Barbara Walters, pioneering television journalist, dies aged 93

Barbara Walters.

Toby Canhham | Getty Images Entertainment | beautiful pictures

Barbara Walters, the pioneering television broadcaster who paved the way for women in a male-dominated medium, died Friday. She was 93.

Her death was confirmed by her agent, Cindi Berger, who said Walters died “peacefully in her home with loved ones around.”

“She lived her life with no regrets,” Berger said. “She is a pioneer not only for female journalists but for all women.”

ABC, the network where she last worked, aired a special Friday night announcing Walters’ death and reflecting on her career. Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, ABC’s parent company, said in a statement that Walters passed away Friday night at her mansion in New York City.

He called her “a pioneer not only for women in journalism but for journalism itself.”

Walters became known in recent years as the co-creator and head of ABC’s popular daytime show “The View,” but older viewers remember her as the host of the show. The first female showrunner of a network news program and celebrity television interviewer. She earned that reputation thanks to her penchant for meticulous preparation, whether she was interviewing autocrats or divas, models or murderers.

Read more from NBC News:

“I do a lot of homework, I know more about the person than they know about themselves,” Walters said in a 2014 TV special.

That drive has proven to be essential to her success. When she started her business in 1961 as a writer on NBC’s “TODAY,” the idea of ​​a woman sitting down and interviewing a sitting president on network television at the time slot. gold (which she did just over a decade later) seems more of a fantasy than reality in an industry dominated by men like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Pop Culture at Syracuse University, told NBC: “She’s playing in a field where such an old boy’s network is literal and figurative. , and she does not accept the answer is no. News before Walters’ death.

“At one point, things that used to be a responsibility for her, as a woman trying to get a foot in the male-dominated industry, started to become more of an asset,” says Thompson. . “She’s smart and prepared, but at the same time more compassionate (compared to her male friends).

“Barbara Walters proved to be the evolutionary step between Edward R. Murrow and Oprah Winfrey.”

Childhood exposure to famous people

In a way, Walters has been preparing for those brand interviews all his life. Born in Boston on September 25, 1929, Barbara Jill Walters got close-up access to the rich and famous as the daughter of nightlife mogul Lou Walters, who owned clubs across the East Coast.

“I’ve learned that celebrities are human too,” Walters said in 2014. “I never thought a celebrity was such a perfect and amazing person that I should just ignore it.”

Inheriting his father’s motivation, Walters graduated from Sarah Lawrence University with a bachelor’s degree in English and branched out into journalism as an assistant at WRCA-TV, the NBC affiliate. In 1955, she married businessman Robert Henry Katz, but her first love was still her fledgling career. The couple divorced three years later.

Hired as a writer and researcher on “TODAY,” Walters rose to become the show’s only female producer and occasionally started broadcasting subscriptions as “TODAY’s Girl,” a Reporting roles dedicated to fashion shows, lifestyle trends and weather. had previously been held, among others, by Florence Henderson of the famous “Brady Bunch”.

Hardly the kind of tough report that Walters clearly desires.

Out of broadcasting, Walters married theater producer Lee Guber in 1963, with whom she adopted a daughter, Jacqueline, named after Walters’ sister, who had a developmental disability. The marriage will last 13 years.

Big Breakthrough

Her big break came with the mission of traveling with Jacqueline Kennedy during the first lady’s trip to India in 1962. That led to more news and the chance to land co-hosting duties. presented to Hugh Downs — although she did not receive an official invitation. title until 1974. At that point, Downs had left the network and was replaced by Frank McGee.

McGee, who died shortly after collaborating with Walters, required him to ask three questions for each of Walter’s interviews on set. After all, he is a real messenger.

So Walters began doing interviews off-set, quickly establishing a reputation as a keen and probing questioner.

Everyone is watching – including executives at rival networks. Walters was recruited by ABC to become the first female broadcaster of a primetime news program with an unprecedented annual salary of $1 million. However, it didn’t take long for viewers to feel the tension between Walters and his co-star Harry Reasoner, who didn’t bother to hide his disdain for the fact that the former “TODAY Girl” was seen as an equal to he.

Her newfound celebrity also won the final honor: when she struggled to pronounce the difficult R appreciated by Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live”. Walters later admitted she didn’t find the “Baba Wawa” skit funny.

With her ABC news show ratings a disappointment, Walters’ career was saved by the special primetime interviews she started for ABC. Her first interview featured President-elect Jimmy Carter, and within a year she arranged a joint interview with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President of Egypt Anwar Sadat – a year ago their historic peace treaty.

In 1979, she reunited with the Downs on the ABC news magazine show, “20/20”, which began 25 successful years.


But her own interviews are still Walters’ passion, she compiles tough and interesting questions on her trademark 3×5 index cards and fiddles with order even after the machine spin begins to spin. During the 2014 TV special commemorating her retirement from television journalism, Walters showed off an autographed photo of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro hanging on her wall: “For the interview longest and hardest I’ve ever done in my life.”

Although Walters received much criticism for asking Katherine Hepburn, “What kind of tree are you?” — to be fair, following up on what the legendary actor said — she can raise the toughest questions, such as looking Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye and asking if he ever order to kill the opponent or not.

Her exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky in 1999 earned her the highest ratings in history for a primetime interview. In 1997, Walters launched a new show close to her “TODAY” roots: a mid-morning talk show with an all-women panel called “The View”. While she was the co-executive producer and sat at the table, she chose Meredith Vieira as the first executive.

Over the years, the hit show will include Whoopi Goldberg, Star Jones, Lisa Ling, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Rosie O’Donnell and Meghan McCain among panelists.

While Walters has largely avoided controversy during her long career, she shocked the world when it was revealed that she was romantically involved with Senator Edward Brooke, R-Mass., during the 1970s.

After nearly 60 years as a journalist, Walters announced she was retiring in 2014.

“I don’t want to appear on another show or climb another mountain,” she said. “Instead, I want to sit in a sunny field and admire the talented women — and OK, some men too — who will take my place.”


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