Barbara Walters retired from being on the air last Friday after an amazing, pioneering career of over 50 years in the media. She was the first woman to assume the anchor seat for a national network evening news broadcast when she teamed with Harry Reasoner on ABC Evening News in 1976. Harry was uncomfortable sitting next to Barbara and it showed. She was not reporting fluff; she was reporting hardcore news. It's hard to imagine that in 1976 there were no female anchors compared to today, when women appear nightly and Sunday mornings on all the stations. But Barbara made TV history even earlier, when she became one of the first female writers for The Morning Show at CBS, back in 1955. Walters ascended as a television personality when she became a significant contributor to the Today Show with Hugh Downs in 1962. She acquired the title "co-host" of the show in 1974, making her the first woman to hold that title for any network news or public affairs program. For 25 years, Barbara was co-host and producer of the ABC news magazine 20/20, and she created the groundbreaking daytime talk show The View in 1997, which she co-hosted until her retirement and will still produce for the time being.
Queen Of The Interview
Barbara started an era and she has closed an era. She was the first; she raised the stakes. Headlines blasted her salary at $1 million. Her interview on location became the interview -- and she did it better than anybody. She asked the obvious question, the unusual question, and the question that nobody else would think of. Walters talked to world leaders, presidents, movie stars and other interesting and fascinating personalities who were white-hot at their moment and Barbara always got the scoop; she was always the only one guaranteed to interview them. In 1977, she scored a joint interview with Egypt President Anwar Sadat and Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin. A record 74 million people saw her 1999 interview with Bill Clinton cohort Monica Lewinsky, the highest rating ever for a news program. She interviewed Superman actor Christopher Reeve shortly after a horse-riding accident paralyzed him for life. She talked with John Wayne just three months before he died of cancer. She let Robin Givens totally emasculate world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson in an interview that shocked the world... one week before "Gold-digging Givens" filed for divorce from "Iron Mike." And she admitted that she got the hots on air when Clint Eastwood flirted with her during their 1980 interview after she told him she had a big crush on him... and Clint suggested they do something about it. She didn't get Dirty Harry, but Walters admitted in 2008, in her memoir Audition, that she did have a passionate affair with married African-American Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke in the 1970s that almost ended both of their careers.
Walters wrote that Brooke, the first black member of the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, was so in love with her that he told his wife he wanted a divorce. But Brooke's wife threatened to tell the story to the National Enquirer at a time when Brooke was up for reelection and public knowledge of this high-profile interracial romance -- much more frowned upon 40 years ago than it is today -- would have buried both their careers. It was enough to persuade Walters to end things with the senator.
Barbara interviewed every American president and First Lady since Richard Nixon. But whether it was a world leader, convicted killer or a celebrity that sat across from her, Walters' interviews were eye-opening, sparked controversy, and brought many of her interviewees to tears as she made them reflect on the mundane yet important lessons of life.
Walters once said the secret to her interviewing technique was to, "Wait for those unguarded moments. Relax the mood and, like the child dropping off to sleep, the subject often reveals his truest self.
Breaking Down The Door
Some of her producers thought Barbara was a better interviewer than a newscaster. Maybe so. But she brought a unique perspective to TV and viewers the world over were fascinated by her uncompromising style.
She even had a lisp, which was oddly endearing. She was always classy, always professional, always interesting. She opened the world of broadcast media to women and changed the face of TV.
Female journalists everywhere owe Ms. Barbara Walters a debt of gratitude for breaking the door down. Fifty years-plus in a career is a long time. And to be working on camera into your eighties is overtime.
TV Guide has ranked Barbara Walters number 34 on its list of the "50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time." Bravo Barbara. We enjoyed every interview and we will miss you.