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The Walters family moved from Boston to Miami to New York, as the franchise expanded, and Barbara, who is now in her 80s, grew up amid singers, showgirls, acrobats, and comedians.From her perch in the lighting booth, she was always aware that “behind these fantasy figures were real people” who had genuine problems like everyone else.However, if Walters declines to toot her own horn, there are plenty of others to do it for her.“She was an early ballbuster, and I mean that in the nicest possible way,” Katie Couric said of Walters.Walters is clearly proud of how long the specials, and particularly special lasted, “The interviews have a texture to them that I think has been unique,” she said, though she harbors one regret, which is that she didn’t travel to South Africa in 1994 to personally interview Nelson Mandela. On that trip, she had interviewed not only former Prime Minister Golda Meir, but also Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan, with whom she formed a lasting friendship.“It was November, which was sweeps,” Walters recalls. (Dayan’s widow, Raquel, would wear to her husband’s 1981 funeral a dress that belonged to Walters.) The historic nature of what was at stake for Israel and its neighbors, as well as the powerful and charismatic personalities of the players, made it irresistible; to this day, Walters says her all-time favorite interviewee was then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.Upon discovering that her father owed taxes he couldn’t pay, it also was Barbara who helped untangle the ensuing legal and financial complications and began providing financial assistance to her father, mother, and older sister, who had cognitive disabilities.“In my 20s, when I should have been having this wonderful time, I was working and supporting my family,” Walter says now, recalling Sarah Lawrence classmates who lived in chic apartments and wore designer clothes. Most men, if they hated the job, or if it was boring to them or beneath them, they had to work. So the women got married or they took time off or they took a trip, if they had the wherewithal. A decade later, she jumped to ABC to be the first female co-anchor of the evening news on any network; though that role was brief, it gave rise to her famous specials, featuring heads of state, convicted criminals, Hollywood royalty, and all combinations thereof.
“And I was criticized for it, and now everybody does it.“I was just so busy and I didn’t think I could spare that four days traveling, the interview, a week—and I’m kicking myself.”For Walters and Geddie, selecting the group was always more art than science; from New Year’s Day to Thanksgiving, they’d keep a running list of more than 100 possibilities and often make 11th-hour changes if whoever felt like a defining personality back in February didn’t radiate relevance come November. After her 1977 joint interview with Sadat and Israel’s Begin, she wanted to hold a similar joint interview with the Egyptian and Israeli ambassadors, in the United States.They did no formal polling, but, Walters says, “If you’re delivering the turkey sandwich, we ask your opinion. Because Egypt and Israel had been at war since 1948, the two men had never met, and the Egyptian ambassador, Ashraf Ghorbal, didn’t want to be in the presence of his Israeli counterpart, Simcha Dinitz, for the first time on television.“She rattled a lot of cages before women were even allowed into the zoo.”Sherri Shepherd, one of Walters’s co-hosts on said, “I think every talk show where you see more than one person of color is due to Barbara Walters.In the landscape of network TV, you would always see one black person, and it was the foresight and creative vision of Barbara Walters who said, ‘You know what?T), though she’s also talked to nearly every current A-lister (Beyoncé Knowles, Angelina Jolie, Tina Fey), as well as legends from the past such as Truman Capote and Maria Callas, athletes like Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi, political leaders (Yitzhak Rabin, Indira Gandhi), and every sitting president and First Lady from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.Walters attributes her comfort with, and understanding of, public figures to her unusual upbringing: her father, Lou Walters, an immigrant from England, owned a chain of nightclubs called the Latin Quarter.Maybe all black people don’t think alike.’ ” And for anyone tempted to dismiss Walters, by invoking Gilda Radner’s mid-70s “Baba Wawa” impersonation, consider that at the same time, Walters was doing groundbreaking work in the Middle East, including her unprecedented 1977 joint interview with former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.On May 16 Walters will retire from appearing on television (she will still serve, with her longtime business partner, Bill Geddie, as *The View’*s co–executive producer).Now, on the morning shows, the first half-hour is news, and the second half-hour they’re making soufflés, or interviewing a movie star.But when I was doing that, that was unusual.” She said that if ratings didn’t matter she wouldn’t include celebrity guests on Walters’s on-air manner—and her ability to persuade her interviewees to reveal intimacies on national TV—seems to be a natural extension of her personality.