Bye-Bye To Barbara Walters: A Long 'View' Of A Storied Career After 53 years on television, ABC's Barbara Walters is retiring from her work on camera. Steve Inskeep talks to the groundbreaking broadcaster about her life, career and impact on television news.
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Bye-Bye To Barbara Walters: A Long 'View' Of A Storied Career

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Bye-Bye To Barbara Walters: A Long 'View' Of A Storied Career

Bye-Bye To Barbara Walters: A Long 'View' Of A Storied Career

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Let's listen to a good example of how to listen. Barbara Walters had a big interview recently. She spoke with V. Stiviano, the girlfriend of disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.


INSKEEP: He ABC interviewer who asked that question and caught what was not quite said is 84. This week, Barbara Walters says she is stepping back from the camera. She's ending an 18-year run on her daytime show "The View." She'll no longer be making regular appearances on the air, after more than half a century in American living rooms. Walters started her career behind the scenes at "The Today Show." She did her first on-air report in 1961. She eventually became the co-host. But executives at NBC, she says, did not realize they had a star on their hands until Walters was profiled in The New York Times by a young reporter named Gloria Steinem.

: It was the first big interview that anyone had done on me. But, you know, that was a time when women were not doing news. And women on the "Today Show" certainly were not doing news. So, one says now, well, what was the big deal? At the time, it was. And I had not been raising my hand, saying use me, use me, but I had been doing stories for the "Today Show." I did the day in the life of a Playboy bunny. I did the day in the life of a nun. That's sort of a big jump, isn't it? Playboy bunny to nun.


INSKEEP: It showed your range.

: Exactly. Those are the two stories I still remember. So, it was unusual. But the audience was used to me, because I had done these stories. So, when I was put on the air for 13 weeks while they were looking for a star, they said, well, we'll put her on at scale. I worked cheap. And the 13 weeks lasted 13 years, and my pay scale rose a bit. Not the way it is today for women on the morning shows, but I was pretty thrilled.

INSKEEP: I spoke with some younger women who have worked with you or around you over the years and wondered what they would ask you. And this was a question that came up: They asked about that period where you were almost alone among women in television news at that stature - probably entirely alone. And their questions was: How lonely was that?

: It was lonely, and it was painful. At one point, I was on the air with a male partner who really didn't want me on, and made things quite difficult for me. But what saved me - two things that I think: one was letters from other women, saying we're going through the same thing, in whatever field they were in, whatever job they had, and hang in there. And I knew that I had their support. And the other thing, believe it or not, was a telegram that said don't let the bastards get you down, and it was signed John Wayne. And I felt the cavalry was coming. So, it was a difficult time, but if it helped other women - and maybe it did - then it's a legacy I'm extremely proud of.

INSKEEP: But it must have been difficult, because there really wasn't any other woman going through exactly what you were.

: No. I remember going into my dressing room, sitting down and taking off my makeup and crying, because I knew that my partner didn't want me. I knew that I was failing. At that point, I was a single mother with a daughter to help support, and I felt that my career was over, that there was no life preserver. And it was then that a man who was a genius - and who was head of the news department here named Roone Arledge - literally sent me on the road, and that's when I did the most important interviews that I think helped to make my career: Fidel Castro, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin. I spent a lot of time in the Middle East, and I worked my way back. And that's, I think, what made the difference for me.

INSKEEP: When we last spoke in 2008, you spoke about your father, who, as many people will know, ran a very successful nightclub, and then ran into difficulties later. And you said at that time that people imagined you had this glamorous life, because you father knew Frank Sinatra. You were around stars. You could visit the nightclub. But you said a few ago you didn't want that. You said, quote, "I wanted a normal life. I wanted a daddy who was home." And thinking about you as a parent and having the career that you had, I wondered if you ever had a moment when that was exactly what your daughter wanted of you, just be home.

: I'm sure my daughter wanted that, and it is part of this difficult balance that you hope to have. And to working women today, no matter how much help you have, there is always that pull, that tug. And I'm not sure there is an answer. You do your best. Many women, myself included, had to work. We had to support the family. We had to help bring up - in my case, it wasn't just my daughter. It was my father and mother and sister. And it's tough. It's not all this glamorous job. For most women, it's tough work.

INSKEEP: Did you ever have a moment where you had a choice to make? You could go after Jimmy Carter, or you could be home with your daughter.

: Well, I had a lot of choices, because I was traveling all the time, and there was, you know, do I go to Egypt or do I stay home with Jackie? And with the job that I had, and I guess with my own ambition, I went to Egypt. But do I regret it? How do you think of that later on? It was my job. I tried to be there for Jackie. I tried to be there certainly for the most important occasions. She is a wonderful woman. Whether she did it by herself or with my help, I don't know. What I do know is that I'm grateful. I'm grateful for her. I'm grateful that she was in my life. It gave me such a feeling of joy to have had this child - I just wish I'd had more.

INSKEEP: Can you put into words what your ambition has been all these years, what it was you wanted to do in the world?

: No, I can't put it into words.

INSKEEP: What you were trying to accomplish with this body of work that you have?

: No, I can't do that. I love what I do. I have had failures, and I've had successes. But I cannot say to you I did this because of this and this and this. I had to work. That was a part of it. But beyond that, I don't know where you can pinpoint drive or ambition or need.

INSKEEP: I think I mean something a little different by the question. What I mean to ask is this: If you sat there and said if I succeed in the world, I will have done the following...

: I never have said that in my life.

INSKEEP: You never articulated where you wanted to be, where you wanted to go?

: No, no. Nor could I now.


INSKEEP: That's Barbara Walters of ABC, who is preparing to step back from television. Her last appearance on "The View" is tomorrow. But let me also ask you, Ms. Walters, is there anything important you want to talk about that you think I missed?

: Probably everything under the sun. But, no, you were very good. I'm very big on coulda, shoulda, woulda, so I will think I could have said, I should have said that, I would have said that. But you're going to do the same thing with your questions. You're going to stop talking to me and say, why didn't I do that? Because that's what we who do interviews do.

INSKEEP: Oh, that always happens. If you want, call back and tell me the other things, too. That's totally fine.

: I just might.


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