed against television for a a considerable length of time, in his speech. I believe it was before a ladies club down in Virginia or West Virginia, somewhere like that.

MCBRIDE: Well lots of people think commercials are too long. I used to have a fine system with mine. Sometimes they were long. I've been known to do fifteen minutes of commercial all at one time. But then, the next day I might do one minute for seventeen products. So I kind of evened it up. I think it just depends ... but of course, I realize you can't do that and that's what's the matter. My old kind of thing, you can't do it now. You couldn't do that on television.

WALLACE: Yes you could.

MCBRIDE: I could?

WALLACE: Yes you could and it's criminal, truly. It's criminal, that the television audience of the United States doesn't have a chance to see you doing it. But wait just a second. You take a look at this commercial for about a minute then I have some other things to talk to you about and believe me, this commercial is an honest one. But I'm going to turn the tables on you, after this commercial. You have held millions of fans for a quarter of a century on radio, by getting your guests to express their opinions on controversial issues, Mary Margaret, so in a minute I would like your personal opinions on legalized gambling, prohibition, bullfighting and bikini bathing suits.

MCBRIDE: Oh!

WALLACE: And we'll go after the answers to those questions in just one minute.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: All right now, Mary Margaret. You've quizzed others in the past, I quiz you. Bullfighting, what do you think about it?

MCBRIDE: Well, I went to one bullfight in Spain, and I'm afraid I got sick.

WALLACE: Did you.

MCBRIDE: I can't see it. I can't even see hunting, Mike. And yet -- Bob Ruark, we certainly are giving him a lot of publicity -- he said: "You eat steak, don't you?" Which is the trite ... accusation.

WALLACE: What about boxing on television?

MCBRIDE: I can't even look at that. Not, not until they told me that they don't really hurt each other.

WALLACE: What!!

MCBRIDE: Well, that's what somebody told me.

WALLACE: Whoever told you that is wrong.

MCBRIDE: Oh. Well then I won't look at it.

WALLACE: Prohibition?

MCBRIDE: Well -- I, I was in New York, you know, during prohibition and it's pretty awful. That bathtub gin that people went around drinking. The way everybody felt forced to drink. It was a matter of honor with them. No, I'm against prohibition. You - you'd think my grandfather's granddaughter would be for it, wouldn't you? But I'm against prohibition. It didn't prohibit, that's why.

WALLACE: Yes, that's right. Legalized gambling.

MCBRIDE: I'm against that.

WALLACE: Why?

MCBRIDE: Well, I'm just against gambling.

WALLACE: Of any kind, truly?

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: Do you know why? Not a question of religious scruples?

MCBRIDE: Well, I'm afraid it is. I think that, it was just that I -- we couldn't even play cards. We could play flinch and authors, which I found out later, resembled card playing, you know. And I couldn't dance. And I was very strictly brought up and a lot of it has stuck. And the gambling thing has stuck.

WALLACE: It's funny how a good deal of that has a way of hanging on.

MCBRIDE: Yes.

WALLACE: Bikini bathing suits?

MCBRIDE: Now, what a question to ask me. About all I know about them is that young girls look pretty in them, old ladies look horrible in them, and I could never wear one. How's that?

WALLACE: You know, talking about Missouri. Let's go back there for just an instant. A profile of you in the New Yorker Magazine back in '42, 1942, noted the contrast between you and the often worldly guests that you've interviewed on the air. The article said: "It is not irrelevant to remark that in Paris, Missouri where Mary Margaret was born, husbands and wives sit next to each other at parties." What is your opinion, Mary Margaret, of the somewhat more emancipated manners of your friends in show business, the arts.

MCBRIDE: Well, don't you think that things have changed even in Paris, Missouri, now? Communications has done that. They know, they probably never sit next to each other anymore and a lot of things happen there, divorces happen there, all kinds of things happen there now that never happened when I was a little girl growing up.

WALLACE: About your friends, people in the business, show business, and the arts and so forth. Who are your good friends, Mary Margaret, whom you see a good deal of?

MCBRIDE: Well, they mainly aren't in -- newspaper people, artists, a couple of artists who live -- well, you know the Haders. Bert and Elmer Hader. They've been my friends all these years since I've been in New York. I never, I never cultivated these love affairs that we talked about, that I had before the microphone. Someway there was never time. Sometimes people would ask you to do things and I would think it would be wonderful to do it, but my friends are the people that I've had all these years.

WALLACE: Can I persuade you to have a cup of tea with me tonight after we get through?

MCBRIDE: You certainly may. I think you're doing a wonderful job. I don't think this is the thing I'm permitted to say, but ...

WALLACE: Well, don't you say it.

MCBRIDE: I'm for you.

WALLACE: Mary Margaret -- thank you Mary. You are now 58 years old.

MCBRIDE: Not quite.

WALLACE: Not quite. We have just a minute for this answer. As I said before, you have personal acclaim, professional success, good friends. What do you want for yourself? From here on.

MCBRIDE: I want. I would like work that I love and that I enjoy doing and that would give service at the same time. I would like a personal relationship that would satisfy me. I think I would like to be very important to somebody. I think everybody wants to be very important to at least one person.

WALLACE: I'm sure of that.

MCBRIDE: And I would like very much to be doing things that give, that help the world to be a little bit better place. As you get older, that matters to you. To my surprise, really.

WALLACE: Bless you, Mary Margaret, and thank you for coming here tonight.

MCBRIDE: Thank you.

WALLACE: A girl from Paris, Missouri... Mary Margaret McBride... took on New York at the height of the bathtub gin era and in the past thirty years she has traveled the world, she has met the international set, she has dealt with high-powered sponsors. But the unusual thing about Mary Margaret -- one writer has observed -- is that she is still a wide-eyed innocent in a world of radiant marvels. I'll bring you a run-down on next week's interview in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: Next week we go after the first part of a two-part story of Men and War. First, we're going to find out why David Hawkins, you see him behind me, became the youngest, the youngest U.S. Army turncoat of the Korean War. Why he fell victim to a new kind of weapon... Red Chinese brain washing... and what happens when turncoats like Hawkins repent and return home. Were the turncoats a combat casualty or traitors? It is the question that has concerned President Eisenhower, army psychologists, the nation's press. The latest story appearing in this week's Look Magazine. We'll try to get the answer first-hand next Sunday. And a week from Sunday we'll go after the story of a different kind of soldier... a hero. Our guest will be Commando Kelly, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic exploits, which included killing forty German troops in a single days' fighting. Now, all but forgotten and struggling to support a family, Commando Kelly's comment on the rewards of heroism is: “You can't eat your medals.” 'Til next week then for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality house.

(DIGITIZATION CREDITS)