Barbara Walters Trailblazing Journalist, Gone Never Forgotten
Barbara Walters, the trailblazing television news broadcaster and longtime news anchor anchor, who became influential force in an industry once dominated by men, passed away on Friday, December 30, 2022. She was 93.
An Iconic Career
Walters’ interviews were a television institution, topping the ratings and prompting watercooler conversations for decades. Barbara Walters' interviews were a landmark in the entertainment industry, signifying that a celebrity had "made it" and provided the perfect platform to redeem themselves after getting into trouble. It was an indispensable part of any successful career. Walters was renowned for her interviews with a wide variety of personalities from entertainers to Heads of State from around the globe. Among her most notable celebrity interview subjects were Katharine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, to World-leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi, Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro – not to mention every U.S. president since Richard Nixon. Just to name a few.
Walters' rise to journalistic greatness was aided by her resilience and friendly demeanor. Undeterred by the dominance of men in the industry, she used her determination to break through barriers and also build trust with people she interviewed, which made it easier for her to get candid stories. Producer Stuart Schulberg praised Walters for her caring attitude towards her subjects, in a Newsweek interview, he quoted that she would never interrogate someone or ask an unfair or intrusive question. This level of respect allowed many famous personalities to express their feelings more freely with Walters in interviews.
Her Early Life
Walters was fortunate enough to receive a star-studded upbringing, which in turn enabled her to feel relaxed and comfortable around celebrities. Born Sept. 25, 1929, in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a showbiz promoter who opened New York City’s glitzy Latin Quarter nightclub and produced the “Ziegfeld Follies” on Broadway. Young Walters would watch shows from the wings, and she grew up surrounded by performers.
Walters' indomitable spirit shined when her family encountered a financial setback, when her Father’s business began to fail. She not only rose to the challenge of providing for them, but also developed an unwavering work ethic that lasted well beyond her normal retirement age.
After burnishing her work ethic while still in her teens, Walters made her way to Sarah Lawrence College, then started working as a writer for an ad agency and a public relations firm. In 1955, she got a great opportunity to begin her writing career for the CBS program “Good Morning," which allowed her to gain valuable insights under Andy Rooney's leadership. By 1961, she had moved on to a writer & researcher role at NBC’s prolific show “Today,” signifying the fulfillment of all her dreams.
Her Journalism Career Begins
On “Today,” Walters soon debuted on the other side of the camera as the “Today Girl,” an on-air personality who handled lightweight stories about inconsequential subjects. It was not a hard-hitting assignment, and Walters would come to call the Today Girls and their fluffy segments “tea-pourers.” Determined to do more with her career, Walters began taking on bigger stories. By 1974, she received a promotion to co-host.
That position was one she had to claw her way to – and it couldn’t happen until the death of former host Frank McGee, who unilaterally refused to do any interview with Walters as co-interviewer. He was not the only one who underestimated women's capacity to report news in an accurate and professional manner.
Barbara, a Journalism Pioneer
Walters would make a much-lauded move to ABC in 1976 to co-host the “ABC Evening News” with Harry Reasoner. She was considered a trailblazer, making new strides for women in broadcasting, but she found herself saddled with another partner that didn’t respect her as a newswoman. Reasoner didn’t like working with her, and it showed in the pair’s woeful lack of chemistry. In an interview with Vogue, Walters recounted her experience with Cronkite and how he didn't want to have a partner in the first place, let alone one that was a woman and had been trained in television. He was extremely hostile towards her on-air as well as off-air and she felt like a total failure after the initial broadcast. Despite all of this, she persevered and eventually became one of the most respected broadcast journalists of our time. Harry didn’t talk to me in the studio; the stagehands didn’t talk to me. They were all Harry’s people.”