Barbara Jill Walters (born September 25, 1929) is an American broadcast journalist, author, and television personality. Walters is known for having hosted a variety of television programs, including Today, The View, 20/20, and the ABC Evening News. Since retirement as a full-time host and contributor, she has continued to occasionally report for ABC News.
Walters first became known as a television personality in the early 1960s, when she was a writer and segment producer of "women's interest stories" on the NBC News morning program The Today Show, where she began work with host Hugh Downs. As a result of her outstanding interviewing ability and her popularity with viewers, she received more airtime on the program. Even though her production duties made her a significant contributor to the program, she had no input in choosing a successor for Downs when he left in 1971, and Frank McGee was hired. In 1974, at the time of McGee's death, Walters became co-host of the program, the first woman to hold such a title on an American news program.
In 1976, continuing as a pioneer for women in broadcasting, she became the first female co-anchor of a network evening news, working with Harry Reasoner on the ABC News flagship program, the ABC Evening News, earning an unprecedented US$1 million per year.
From 1979 to 2004, she worked as co-host and a producer for the ABC newsmagazine 20/20.
In 1997, Walters created and debuted as a co-host on The View, a daytime talk show with an all-female panel. She retired as a co-host of The View in 2014 after 16 seasons, but still serves as its executive producer.
Since her retirement from The View, she has hosted a number of special reports for 20/20 and ABC News, as well as a documentary series for Investigation Discovery. Additionally, Walters continued to host her annual 10 Most Fascinating People special on ABC.
In 1996, Walters was ranked #34 on the TV Guide "50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time" list, and in 2000 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Barbara Walters was born in 1929 (although Walters herself has claimed 1931 in an on-camera interview) in Boston to Dena (née Seletsky) and Louis "Lou" Walters (born Louis Abrahams). Her parents were both Jewish, and descendants of refugees from the former Russian Empire. Walters' paternal grandfather, Isaac Abrahams, was born in Łódź, Poland, and emigrated to the United Kingdom, changing his name to Abraham Walters (the original family surname was Waremwasser). Walters' father, Lou, was born in London c. 1896 and moved to New York with his father and two brothers, arriving August 28, 1909. His mother and four sisters arrived in 1910. In 1949 her father opened the New York version of the Latin Quarter. He also worked as a Broadway producer (he produced the Ziegfeld Follies of 1943). He also was the Entertainment Director for the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he imported the "Folies Bergère" stage show from Paris to the resort's main showroom. Walters' brother, Burton, died in 1944 of pneumonia. Walters' elder sister, Jacqueline, was born mentally disabled and died of ovarian cancer in 1985.
According to Walters, her father made and lost several fortunes throughout his life in show business. He was a booking agent, and unlike her uncles who were in the shoe and dress business, his job was not very safe. During the good times, Walters recalls her father taking her to the rehearsals of the night club shows he directed and produced. The actresses and dancers would make a huge fuss over her and twirl her around until she was dizzy. Then she said her father would take her out for hot dogs, their favorite.
According to Walters, being surrounded by celebrities when she was young kept her from being "in awe" of them. When she was a young woman, Walters' father lost his night clubs and the family's penthouse on Central Park West. As Walters recalled, "He had a breakdown. He went down to live in our house in Florida, and then the government took the house, and they took the car, and they took the furniture." Of her mother, she said, "My mother should have married the way her friends did, to a man who was a doctor or who was in the dress business."
Walters attended Lawrence School, a public school in Brookline, Massachusetts, to the middle of fifth grade, when her father moved the family to Miami Beach in 1939, where she also attended public school. After her father moved the family to New York City, she went to eighth grade at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, after which the family moved back to Miami Beach. Then, back to New York City, and for high school, Birch Wathen School from which she graduated in 1947. In 1951 she received a B.A. in English from Sarah Lawrence College and immediately looked for work in New York City. After about a year at a small advertising agency, she began working at the NBC network affiliate in New York City, WNBT-TV (now WNBC), doing publicity and writing press releases. She began producing a 15-minute children's program, Ask the Camera, directed by Roone Arledge in 1953. She then produced for TV host Igor Cassini/Cholly Knickerbocker, but left the network due to pressure from her boss to marry him, and his fist-fight with a man she preferred to date. Then she went to WPIX to produce the Eloise McElhone Show; it was canceled in 1954. She became a writer on The Morning Show at CBS in 1955.
The Today Show
After a few years as a publicist with Tex McCrary Inc. and a job as a writer at Redbook magazine, Walters joined NBC's The Today Show as a writer and researcher in 1961. She moved up to become that show's regular "Today Girl", handling lighter assignments and the weather. In her autobiography, she describes this era before the Women's Movement as a time when it was believed that nobody would take a woman seriously reporting "hard news". Previous "Today Girls" (whom Walters called "tea pourers") included Florence Henderson, Helen O'Connell, Estelle Parsons and Lee Meriwether. Within a year, she had become a reporter-at-large developing, writing, and editing her own reports and interviews. One very well received film segment was "A Day in the Life of a Novice Nun," edited by then first assistant film editor Donald Swerdlow (now Don Canaan) who was subsequently promoted to become a full film editor at NBC News. She had a great relationship with host Hugh Downs for years. When Frank McGee was named host, he refused to do joint interviews with Walters unless he was given the first three questions. She was not named co-host of the show until McGee's death in 1974, when NBC officially designated Walters as the program's first female co-host.
ABC Evening News and 20/20
Walters has seldom minced words when describing the visible, on-the-air disdain her co-anchor Harry Reasoner displayed for her when she was teamed up with him on the ABC Evening News from 1976–78. Reasoner had a difficult relationship with Walters because he disliked having a co-anchor, even though he worked with former CBS colleague Howard K. Smith nightly on ABC for several years. In 1981, five years after the start of their short-lived ABC partnership and well after Reasoner returned to CBS News, Walters and her former co-anchor had a memorable (and cordial) 20/20 interview on the occasion of Reasoner's new book release.
Walters is also known for her years on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 where she reunited with former Today Show host Hugh Downs in 1979. Throughout her career at ABC, Walters has appeared on ABC news specials as a commentator, including presidential inaugurations and the coverage of 9/11. She was also chosen to be the moderator for the third and final debate between candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, held on the campus of the College of William and Mary at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall in Williamsburg, Virginia, during the 1976 Presidential Election. In 1984, she moderated a Presidential debate held at the Dana Center for the Humanities at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire.
Walters is known for "personality journalism" and her "scoop" interviews. In November 1977, she achieved a joint interview with Egypt's President, Anwar Al Sadat, and Israel's Prime Minister, Menachem Begin. According to The New York Times, when she went mano a mano with Walter Cronkite to interview both world leaders, at the end of Cronkite's interview, he is clearly heard saying: "Did Barbara get anything I didn't get?" Her interviews with world leaders from all walks of life are a chronicle of the latter part of the 20th century. They include the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, the Empress Farah Pahlavi; Russia's Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin; China's Jiang Zemin; the UK's Margaret Thatcher; Cuba's Fidel Castro, as well as India's Indira Gandhi, Czechoslovakia's Václav Havel, Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi, King Hussein of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, among many others. Other interviews with influential people include pop icon Michael Jackson, actress Katharine Hepburn, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and in 1980 Sir Laurence Olivier. Walters considered Robert Smithdas, a deaf-blind man who spent his life improving the life of other individuals who are deaf-blind, as her most inspirational interview.
Walters was widely lampooned for asking actress Katharine Hepburn, "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?" On her last 20/20 television episode, Walters showed video of the Hepburn interview, showing the actress saying that she would like to be a tree. Walters merely followed up with the question, "What kind of a tree?", and Hepburn responded "an oak" because they are strong and pretty. According to Walters, for years Hepburn refused her requests for an interview. And when she finally agreed to one, she said she wanted to meet her first. Walters walked in all smiles and ready to please, while Hepburn was at the top of the stairs and barked, "You're late. Have you brought me chocolates?" Walters hadn't, but said she never showed up without them from then on. They had several other meetings since that first time, mostly in Hepburn's living room where she would give Walters her opinions. Careers and marriage did not mix. Children and careers were out of the question. Walters said Hepburn's opinions stuck with her so much, she could repeat them almost verbatim to this day.
Her television special about Cuban leader Fidel Castro aired on ABC-TV on June 9, 1977. Although the footage of her two days of interviewing Castro in Cuba showed his personality, in part, as freewheeling, charming, and humorous, she pointedly said to him, "You allow no dissent. Your newspapers, radio, television, motions picture are under state control." To this he replied, "Barbara, our concept of freedom of the press is not yours. If you asked us if a newspaper could appear here against socialism, I can say honestly no, it cannot appear. It would not be allowed by the party, the government, or the people. In that sense we do not have the freedom of the press that you possess in the U.S. And we are very satisfied about that." She concluded the broadcast of the interview by remarking, "What we disagreed on most profoundly is the meaning of freedom—and that is what truly separates us." At the time, Walters kept quiet about seeing New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, pitcher Whitey Ford, and several coaches in Cuba, there to assist Cuban ballplayers.
On March 3, 1999, her interview of Monica Lewinsky was seen by a record 74 million viewers, the highest rating ever for a news program. Walters asked Lewinsky, "What will you tell your children when you have them?" Lewinsky replied, "Mommy made a big mistake," at which point Walters brought the program to a dramatic conclusion, turning to the viewers and saying, "And that is the understatement of the year."
Walters described the show in its original opening credits as a forum for women of "different generations, backgrounds, and views." She added, "Be careful what you wish for..." on the opening credits of its second season. Through The View, she was able to clinch two Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Talk Show in 2003 and Best Talk Show Host (with longtime host Joy Behar, moderator Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd) in 2009.
Walters retired from being a co-host on May 15, 2014. Although retired, Walters has returned as a guest co-host on an intermittent basis throughout 2014 and 2015.
Since leaving her role as 20/20 co-host in 2004, Walters has been in semi-retirement as a broadcast journalist, but has remained as a part-time contributor of special programming and interviews for ABC News.
On March 7, 2010, Barbara Walters announced she would no longer hold Oscar interviews, but will still be working with ABC and on The View.
In a November 2010 episode of The View, while interviewing Larry King on his retirement from CNN, Walters alluded to her impending retirement, stating, "I know when my time's coming."
On March 28, 2013, numerous media outlets reported that Barbara Walters would retire in May 2014 and that she would make the announcement on the show four days later. However, on the April 1 episode, Walters neither confirmed nor denied the retirement rumors; she said "if and when I might have an announcement to make, I will do it on this program, I promise, and the paparazzi guys -- you will be the last to know". Walters confirmed six weeks later that she would be retiring from television hosting and interviewing in May 2014, as originally reported; she made the official announcement on the May 13, 2013, episode of The View while also announcing that she will continue as the show's executive producer for as long as it's on the air.
On June 10, 2014, it was announced that she would be 'coming out of retirement' in order to do a special 20/20 interview with Peter Rodger, the father of Elliot Rodger who had committed the 2014 Isla Vista killings.
Walters has been married four times to three different men. Her first husband was Robert Henry Katz, a business executive and former Navy lieutenant. They married on June 20, 1955, at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. The marriage was reportedly annulled after 11 months, or in 1957.
Her second husband was Lee Guber, theatrical producer and theater owner. They married on December 8, 1963, and divorced in 1976. They have one daughter, Jacqueline Dena Guber (born 1968, adopted the same year).
Her third husband was Merv Adelson, the CEO of Lorimar Television. They married in 1981 and divorced in 1984. They remarried in 1986 and divorced for the second time in 1992.
She dated lawyer Roy Cohn in college; he said that he proposed marriage to Walters the night before her wedding to Lee Guber, but Walters denied this. She explained her lifelong devotion to Cohn as gratitude for his help in her adoption of her daughter, Jacqueline. In her autobiography, Walters says she also felt grateful to Cohn because of his legal assistance to her father. According to Walters, her father was the subject of an arrest warrant for "failure to appear" after he failed to show up for a New York court date because the family was in Las Vegas, and Cohn was able to have the charge dismissed. Walters testified as a character witness at Cohn's 1986 disbarment trial.
In Walters' autobiography Audition, she claimed that she had an affair in the 1970s with Edward Brooke, then a married United States Senator from Massachusetts. It is not clear whether Walters also was married at the time. Walters said they ended the affair to protect their careers from scandal. In 2007 she dated Pulitzer Prize-winning gerontologist Robert Neil Butler.
She announced on the May 10, 2010, episode of The View that she would be undergoing open heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve. Walters added that she knew for quite a while that she was suffering from aortic valve stenosis, even though she was symptom-free. The procedure to fix the faulty heart valve "went well, and the doctors are very pleased with the outcome," Walters' spokeswoman, Cindi Berger, said in a statement on May 14, 2010.
Barbara Walters was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989. On June 15, 2007, Walters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has won Daytime and Prime Time Emmy Awards, a Women in Film Lucy Award, and a GLAAD Excellence in Media award. Her impact on the popular culture is illustrated by Gilda Radner's "Baba Wawa" impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live, featuring her idiosyncratic speech with its rounded "R". In 2008, she was honored with the Disney Legends award, an award given to those who made an outstanding contribution to The Walt Disney Company, which owns the network ABC. That same year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Women's Agenda. On September 21, 2009, Walters was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards at New York City's Lincoln Center.
Awards and nominations
- 1975 Award for Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host (Today)
- 1998 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 1998 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 1999 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 1999 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2000 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2000 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2001 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2001 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2002 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2002 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2003 Award for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2003 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2006 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2006 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2007 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2007 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2008 Nomination for Best Talk Show (The View)
- 2008 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2009 Award for Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host (The View) (with Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd)
- 2010 Nomination for Best Talk Show Host (The View)
- 2009 Award for Best Talk Series (The View)
- 2010 Nomination for Best Talk Series
- 1998 Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.
In the late 1960s Walters wrote a magazine article, "How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything", which drew upon the kinds of things people said to her, which were often mistakes. Shortly after the article appeared, she received a letter from Doubleday expressing interest in expanding it into a book. Walters felt that it would help "tongue-tied, socially awkward people — the many people who worry that they can't think of the right thing to say to start a conversation." She published the book How to Talk with Practically Anybody about Practically Anything in 1970, with the assistance of ghostwriter June Callwood. To Walters' great surprise, the book was a success. As of 2008, it had gone through eight printings, sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, and had been translated into at least six languages.
She published her autobiography, Audition: A Memoir, in 2008.