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Barbara Walters, pioneering TV journalist, dies at 93


Barbara Walters.

Toby Canham | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Barbara Walters, the pioneering TV broadcaster who blazed a trail for ladies in a male-dominated medium, died Friday. She was 93.

Her death was confirmed by her representative, Cindi Berger, who said Walters died “peacefully in her home surrounded by family members.”

“She lived her life with no regrets,” Berger said. “She was a trailblazer not just for female journalists, but for all women.”

ABC, the network where she last worked, aired a special report Friday night announcing Walters’ death and reflecting on her profession. Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, parent of ABC, said in a press release Walters died Friday evening at her Recent York City residence.

He called her “a pioneer not only for ladies in journalism but for journalism itself.”

Walters was known in recent times because the co-creator and matriarch of the hit ABC daytime show “The View,” but older viewers remember her as the primary female anchor of a network news program and the pre-eminent interviewer on television. She earned that repute with a penchant for meticulous preparation, whether she was interviewing despots or divas, models or murderers.

Read more from NBC News:

“I accomplish that much homework, I do know more concerning the person than she or he knows about themselves,” Walters said in a 2014 television special.

That drive proved essential to her success. When she broke into the business in 1961 as a author on NBC’s “TODAY” show, the thought of a lady sitting down and interviewing a sitting president on prime-time network television (which she did just over a decade later) seemed more fantasy than reality in an industry dominated by men like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

“She was playing in a field that was such an old boy’s network, literally and figuratively, and he or she didn’t take no for a solution,” Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told NBC News before Walters’ death.

“Sooner or later, the things that had been a liability for her, being a lady attempting to get a foothold in a male-dominated industry, began to turn out to be more of an asset,” Thompson said. “She was smart and ready, but at the identical time she got here across as more compassionate (than her male peers).

“Barbara Walters proved to be the evolutionary step between Edward R. Murrow and Oprah Winfrey.”

Childhood exposure to celebrities

In some ways, Walters had been preparing for those trademark interviews all her life. Born in Boston on Sept. 25, 1929, Barbara Jill Walters got to see the wealthy and famous up close because the daughter of nightlife impresario Lou Walters, who owned clubs up and down the East Coast.

“I learned that celebrities were human beings,” Walters said in 2014. “I never considered a celeb as someone so perfect and wonderful that I must be postpone.”

Inheriting her father’s drive, Walters graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a bachelors degree in English and broke into journalism as an assistant at NBC affiliate WRCA-TV. In 1955, she married businessman Robert Henry Katz, but her old flame remained her fledgling profession. The couple divorced three years later.

Hired as a author and researcher on “TODAY,” Walters rose to turn out to be the one female producer on the show and commenced filing in on air occasionally because the “TODAY Girl,” a reporting role reserved for fashion shows, lifestyle trends and the weather that was previously held, amongst others, by Florence Henderson of “Brady Bunch” fame.

Hardly the form of hard reporting to which Walters clearly aspired.

Off-air, Walters married the theater producer Lee Guber in 1963, with whom she adopted a daughter, Jacqueline, named after Walters’ older sister, who was developmentally disabled. The wedding would last 13 years.

Big breakthrough

Her big breakthrough got here with an task to travel with Jacqueline Kennedy on the primary lady’s trip to India in 1962. That led to more newsy pieces and a bump in status to co-hosting responsibilities opposite Hugh Downs — though she didn’t get the official title until 1974. By that point, Downs had left the network and was replaced by Frank McGee.

McGee, who died shortly after being partnered with Walters, demanded that he ask three inquiries to every one in every of Walter’s in studio interviews. He was an actual newsman, in spite of everything.

So, Walters began fielding interviews outside the studio, quickly constructing a repute as an incisive and probing questioner.

People were watching — including executives at rival networks. Walters was lured to ABC to turn out to be the primary female co-anchor of a prime-time news bulletin with an unprecedented $1 million annual salary. It didn’t take long, nonetheless, for viewers to sense the stress between Walters and co-anchor Harry Reasoner, who couldn’t be bothered to cover his disdain for this former “TODAY Girl” being billed as his equal.

Her newfound celebrity also drew the last word back-handed honor: having her struggles pronouncing hard R’s lampooned by Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live.” Walters later admitted she didn’t find the “Baba Wawa” skits funny.

With rankings of her ABC news program a disappointment, Walters’ profession was saved by the prime-time interview specials she began for ABC. Her first interview featured President-elect Jimmy Carter, and inside a yr she had managed a joint interview with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat — a yr before their historic peace treaty.

In 1979 she reunited with Downs on the ABC news magazine show, “20/20,” starting a successful 25-year run.

The interviews

But it surely was her interviews that remained Walters’ passion, compiling her mixture of tough and amusing questions on her trademark 3×5 index cards and fussing with the order even after the cameras began rolling. Within the 2014 television special that commemorated her retirement from TV journalism, Walters showed off an autographed photo from Cuban despot Fidel Castro that held on her wall: “For the longest and most difficult interview I’ve ever done in my life.”

Though Walters received much flak for asking Katherine Hepburn, “What form of tree are you?” — in fairness, a follow as much as something the legendary actor had said — she could deliver the hardest of questions, like looking Russian President Vladimir Putin in the attention and asking him if he had ever ordered the death of a rival.

Her exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky in 1999 earned the best rankings in history for a prime-time interview. In 1997, Walters debuted a recent show that was closer to her “TODAY” roots: a midmorning talk show with an all-women panel called “The View.” While she was co-executive producer and had a seat on the table, she tapped Meredith Vieira as the primary moderator.

Through the years, the hit show would come with Whoopi Goldberg, Star Jones, Lisa Ling, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Rosie O’Donnell and Meghan McCain among the many panelists.

While Walters largely managed to avoid controversy over her long profession, she caused a stir with the revelation that she had had an affair with Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass., in the course of the Seventies.

After nearly 60 years in journalism, Walters announced she was retiring in 2014.

“I are not looking for to look on one other program or climb one other mountain,” she said. “I would like as an alternative to sit down on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men, too — who shall be taking my place.”

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