This past Friday night, Em and I had a pretty wild night. We stayed in and watched the two hour special/tribute/interview of Barbara Walters, Her Story. Ok, so maybe that’s not really all that wild, but to be completely honest, I found it to be incredibly interesting. It was a tribute to Barbara, who at 84, just retired this week.
Before seeing the show, I would have said that I didn’t have any particular opinion for or against Barbara Walters. Growing up, I remembered her most for being on 20/20, later The View, and of course, various interviews with important people. What I did not know or realize before the show, was the incredible history of her career, and also the immense breadth of individuals that she has spoken with over time. In fact, as they cut back and showed various interview clips, I became more and more convinced that there is probably no living person who has talked to as many important people from across such a broad spectrum as Barbara has. And, I’d be willing to bet that there are very few people ever who have come close to speaking with as many important people.
The two-hour special was put together as a one-on-one interview, with Barbara’s producer interviewing her. They covered a lot of topics and spliced in many clips of Barbara as both newswoman and interviewer. They discussed her story as far as getting into the business, eventually on tv, then the news, and interviews and shows. They covered some of her favorite interviews, her favorites interview questions, and even a bit of her personal life. It was a fairly long program, but I would absolutely say that I was interested from beginning to end and would recommend watching it. (Try this link, or you can just google Barbara Walters Her Story).
Some interesting things that stuck out:
Yes, Anchorman was/is real. Barbara started her career writing and doing production for news programs. (Ok, actually before that she did some commercials. And they were kind of funny.) She eventually found her way onto the screen to do “fluff” segments about women’s interest stories such as short fashion segments. She eventually found her way closer and closer to a news desk doing more “hard news” stories. However, this was not without a fight; the host at the time, Frank McGee, said that women were not fit to do “hard news” and she was never given the title of co-host while he was around. She eventually did get the title of co-host, along with a nice contract, but even then it was a constant uphill battle to be taken seriously as a woman doing hard news.
She has interviewed so many people. I know I have already mentioned this above, but it isn’t until you watch the program go through a spattering of the people that Barbara has interviewed and spoken with that you can get a true appreciation of just how many important people she has talked to over the years. This list spans leaders in the Middle East, every president and first lady since Nixon, Fidel Castro, movie stars, singers, and so many more. If an individual has done something remarkable or newsworthy, Barbara has likely interviewed him or her.
She always asked “tough questions” and got answers. I sometimes think that “tough questions” are a little hyped and sometimes aren’t all that tough. But after watching some of these interview clips, she really did. She asked Sean Connery about hitting women (which he said was ok – yikes!), she got two leaders from Israel and Egypt who were enemies to interview with her (it was the first time they had even been in the same room with one another), she asked Monica Lewinsky some of the juicy details about Clinton, she asked Putin if he had ever ordered anyone to be killed, and she asked Mike Tyson’s wife (Robin Givens) if he ever hit her (while Tyson was sitting right next to her!). These are pretty gutsy questions to be asking a person in a face to face interview. She was also known to make people cry (think emotionally tough questions here) and it became a running joke among her interviewees to try and survive an interview with Barbara without crying!
She didn’t consider herself to be a great family woman. I didn’t know that Barbara had been married, but apparently she was married four times. She said that she probably wasn’t very good at being married. This was probably due, in large part, to her commitment to her job. She also has an adopted daughter, Jackie. She talked about Jackie a bit, but it was a little unclear as to how their relationship really was, though Barbara again admitted that she probably should have been around more. She seemed to understand that Jackie didn’t want to be known as “Barbara’s daughter”, though again, it was a little unclear if that was partly resentment or some tension in the relationship from Jackie’s end.
Barbara got paid. In 1976, Barbara accepted an offer from ABC to be the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program. She was given a salary of one million dollars. (Part of that contract was that she was to do a series of interviews on the side with different individuals. She said that these interviews are probably what saved and then catapulted her career.) While this is a handsome amount of money, especially at that time, it didn’t come without its drawbacks as she was often challenged and even ridiculed by others for receiving such a contract. Again, it was certainly not easy to be the woman trying to blaze a trail in a news arena full of men. But she certainly did a lot of the legwork for many women to follow in all realms of business, not just the news.
I thought the program did an excellent job of highlighting Barbara’s career, through her own reflections during the interviews along with the clips that were selected. Her place in history is a fascinating one. It is an intersection of trailblazing a path for women in (and out of) news, news and television in general (other shows such as 20/20 and The View), and an individual who has arguably had more access and contact with more important individuals than anyone else has, ever! So farewell, Barbara, you’ve had a long and incredibly successful career, despite many obstacles! I’m glad that Her Story was put out there to help highlight her achievements and importance, and to educate those who were not fully aware (like myself).