Instagram Soundcloud Spotify

Shattering The Glass Ceiling: Barbara Walters Remembered

Written by:

She couldn’t sing worth a lick (mind you, she would agree with me), but that didn’t stop her from dueting with Dolly Parton.

Demi Moore showed her some striptease moves. Let’s be grateful she kept her day job.

Sylvester Stallone once gave her a ride on the Pacific Coast Highway.

She went to a deli with Cher.

Brett Butler had to explain what “hooters” were to her.

She rode horses with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

She tried to catch up with Christopher Reeve as he went down a hallway in his wheelchair.

She danced with Fred Astaire. Patrick Swayze and Cody Gifford.

She sat with Richard Pryor and listened as he told her about a cocaine binge that was so bad he doused himself with kerosene then lit himself on fire.

She also looked at Whoopi Goldberg’s Jim Crow collection of advertisements.

The Robertson family gave her a duck call.

She sat with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and made them all cry.

She was, of course, Barbara Walters.

It wasn’t a surprise the Boston-born Walters was always comfortable with celebrities. Her father ran a nightclub and often took his eldest daughter to work with him. She also watched as he went bankrupt several times, leaving her mother and her younger sister Jackie (who was developmentally delayed), frightened and scared. Walters knew that education would give her security. It would be hard work, but anything was better than the insecurity of depending on someone who couldn’t provide.

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she started off as the “Today girl.” Mind you; she was thirty-something at the time. Heaven forbid they consider her an anchor! She also dealt with Frank McGee, a man who thought that news was a man’s business, and what was she doing in a man’s business in the first place? She wasn’t considered a co-host until McGee died in 1974. ABC wanted her as an anchor, and they offered her the money to jump ship to become the first woman anchor of a network nightly newscast.

She wanted a better schedule so she could be with her young daughter Jackie (named for her sister), so she said yes. Paired off with grumpy Harry Reasoner, who made it pretty clear he didn’t want to work with a woman, again, she had to break another glass ceiling. This time was different. This time everyone was waiting to watch her fail. She didn’t want to fail, but she knew being an anchorwoman wasn’t suitable for her. Something else was. In her contract, she wanted to do television specials where she interviewed celebrities. Going to their homes and talking to them proved to be her superpower.

It’s also important to mention that she also crushed it as the host of 20/20, which reunited her with Today Show colleague Hugh Downs.

There was one woman she wanted to interview, a woman who would put on a blonde wig and say, “Hewo, I’m Baba WaWa” on Saturday nights. At first, she was offended, but her daughter told her, “Oh, Mom, get over it.” In her memoir Audition, Walters wrote she wanted to interview Gilda Radner, but Gilda became ill and died before she got the chance. Instead, she wrote this condolence note to Gene Wilder: “She made me laugh. I’ll miss her. Baba Wawa.”

In 1997, she co-created a new TV show, The View. People often said it seemed like a coffee clatch with all these women talking around a table. To be fair, sometimes it did, however, there was never any question about who the boss of those women was. When Star Jones found out her contract wasn’t going to be renewed in 2006, Jones was told how she wanted to approach it was up to her. Maybe write another book or take a sabbatical, but Jones instead decided one morning to say on air that she would not be returning. She hadn’t discussed this with Walters or the executive producer, Bill Geddie.

The following day there were only three women: Walters, Joy Behar, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Meredith Vierra had just left for The Today Show; Rosie O’Donnell would be joining the show in the fall).

“And then there were three,” Walters said in a melancholy voice.

“And then there were three,” Behar echoed.

Walters said, “We didn’t expect her to make this statement yesterday. She gave us no warning… she would not be returning in the fall and the network had given her time to exit the show with dignity…It is becoming uncomfortable for us to pretend that everything is the same at this table. And therefore, regrettably, Star will no longer be on this program.” As Walters read the statement, one was reminded that Walters had the iron fist in the velvet glove. No one should underestimate her.

People made fun of her that whenever she was doing a story because she promoted the hell out of it long before it aired. She explained that she worked hard on the story and she wanted people to see it, so the way to ensure that was by promoting it ad infinitum.  Often when I was querying my non-fiction manuscript over the past couple of years, I thought about Walters. Anytime I had the chance to promote myself, I’d think, Be like Barbara Walters!

Walters announced in 2013 she was going to retire. It was later reported in the book Ladies Who Punch she didn’t want to retire but was being forced out. Indeed, watching the last week she was on the show, it felt like she simply didn’t want to leave. Nevertheless, former co-hosts paid tribute to her and posed for a picture. On her last day, countless newswomen came on the show to thank her for what she did. When she died on December 30th, women journalists were talking live on ABC News about how this woman changed their lives.

One thing was clear: The Emmy Award-winning Today Girl not only was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, she broke what seemed like impenetrable glass ceilings on her journey and left no shards behind.