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Barbara Walters is an American media personality known for her many years as the first woman network news anchor, on ABC News starting in 1976. Fifteen years earlier she began as a writer on NBC's The Today Show and within a year became a reporter-at-large, developing, writing and editing her own reports and interviews. In 1974, NBC officially designated her as the program's first female co-host. She is also known for her years on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 where she joined host Hugh Downs in 1979 and became the show's sole host in 1999. She left 20/20 in 2004. More recently she often co-hosts the daytime women's talk forum The View, of which she is also co-owner and co-executive producer. Throughout her career at ABC, Walters has appeared on ABC news specials as a commentator, including presidential inaugurations and the coverage of 9/11. Many of her regular and special programs are syndicated around the world.

She follows the line of personality journalism that was a specialty of Edward R. Murrow, and is known for her scoop interviews, such as the Monica Lewinsky interview that won the highest ratings of any journalist interview. In November 1977 she achieved a joint interview with Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Her interviews with world leaders from all walks of life are a biography of the latter part of the 20th century. They include Russia's Boris Yeltsin, China's Jiang Zemin, the UK's Margaret Thatcher, Cuba's Fidel Castro, as well as Indira Gandhi, Václav Havel, Moammar Qaddafi, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and King Hussein of Jordan. Not all her interviewees remain dry-eyed, and critics accuse Barbara Walters of pumping for the ratings-generating public tears. Critics have also accused Walters of not asking enough tough questions to her subjects, relying mainly on so-called softball questions to elicit sometimes unexpected answers. Her Barbara Walters Specials are top-rated, and since 1993 her year-end Ten Most Fascinating People offers a review of the year's most prominent newsmakers.

Barbara Walters was widely lampooned in 1981 and oftentimes since, when during an interview with actress Katharine Hepburn, Walters allegedly posed the infamous question, If you were a tree, what kind would you be? As she has often pointed out, and the video clips confirm, Hepburn initiated the comment by saying she would like to be a tree, and Walters merely followed up with, What kind of a tree?

Her idiosyncratic speech with its rounded R inspired Gilda Radner's Babwa Wawa impersonation on Saturday Night Live, which the normally high-self-esteemed Walters has admitted felt very hurtful. She has been spoofed on the show by many comediennes, including Cheri Oteri and Rachel Dratch, as well as a DuckTales character named Webra Walters. To her credit, she has been an attractive target for comedians because of her unique style and fame. Also to her credit, her career has mirrored the opening of doors for women in journalism, that when she started out were doors usually leading to studio kitchens. She has seldom minced words when describing the visible, on-the-air disdain her co-anchor, the now-deceased old school reporter Harry Reasoner displayed for her when she was teamed up with him on the ABC Evening News. Fortunately, Reasoner's contemporary Hugh Downs had a decidedly more professional demeanor, and the 20/20 team flourished for two decades.

She was one of the two daughters of the late Louis Edward Walters, a immigrant from London, England, who owned the famed New York nightclub The Latin Quarter, and who was, among other things, a Broadway producer (he produced the Ziegfeld Follies of 1943), and his wife, Boston-born Dena Seletsky, who was of Polish descent. Barbara had a sister, Jackie, who was developmentally disabled and who died of ovarian cancer. Barbara named her daughter, whom she adopted with her second husband, Lee Guber, after her late sister. On shows such as A&E Biography, Barbara has commented that being surrounded by celebrities when she was young kept her from being in awe of them, an important factor in being able to conduct high-profile interviews.

Significant Other(s):

  • Husband: Robert Henry Katz, business executive; marriage annulled
  • Husband: Lee Guber, theatrical producer; married December 8, 1963; divorced 1976
  • Husband: Merv Adelson, CEO of Lorimar Television; married 1986; divorced 1992
  • Father: Lou Walters, nightclub owner, theatrical producer
  • Mother: Dena Walters
  • Daughter: Jacqueline Walters Guber Danforth; adopted with husband Lee Guber.
  • Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York (BA, English)

Article text released under CC-BY-SA. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Barbara Walters" (07-Oct-2005)