The Legacy of Barbra Walters: America’s “Million Dollar Baby”

Her Legacy

On December 30, 2022 Barbra Walters passed at the age of 93, but even after her passing Walters’ legacy remains. Walters began her career when television executives viewed female reporters covering about war, politics and other important matters would not be taken seriously by viewers[1]. Her success is credited with creating career opportunities for future female network anchors, including Jane Pauley, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer. Walters often got her interviewees to speak about their perspectives and share information about their personal lives.[2][1] Through out her career Walters have earned many awards such as being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NATAS (National Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences) in 2000, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.[41] This blog post is an adaptation of Wikipedia’s article on Barbara Walters. It highlights her impact in the broadcasting community and how she became an inspiration for female news anchors.

Childhood Surrounded by Showbusiness

Barbara Jill Walters was born in Boston on September 25, 1929.[3] [1] She was the daughter of Dena (née Seletsky) and Lou Walters (born Louis Abraham Warmwater);[4] [5] her parents were children of Russian Jewish immigrants.[6] [7]

During Walters’ childhood her father managed the Latin Quarter nightclub in Boston, which was owned in partnership with E. M. Loew. In 1942, her father opened the club’s now-famous New York location. He was also a Broadway producer for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1943,[8] [9]  and the entertainment director for the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Her father imported the Folies Bergère stage show from Paris to the resort’s main showroom.[10] According to Walters, her father made and lost several fortunes throughout his life in show business. He was a booking agent, and (unlike her uncles in the shoe and dress businesses) his job was not very stable. During the good times she recalled her father taking her to the rehearsals of the nightclub shows he directed and produced. The actresses and dancers would make a huge fuss over her and twirl her around until she was dizzy, after which she said her father would take her out to get hot dogs.[11] Walters said that being surrounded by celebrities when she was young kept her from being “in awe” of them.[12] 

Walters’ Start Up

Walters attended Lawrence School, a public school in Brookline, Massachusetts; she left halfway through fifth grade when her father moved the family to Miami Beach in 1939.[13] She continued attending public school in Miami Beach.[14] After her father moved the family to New York City, she spent eighth grade at the private Ethical Culture Fieldstone School,[15] after which the family moved back to Miami Beach.[16] She then went back to New York City after tenth grade, where she attended Birch Wathen School, another private school.[17][18][19] In 1951, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York.[20]

After college Walters was employed for about a year at a small advertising agency in New York City and began working at the NBC network’s flagship station WNBT-TV (now WNBC), doing publicity and writing press releases. In 1953 she produced a 15-minute children’s program, Ask the Camera, which was directed by Roone Arledge. She also started producing for TV host Igor Cassini (Cholly Knickerbocker), but left the network shorty after. She went to WPIX to produce the Eloise McElhone Show, which was canceled in 1954.[21] She became a writer on The Morning Show at CBS in 1955.[22]

At the Table

The Today Show

Walters joined NBC’s The Today Show as a writer and researcher in 1961.[23] She moved up becoming the show’s regular “Today Girl”, where she handled lighter assignments and the weather. In her autobiography, Walters described this era as a time when it was believed that nobody would take a woman seriously reporting “hard news”, since it was before the Women’s Movement. Within a year, she had become a reporter-at-large developing, writing, and editing her own reports and interviews.[24] One very well-received film segment was “A Day in the Life of a Nun.” Another was about the daily life of a Playboy Bunny.[25]

Beginning in 1971, Walters hosted her own local NBC affiliate show, Not for Women Only, which ran in the mornings after The Today Show.[26] [27] Walters had a great relationship with host Hugh Downs for years. In 1974, NBC officially designated Walters as the program’s first female co-host,[28] becoming the first female co-host of a U.S. news program.[29]

ABC Evening News

Walters signed a five-year, $5 million contract with ABC, receiving the nickname “Million Dollar Baby” and establishing her as the highest-paid news anchor, either male or female.[2] She and Harry Reasoner co-anchored the ABC Evening News from 1976 to 1978, making her the first U.S. female network news anchor. [29] Reasoner had a difficult relationship with Walters because he disliked having a co-anchor, even though he worked with former CBS colleague Howard K. Smith nightly on ABC for several years. Walters said that the tension between the two was because Reasoner did not want to work with a co-anchor and also because he was unhappy at ABC.[30] In 1981, five years after the start of their short-lived ABC partnership and well after Reasoner returned to CBS News, Walters and her former co-anchor had a memorable (and cordial) 20/20 interview on the occasion of Reasoner’s new book release.[31]

In 1979, Walters reunited with former The Today Show host Downs as a correspondent on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20. She became Down’s co-host in 1984, and remained with the program until she retired as co-host in 2004.[32] Throughout her career at ABC, Walters appeared on ABC news specials as a commentator, including presidential inaugurations and the coverage of the September 11 attacks. She also has been chosen to moderate presidential debates.

“The View’s panel interview President Barack Obama on July 29, 2010” by Pete Souza, photo available in the public domain.

The View

Walters was a co-host of the daytime talk show The View; she was also a co-creator and co-executive producer alongside her business partner, Bill Geddie. The show has aired on ABC as part of the network’s daytime programming block since August 11, 1997. Walters described it as “a talk show featuring four or five women ‘of different backgrounds, generations, and opinions,’ who would discuss the topics of the day, mixing humor with intelligent debate.”[33]On The View, she won Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Talk Show in 2003 and Best Talk Show Host (with longtime host Joy Behar, moderator Whoopi GoldbergElisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd) in 2009.[34]


Walters was known for “personality journalism”[35] and her “scoop” interviews.[36] In 1976, she first aired her highly-rated, occasional, primetime Barbara Walters Specials interview program. Her first guests included a joint appearance by President-elect Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, and a separate interview with singer-actress Barbra Streisand.[37] Walters had sit-down interviews with world leaders and many influential people in pop culture.

Walters was widely known for asking actress Katharine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” On the last 20/20 television episode in which she appears. Walters showed a video of Hepburn’s interview, showing the actress saying, she felt like a strong tree in her old age. Walters followed up with the question, “What kind of a tree?”, and Hepburn responded “an oak” because they do not get Dutch elm disease.[38] According to Walters for years Hepburn refused her requests for an interview. When Hepburn finally agreed to one she said she wanted to meet Walters first. Walters walked in all smiles and ready to please. They had several other meetings later, mostly in Hepburn’s living room where she would give Walters her opinions. These included that careers and marriage did not mix, as well as her feeling that combining children with careers was out of the question. Walters said Hepburn’s opinions stuck with her so much, she could repeat them almost verbatim from that point onward.[11]

On March 3, 1999, her interview with Monica Lewinsky was seen by a record 74 million viewers, the highest rating ever for a news program.[39] Walters asked Lewinsky, “What will you tell your children when you have them?” Lewinsky replied, “Mommy made a big mistake,” at which point Walters brought the program to a dramatic conclusion, turning to the viewers and saying, “… that is the understatement of the year.”[40] From there throughout her career Walters’ continued to interview many influential people including current and former presidents, and pop icons such as Michael Jackson.

Trophies of Success

Throughout her career Walters have earned many awards. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989.[23] On June 15, 2007, Walters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[41] She won Daytime and Prime Time Emmy Awards, a Women in Film Lucy Award,[42] and a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Excellence in Media award.[43] In 2008, Walters was honored with the Disney Legends award, which is given to those who made an outstanding contribution to The Walt Disney Company, the parent company that owns the network ABC. That same year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Women’s Agenda. September 21, 2009, Walters was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards at New York City’s Lincoln Center.[44]

Personal Life and Relationships

Walters was married four times to three different men. Her first husband was Robert Henry Katz, a business executive and former Navy lieutenant. The marriage was reportedly annulled after eleven months,[45] in 1957.[46] Her second husband was Lee Guber, a theatrical producer and theater owner. They married on December 8, 1963, and then the couple adopted a baby girl named Jacqueline Dena Guber (born in 1968 and adopted the same year; she was named for Walters’ sister) but then divorced in 1976.[47] Walters’ third husband was Merv Adelson who at the time was the CEO of Lorimar Television. They married in 1981 and divorced in 1984. They remarried in 1986 and divorced for the second time in 1992.[48]

In Walters’s autobiography Audition, she wrote that she had an affair in the 1970s with Edward Brooke, who was married United States Senator from Massachusetts. It is not clear whether Walters also was married at the time. Walters said they ended the affair to protect their careers from scandal.[49] Walters said she regretted not having more children.[50][51]

And That’s a Wrap

In May 2010, Walters said she would be having an open-heart operation to replace a faulty aortic valve. She had known that she was suffering from aortic stenosis, even though she was symptom-free. Four days after the operation, Walters’ spokeswoman, Cindi Berger, said that the procedure to fix the faulty heart valve “went well, and the doctors are very pleased with the outcome”.[52] Walters returned to The View and her Sirius XM satellite show, Here’s Barbara, in September 2010.[53][54]

In May 2014 Walters confirmed that she would be retiring from television hosting and interviewing, as originally reported; she made the official announcement on the May 13, 2013, episode of The View. She also announced that she would continue as the show’s executive producer for as long as it “is on the air”.[55][56][57][58][59]

It was announced that Walters was “coming out of retirement” for a special 20/20 interview with Peter Rodger, the father of the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings, on June 10, 2014.[60][61] In 2015, Walters hosted special 20/20 episodes featuring interviews with Mary Kay Letourneau,[62] and Donald and Melania Trump.[63] That same year Walters hosted a documentary series on Investigation Discovery called American Scandals .[64]Her last on-air interview was with Donald Trump for ABC News in December 2015.[65] She made her final public appearance in 2016.[66][67]

Six years later Walters died at the age of 93 at her home in Manhattan on December 30, 2022.[68]

This blog “The Legacy of Barbra Walters: America’s Million Dollar Baby” by Ashlyn Indeglia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. It is an adaptation of:

“Barbra Walters” by Wikipedia contributors is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

“The View (talk show)” by Wikipedia contributors is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


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5.Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, April 1, 2012.

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9.Lou Walters at the Internet Broadway Database

10.Tropicana – Las Vegas Strip Archived April 19, 2018, at the Wayback Machine.

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