Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Interview: Mike Wallace & Clint Hill

Two men who once sat down for an interview in 1975 have met by sheer happenstance in the news this week. The first, the incomparable journalist Mike Wallace, passed away Saturday night at the age of 93. The second, former Secret Service agent and tragic eye witness to history Clint Hill, released a memoir. The two men will forever will be linked by a single interview that was emblazoned on the memory of millions of Americans who had tuned in to 60 Minutes one Sunday night.

The unforgettable 1975 interview of Clint Hill by Mike Wallace:



Clint Hill is one of the tragic characters forever associated with the assassination of President Kennedy. In American memory he will always be the man in the suit who ran after the presidential limousine, hopped on the back and pulled Jackie Kennedy from the trunk back into the car as it raced away from Dealey Plaza. Horrifyingly, he will always be the man who rushed to Mrs. Kennedy's aid as she attempted to retrieve a portion of her husband's brain from the trunk of the presidential limousine. And sadly, as was evident in his interview with Mike Wallace, Clint Hill will never be able to detach himself from the tragedy in Dallas.

For all his toughness, his dogged tenacity and journalistic prowess, Mike Wallace was never as gentle and sympathetic toward the subject of an interview as he was as he sat across from Clint Hill in 1975. Wallace responded as America did--with sorrow. Before him sat a man who was haunted by an event twelve years earlier. In that moment, Mike Wallace was as soft and caring as America had ever seen him. The oft-repeated line "the four most dreaded words in the English language--Mike Wallace is here" meant nothing in that moment.

Clint Hill has finally written a memoir, a memoir historians did not foresee. Had it happened a few years sooner, we may have seen Clint Hill sit down with Mike Wallace once again.

Muriel Dobbin of The Washington Times wrote the following in her review of Clint Hill's Mrs. Kennedy and Me:
"The book is as uncompromising as a police report because Mr. Hill is no literary stylist. His terse account is neither scandalous nor salacious, nor even overly sentimental, which puts it far ahead of most books written about the Kennedys, and brings the first lady to life in a manner that has not been done before.

[...]

"In one of the few concessions to emotion in his book, he reflects, “We had been through so much together, Mrs. Kennedy and me. More than anyone can imagine. More than anyone can ever know.” That is an epitaph only Mr. Hill could bestow."
When The Kennedy Detail was released in 2010, Clint Hill went on various news programs promoting the book with its author, Gerald Blaine. It was the first time in years that Clint Hill had spoken publicly about his time in the Kennedy White House and about that day in Dallas.

The two images the American public had of Clint Hill--on the back of that limousine in Dallas and falling apart in that interview with Mike Wallace--were not offset by his renewed public appearances, but beginning in 2010, Clint Hill was finally able to talk about the dark day in Dallas that came to define his life. Clint Hill is now able to talk about his relationship with Mrs. Kennedy and his time serving President Kennedy and his family. It is a gift to history that Clint Hill is finally able to tell his story.

A Sunday night interview in 1975 forever intertwined the lives of two extraordinary men and by sheer coincidence their names are once again in the news this week.

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