The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons: Mike Wallace

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The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons by Maggie Cutler  


Live: Mike

We’re in Miami, where I’m working with my husband Max on a documentary about lawyers. The courts here have just made the top five tobacco companies fork up a record $144.87 billion in a class action suit on behalf of smokers. I arrange an interview with a juror, but the guy backs out, and now Max is treating me as if I’m not quite up to snuff, like I’m only 60 Minutes II and he’s 60 Minutes Uno. So while he’s at the bar romancing Jack Daniels, I, Kitty, am in our hotel room craving a smoke, even though I quit two years ago.

Instead of bumming a Kent off the cleaning woman, I put out the “Do Not Disturb” and conjure up my favorite tobacco-beat reporter and ex-smoker: Mike Wallace. You can tell he works out, because he moves like a fighter and that boot-black hair slays me, the badge of a guy who still hopes to beat the reaper.

The grand master of ambush journalism is as happy to see me as I am him. Tossing aside his jacket, he grabs me rakishly around the waist, bends me over in a Lindy dip and investigates my cigarette-craving lips with his own.

“Mike,” I sigh, as we break the clinch, “Let’s make a deal. Ask me one of those questions of yours that gets to the very core of my being, and in return I’ll do anything you want for the length of one 60 Minutes segment.”

He answers without hesitation:”Kitty Lyons . . . I want to watch you smoke!”

I’ve heard that some men like this, and I think I can guess why this one does.

“You want it the way it used to be, don’t you Mike,” I ask, and he nods. “Back when,” he says, meaning back when it was a sexy habit, not a pathetic, self-destructive addiction. Back when smoking meant you had courage, like Edward R. Murrow; back when, like Humphrey Bogart, you would always do the right thing even if it cost you the love of your life, never mind your job at CBS.

So I tap an unfiltered Camel out of its snug, palm-sized pack, hold it delicately between my first two fingers, then bend slowly towards him so he can see down my man-tailored shirt.


He fumbles for a Strike Anywhere match, practically vibrating with excitement, and ignites it with his thumbnail.

I thrust my cigarette’s cylinder into his flame and wrap my lips around the shaft, sucking his fire towards me through the reddening tip. I draw deeply, then let the creamy, viscous smoke flow out of my mouth, up my nose, a French Inhale.

Mike gasps with joy. I blow a stream of woozy mist into his face and he draws it in like he’s drowning and it’s oxygen.

I take a second drag, but don’t make it to the third. The sin of it, the gin-mill thrill of it, the caution-to-the-wind of it, is so delicious we’re all over each other like the smell of Gauloises on a Frenchman.

For a minute I’m afraid he’s going to hurt me, his hands are so eager, almost angry with wanting, but he curbs the savage urge to crush me like a butt on a sill, and instead slides into my plump conundrum like a question looking for the Truth, probing, seeking . . .

“If there’s justice in the world, we’re going to get it together, Mike,” I encourage him. “We’re going to force it out of the bastards, until they scream for mercy!” He shuts his eyes tight, plunges so deep, my body feels like the old Camel sign in Times Square, spitting out “O” after “O” into the wet, neon-lit night, and he comes to the end of our segment with the controlled but triumphant roar of a steam locomotive.

When it’s over, we both light up. Ahhhh! To old times. And to the better left unsaid. We don’t talk about that movie, “The Insider,” how it showed Mike dropping the ball, caving in to network brass, going soft on big tobacco.

To break the post-coital melancholy, I remind him: “You owe me a question that gets to the core of my being.”

“If you love this husband of yours so much,” he fires off, “What are you doing with me, a sixty-seven year old guy on Zoloft who lost his teens to acne? A guy everybody fears?”

He wants me to say it’s his flawless integrity, but I’m too honest to lie. “Your hard-nosed, bare-knuckle style, Mike . . . embracing it makes me feel less powerless,” I confess. “Like asking brutal questions of even more powerful men does for you. It’s an addiction stronger than nicotine.”

I get him and he knows it. “Yeah,” he says, holding me close, “Who the hell do we sue for that?”