Pioneering TV reporter Barbara Walters, who started with ‘TODAY’, dies at 93

Barbara Walters, a pioneering TV broadcaster for women in a male-dominated environment, died Friday. She was 93 years old.

His death was confirmed by his representative, Cindi Berger, who said Walters died “at peace in her home surrounded by loved ones.”

“He lived his life without regret,” Berger said. “She was a pioneer for all women, not just women journalists.”

His most recent network, ABC, ran a special Friday night announcing Walters’ death and reflecting on his career. Bob Iger, CEO of ABC’s parent company, The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement that Walters died Friday evening at his home in New York City.

She described her as “a pioneer not just for women in journalism, but for journalism itself.”

Walters was best known in recent years as the co-creator and main head of the hit ABC daytime show “The View,” but older viewers remember her as the first female anchor of a network news program and the preeminent interviewer on television. She earned this reputation with a passion for meticulous preparation, whether interviewing despots or divas, models or murderers.

“I do so much homework that I know more about the person than he does,” Walters said on a television show in 2014.

This drive proved essential to its success. When she stepped into the industry as a writer on NBC’s “TODAY” in 1961, the idea of ​​a woman sitting down and interviewing an incumbent president on prime-time network television (which she did a little over a decade later) seemed far more fanciful. Reality in an industry dominated by guys like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

“He was playing in a space that was literally and figuratively a very old kid’s network, and he didn’t take no for an answer,” Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told NBC. News prior to Walters’ death.

“At some point, what was a burden for her as a woman trying to gain ground in a male-dominated industry started to become more of a presence,” Thompson said. “She was smart and prepared, but she also seemed more affectionate (than her male peers).

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

In a way, Walters had been preparing for these trademark interviews his entire life. Born in Boston on September 25, 1929, Barbara Jill Walters had the opportunity to see the rich and famous up close as the daughter of nightlife manager Lou Walters, who had clubs on the East Coast and below.

“I learned that celebrities are people,” Walters said in 2014. “I never thought a celebrity was so perfect and wonderful that I had to be put off.”

Inheriting his father’s drive, Walters graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a BA in English and began journalism as an assistant at NBC affiliate WRCA-TV. She married businessman Robert Henry Katz in 1955, but her first love remained her fledgling career. The couple divorced three years later.

Barbara Walters works as a producer.
Barbara Walters works as a producer for “The Kathi Norris Show” in 1953.NBC

Hired as a writer and researcher on “TODAY”, Walters rose to become the only female producer on the show and went on the air as “TODAY Girl,” an occasional news reporting role reserved for fashion shows, lifestyle trends, and the weather. she was previously hired by Florence Henderson of the “Brady Bunch” reputation, among others.

It’s not the kind of hard reporting that Walters clearly craves.

Off-air, Walters married theatrical producer Lee Guber in 1963 and adopted a daughter named Jacqueline, named after Walters’ developmentally disabled older sister. The marriage will last 13 years.

Her big breakthrough came with the First Lady’s mission to travel with Jacqueline Kennedy on her 1962 trip to India. Title until 1974. By then, Downs had left the network and was replaced by Frank McGee.

From left, NBC News' Jack Lescoulie, Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters report on the November 23, 1963 murder of President John F. Kennedy.
From left, NBC News’ Jack Lescoulie, Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters report on the November 23, 1963 murder of President John F. Kennedy. NBC

McGee, who died shortly after partnering with Walters, asked Walter to ask each of them three questions in studio interviews. It was real newsman, Finally.

Thus Walters began conducting interviews outside of the studio and quickly gained a reputation as a keen and investigative questioner.

People were watching, including executives on competing networks. Walters was drawn to ABC to become the first female co-host of a prime-time news broadcast with an unprecedented $1 million annual salary. However, it didn’t take long for viewers to feel the tension between Walters and co-host Harry Reasoner, who couldn’t take the trouble to hide his disdain for being billed as the equal of this former “TODAY Girl.”

The newly discovered celebrity also earned the ultimate scumbag honor: having the challenge of pronouncing the elusive R’s by Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live.” Walters later admitted that he didn’t find the “Baba Wawa” sketches funny.

A disappointment for the ABC newscast, Walters’ career was saved by the special interview programs he launched for ABC. His first interview was with President-elect Jimmy Carter, and within a year he managed to have a joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, a year before their historic peace treaty.

In 1979, he reunited with Downs on the ABC news magazine show “20/20,” embarking on a successful 25-year run.

But Walters’ passion was his interviews, which compile a mix of difficult and fun questions on his distinctive 3×5 index cards and deal with order even after the cameras are up. On the 2014 television show commemorating his retirement from television journalism, Walters showed an autographed photograph of Cuban despot Fidel Castro hanging on his wall: “For the longest and most difficult interview I’ve ever done in my life.”

Walters asked Katherine Hepburn, “What kind of tree are you?” – in fairness, a continuation of something the legendary actor had said – he could have asked the toughest questions, like looking Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye and asking him if any of his opponents had ordered his death.

His 1999 exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky earned the highest ratings in history for a prime-time interview. In 1997, Walters launched a new show closer to “TODAY” roots: a mid-morning talk show with an all-female panel called “The View.” While co-producer and sitting at the table, he chose Meredith Vieira as the first moderator.

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

While Walters has largely managed to avoid controversy over his long career, in the 1970s Senator Edward Brooke, R-Mass. He created a stir when it was revealed that he had an affair with her.

After nearly 60 years in journalism, Walters announced his retirement in 2014.

“I don’t want to go on another program or climb another mountain,” he said. “Instead, I want to sit in a sunny field and admire the very talented women – and okay, some men – who will take my place.”

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