The first female evening news anchor was the innovative TV newsreader. Barbara Walters, a trailblazing television news anchor and correspondent for ABC News who broke the glass ceiling and rose to prominence in a field previously dominated by males, passed away on Friday. She was 93.
As the first female anchor of an evening news program, Walters joined ABC News in 1976. She started hosting “The View” in 1997 after joining “20/20” as a co-host three years earlier. ABC News parent Business The Walt Disney Company’s CEO, Bob Iger, lauded Walters as breaking down barriers.
“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself. She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state to the biggest celebrities and sports icons. I had the pleasure of calling Barbara a colleague for over three decades, but more importantly, I could call her a dear friend. All of us will miss her at The Walt Disney Company, and we send our deepest condolences to her daughter, Jacqueline,” Iger said in a statement Friday.
Trailblazing Broadcast Journalist, Dies at 93. https://t.co/vEoybSlfZs
— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) December 31, 2022
In a five-decade-long career, Walters garnered 12 Emmys, 11 of which he received while working for ABC News. In 2014, she made her final appearance as a co-host of “The View,” but she continued to serve as the program’s executive producer and to conduct occasional interviews and specials.
“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” she said. “I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place.”
Dena and Louis “Lou” Walters welcomed Barbara Jill Walters into the world on September 25, 1929, in Boston. As a booking agent and nightclub producer in the entertainment industry, her father discovered comedians Jack Haley and Fred Allen, who would later play the Tin Man in the beloved movie “The Wizard of Oz.”
Barbara learned a valuable lesson from her exposure to superstars as a young girl that she applied to her job.
“I would see them onstage looking one way and offstage, often looking very different. I would hear my parents talk about them and know that even though those performers were very special people, they were also human beings with real-life problems,” Walters said in a 1989 interview with the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences. “I can respect and admire famous people, but I have never felt fear or awe.”
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Walters said in her 2008 biography “Audition” that her older sister Jacqueline, born with developmental disabilities, was the source of her drive to succeed.
“Her condition also altered my life,” Walters wrote. “I think I knew from a very early age that, at some point, Jackie would become my responsibility. That awareness was one of the main reasons I was driven to work so hard. But my feelings went beyond financial responsibility.”
“Much of the need I had to prove myself, achieve, provide, protect, can be traced to my feelings about Jackie. But there must be something more, the ‘Something’ that makes one need to excel,” she added. “Some may call it ambition. I can live with that. Some may call it insecurity, although that is a boring, common label, like being called shy, which means little. But as I look back, it feels that my life has been one long audition — an attempt to make a difference and be accepted.”
Before gaining a job as a writer on NBC’s “Today” show in 1961, Walters worked as a publicist and television writer after earning a degree from Bronxville, New York’s Sarah Lawrence College in the 1950s. In 1974, she was hired as the show’s first female co-host. She earned her first Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host the following year.
“No one was more surprised than I,” she said of her on-air career. “I wasn’t beautiful, like many of the women on the program before me, [and] I had trouble pronouncing my r’s.”
Walters said in her memoir that she had black hair, a sallow complexion, and was sometimes called thin. She claimed that her parents named her “Skinnymalinkydin” as a nickname. As the first female co-anchor of an evening news program, Walters made history in 1976 when she relocated to ABC’s “Evening News.”
With co-anchor Harry Reasoner, Walters secured an exclusive interview with Earl Butz, who had recently resigned as Secretary of Agriculture under President Gerald Ford when it was discovered he made a racist remark, for her first show on October 4, 1976. Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, was also interviewed via satellite on his intentions to end fighting with Lebanon.
My heart hurts, but I’m also so grateful to have grown up watching #BarbaraWalters – a woman, asking the hard questions & holding the powerful accountable
— Lauren Linder (@lauren_linder) December 31, 2022
Walters had unmatched access to prominent personalities at ABC and performed the first interview with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Walters crossed the Bay of Pigs with Fidel Castro. She also had a reputation for challenging others.
“I asked Vladimir Putin if he ever ordered anyone to be killed,” she recalled. “For the record, he said ‘no.'” After Castro’s passing in 2016, Walters said that the dictator referred to their two interviews as “fiery debates.”
Her likeness was immortalized in wax in 2001 at Madame Tussauds in New York City, and she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. Her alma institution, Sarah Lawrence College, Ohio State University, Temple University, Marymount College, Wheaton College, Hofstra University, and Ben-Gurion University in Jerusalem all awarded her an honorary doctorate.
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In 1989, after 25 years in the industry, Peter Jennings, the anchor and senior editor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” was honored with being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
“In all the years that Barbara has spent covering the world, those of us who have moved along in her wake have done better because she was there first setting standards, and she has taught us all something,” Jennings, who died in 2005, said at the time.
In 2000, Oprah Winfrey echoed Jennings’ speech when she presented Walters with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. “Had there not been Barbara Walters, surely all of the other women who have followed in her footsteps, including me, could not stand where we stand and do what we do in this industry today,” Winfrey said.
“If I have a legacy, and I've said this before and I mean it so sincerely — I hope that I played a small role in paving the way for so many of you fabulous women."
RIP Barbara Walters https://t.co/P15VxhZ3xL
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) December 31, 2022
In her acceptance speech, Walters said, “I have been blessed with a life I never expected, and helping me up the steps of the ladder over the years have been hundreds of people.”
Part of ABC News’ Headquarters in New York was renamed “The Barbara Walters Building” in May 2014. During the ceremony, Walters accepted the honor, saying, “People ask me very often, ‘what is your legacy?’ and it’s not the interviews with presidents, heads of state, or celebrities. If I have a legacy, and I’ve said this before and I mean it so sincerely, I hope I played a small role in paving the way for many of you fabulous women.”