I just finished reading the incredible memoir of Barbara Walters, arguably one of TV’s greatest icons who with her formidable strength, talent, and perseverance, paved the way for female news anchors and talk show hosts in North America (and possibly across the world). Before Barbara, no woman had ever been a TV news anchor or cohost. Well, she came along and busted right through that glass ceiling and has never looked back. I was shocked to learn that this amazing woman is now 85 years old and still trailblazing! Go Barbara!
Here is a great summary of her incredible work from Wikipedia:
Barbara Walters (born September 25, 1929) is an American broadcast journalist, author and television personality. She has hosted morning television shows Today and The View, the television news magazine 20/20, co-anchored the ABC Evening News, and was a contributor to ABC News.
Walters first became known as a television personality when she was a writer and segment producer of “women’s interest stories” on the morning NBC News program The Today Show, where she began work with host Hugh Downs in 1962, once even modeling a swimsuit when an expected model did not show up. Because of her excellent interviewing ability and her popularity with the viewers, and when other women left the program, she was eventually allowed more airtime. Even though her production duties made her a significant contributor to the show, she had no input in choosing a successor for Hugh Downs when he left the show in 1971. Frank McGee was hired. Although his salary was twice hers, at Frank McGee’s death in 1974, because of a clause added to her contract by her agent (a family friend), she acquired the title “co-host”, the first woman by that title for any network news or public affairs program. Jim Hartz became her co-host. Two years later, continuing as a pioneer for women, she became the first female co-anchor of any network evening news, working with Harry Reasoner on the ABC News flagship program ABC Evening News (List of ABC Evening News anchors).
From 1979 to 2004, Walters worked as co-host and producer for the ABC newsmagazine 20/20, again appearing with Hugh Downs. From 1976 to 2010, she contributed as an anchor, reporter, and correspondent for ABC News, along with producing and hosting her own special interview programs several times yearly. Beginning in 1997, she has created, and appears as co-host on, The View. Walters retired from ABC News and as co-host of The View on May 16, 2014, although she will remain executive producer for as long as it’s on the air.
In 1996, Walters was ranked #34 on the TV Guide “50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time”.
What I so appreciated about this book was Barbara’s candidness about her successes, as well as her failures. She was married three times and sadly, none of these unions lasted. She concludes that she is simply not suited to marriage. I have a feeling that a lot of this was due to being a serious career woman in an era when women were expected to stay home and raise children; not wake up every morning at 4:30 to read the news on television. Although she also managed motherhood on top of all of this!
She couldn’t have children of her own so she adopted a daughter and managed to raise her with so much love and caring, even while going through multiple divorces, and working insane hours. She speaks openly about her daughter’s struggles with drug dependence and rebellion in her teens, and the great lengths she had to go to in order to help her daughter find some order and balance in her life. Her daughter now runs a center for troubled youth and does the same for these young people who find themselves in trouble. Mother and daughter blessedly, were able to find their way back to each other and now share a very deep bond.
While reading about her exciting career in television was totally exhilarating (like being the first American to interview Fidel Castro, and holding and kissing a baby with AIDS in the 1980’s on television- showing the world at large that one does not contract the disease by touching someone with AIDS and thus changing the worldview on relating to people with the disease), I was equally moved by reading about her personal life.
Lastly, I found her commentary on what has changed in television and the mass media in general very enlightening. In short, she questions what we now deem “newsworthy” and grieves the loss of covering important political figures and world events, instead of the latest teen pop sensation.