At 91 Barbara Walters Is Still Kickin’ It Today

Mar 03, 2021 by apost team

Barbara Walters' life and career can only be summed up as truly incredible. The pioneering journalist broke boundaries for women, when she began her broadcast journalism career in the 1950s, before making history when she became the first female co-host of a news program in 1974 and later, the first female co-anchor on a network evening news show in 1976. What we might take for granted now with women appearing on TV was something that Walters worked hard for, paving the way for all of the women that followed her.

Alongside her hosting duties, she was a skilled interviewer, with her intimate conversations with all kinds of notable people — from celebrities to politicians — only adding to the many reasons she became a favorite of the public. She was able to show off her interviewing talents over many decades and on a range of shows, the last of which was "The View," which she created, produced, and co-hosted, as well as a few specials that she had worked on. 

Now 91 years old, Walters is still thriving, however, she did officially retire in 2015 — at the incredible age of 85! Walters is a true inspiration, not only to women but to people everywhere. She's achieved the kind of career she's had through sheer hard work and talent and is an example of never giving up. Although she's no longer on our screens anymore, for decades we were blessed to be able to watch her. Let's take a look at her extraordinary life and what she's up to today.

Early Life

Barbara Walters (circa 1960), (Art Zelin/Getty Images)

Barbara Walters was born in 1929 — although Walters herself stated she was born in 1931 in an onscreen interview — in Boston. Her parents, who were both Jewish, descended from refugees who'd fled the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Her father Lou, who had been born in London but immigrated to New York as a teenager, worked in show business, having started the chain of nightclubs called Latin Quarter, which according to the "New Yorker," was "an American version of the type of Parisian night club that had elaborate floor shows with dozens of expensively costumed chorus girls."

Although seemingly glamorous, the reality was that Walters' father was broke and the family was mired in financial difficulties. But a boom in business put them ahead and soon enough they had moved to New York where he was managing a new branch of Latin Quarter. But with showbiz being as fickle as it is, the family's success wouldn't last and they were broke once more, with Walters telling the Television Academy Foundation, “Because my father was in show business and because there were these ups and downs, I always felt that I had to work to take care of myself."

The constant ups and downs broke the family up, with Walters stating in a "New York Times" interview years later that she was closer to her mother and only really got to know who her father was in her 40s. Nevertheless, these formative experiences would greatly influence her and likely are responsible for the fierce ambition that would go on to shape her career and life.

Rise To Fame

Barbara Walters (1975), (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty images)

After studying English at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Walters graduated in 1951 and just one year later she began working at what is now WNBC. By 1955 she was working at CBS as a writer on "The Morning Show," before eventually landing a writing and research role on NBC's "The Today Show" in 1961. Her talent got her noticed and she quickly moved up the ranks to become the regular "Today Girl" — a member of staff who looked after the weather and small news assignments. 

However, it was, in fact, an accident that she became a journalist at all. At the time, "Today" was more focused on entertainment, but a switch to the news division changed the content of the show. Developing, writing, and editing her own segments led Walters to a few breakthrough moments in her career. These segments, which were well-received, allowed her to focus on women's interest stories that showed off her incredible talents as a broadcast journalist and also gained her popularity with the public.

She was effectively a co-host by 1964, although it wasn't made official until a decade later. Allegedly, her male co-stars were intimidated by her, particularly host Frank McGee, who refused to partake in joint interviews with Walters unless he was told the first three questions beforehand. This says a lot about Walters' interviewing style, which she became well known for throughout her career and was a sign of things to come. She continued working at "Today" throughout the rest of the '60s and into the early '70s. 

Female Pioneer

Barbara Walters (circa 1988), (Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images)

It was in 1974 that she was officially made co-host of "The Today Show," alongside Hugh Downs, and in the process, she also made history as the first female co-anchor of a network news program. The following year she won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on the show. 

Then in 1976, she made the switch to ABC and became the first-ever female co-host of a network evening news program on the "ABC Evening News" alongside Harry Reasoner. Their time working together was notoriously complicated, however, as Reasoner held open disdain for Walters. She told "The New York Times" years later that it was the unhappiest year of her life and that:

"I would walk into that studio and they'd be telling baseball stories and no one would talk to me."

The president of ABC News intervened and reassigned them both new positions, which allowed Walters to continue shining. She kept on persevering and her talent only led to more career growth and success. 

Awards are not the only measure of a successful career, but Walters has certainly earned enough of them to prove why she's so good at what she does. In total she has been nominated for 33 Daytime Emmys, of which she won three as well as an honorary award; 11 Primetime Emmys, of which she won one; and 19 News and Documentary Emmy nominations, seven of which she won. Additionally, she has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Notable Interviews

Connie Chung, Barbara Walters (2002), (Theo Wargo/WireImage)

One of the areas of her job that Walters excelled in was interviewing — something that became apparent early on and on which she was able to spend decades perfecting. Over the course of her more than six-decade-long career, Walters interviewed everyone from celebrities to heads of state. 

Notable interviewees include the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his empress wife Farah Pahlavi, Russian president Boris Yeltsin, and later, Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro, Libyan politician Muammar al-Gaddafi, and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. She also interviewed every single president of the United States from Richard Nixon through to Barack Obama, and although she's interviewed Donald Trump before, it was before he became the president. 

In terms of celebrities, she has interviewed Michael Jackson, Katharine Hepburn, Sir Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, Naomi Campbell, Diana Ross, Patrick Swayze, Elton John, and Miley Cyrus among many others, as well as "Vogue"'s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.

Praised for her skills in getting people to open up, Walters truly found her forte in interviewing. So much so that when her interview with former White House-aide Monica Lewinsky was airing, she was at home with friends and looked out to 5th Avenue, only to comment that there was no traffic, before one of her producers said, "That’s because everyone is home watching the interview." That interview broke records as 70 million people tuned in, making it the second most-watched television interview in American and British history, coming in after Oprah's 1993 interview with Michael Jackson.

Retirement And Later Years In Life

Barbara Walters (1996), (Rose Hartman/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Despite her record-breaking journalism career, which included hosting various shows such as "The View," "Today," "20/20" and more, Walters announced she would be retiring in 2014. At the time she said in a statement, as reported by the "Los Angeles Times":

“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain. I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place."

It seems that the times were changing and with the rise of social media, there was less focus on lengthy television interviews, the kind that Walters was well known for. 

Now in her 90s, Walters is able to relax and enjoy the successes that she worked hard for her whole life. Once asked whether she had any regrets by a fellow excellent interviewer, Oprah, Walters did admit to one. But it wasn't related to her career, rather it was about her daughter, Jacqueline Dena, whom she'd adopted. She told Oprah:

“I would have been home more — and you and I wouldn’t be talking today,” before adding, “It’s not just about spending quality time. It’s about time in general."

She goes on to add:

"Jackie's so wonderful now that it's not. But had she not been, it would have been a very deep regret. When she was going through the turmoil of her teen years, which I don't want to talk about, it was a terrible heartache. But maybe I did something right, because look how she turned out."

We're sure that Walters and her daughter are enjoying the most of each other's company now, and after a life of hard work, she deserves some warm family time more than anything else.

Barbara Walters (2015), (Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty images)

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