In the past fifty years, newscasters such as the beloved Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings and more recently, Brian Williams have become household names. Perhaps though, it is Barbara Walters who has become a mainstay in the world of television news and is someone we have grown to depend on whether it be reporting human tragedy or bringing us into the homes of popular celebrities.
This summer, after more than 50 years as one of the most recognized faces (and voices) of television news, Barbara Walters has officially announced she will be retiring. Barbara’s outstanding career began in 1961 when she became a co-host on NBC’s Today Show and in 1976 she became the first ever female anchor person when she took over the ABC evening news program. Currently she appears on the show The View which she created in 1997. She will continue to stay on as the Executive Producer of the show.
Along with reporting the news, Walters has become famous for her one on one interviews and the direct yet casual style she uses to get answers to questions we all wish we could ask. She has built her reputation on being able to get “the first interview” from a wide variety of people, including world leaders and celebrities from the movie and music businesses. Below is a list of ten of the most intriguing interviews from the prolific Barbara Walters.
10. Judy Garland: 1967
This interview took place just three days after Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli‘s wedding. Judy Garland is on a couch and is joined by her two children Lorna and Joey Luft. Barbara asks if she cried during the wedding, and she replies that she thought she would but that she did not. Supposedly, Judy Garland kept Barbara waiting four hours before the start of the interview. She died just two years later.
9. Fidel Castro: 1977
According to Barbara, it took over two years for her to secure this interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. She spent ten days with Castro, traveling through the Sierra Maestra mountains and even at times, held his gun on her lap. Upon her arrival, she was surprised to find him waiting for her in front of her hotel in an open jeep. From there he took her to the Bay of Pigs where they boarded a patrol boat and crossed the bay. The actual interview took over five hours which was edited down to one hour for the ABC news special. During the interview Castro remained firm in his position that he would stay in power as long as the people would have him, and refused to discuss his private life. Barbara says that upon the completion of the interview, he took her into his private kitchen and prepared for her a grilled cheese sandwich.
8. Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin: 1977
Barbara was able to pull off the unthinkable, get these two leaders to sit down together and discuss their views on the Middle East. Anwar Sadat was the first Arab leader to visit the state of Israel since it’s founding. While he was there, Walters persuaded him to agree to a joint interview with the Israeli Prime Minister. To this day, Barbara says that Sadat is the person she is most proud of interviewing due to “His role in changing the course of history.” Years later both men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating and ratifying the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.
7. Katharine Hepburn: 1981
Barbara pursued Hepburn for years trying to secure an interview. Finally, Ms. Hepburn said she insisted on meeting Barbara first, before committing. When Barbara showed up for the first time at her home, Hepburn barked, “You’re late!” and then added, “Did you bring me chocolate?” Barbara says from that time on, she always did. This interview is famous for perhaps wrongly accusing Walters of asking the ridiculous question, “What kind of tree are you?” In her defense, Barbara says that Katharine had described herself as a tree and in following up Barbara posed the now infamous question. Incidentally, Hepburn answered she is an oak.
6. Muammar Gaddafi: 1989
In 1989 after obtaining a special waiver from the U.S. Government, Walters sat down with the Libyan dictator in his private tent that he used as an office in Tripoli. He wore a white silk suit and a cape and drank camel’s milk during the interview. Walters says “He rarely looked me in the eye.” Barbara calls him “Crazy,” and went on to say “He thought that he was going to be the king of the whole Arab world.”
5. Michael Jackson: 1997
Just three days after attending the funeral of Princess Diana, Barbara stopped off in Paris to interview pop legend Michael Jackson. She introduces the interview by saying, “Up until last week the most photographed people in the world were Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. Now only one remains to talk about what it means to live under that kind of scrutiny.” The interview seemed to focus mainly on Jackson’s profound sadness at the death of the princess and his disdain for the press and paparazzi. Looking back now, years after the death of this iconic legend, one statement eerily stands out from this interview. When Walters asked Michael how he learned of the tragic accident, he replied, “I woke up and my doctor gave me the news.”
4. Bill Gates: 1998
According to Barbara, the well seasoned journalist was actually nervous about this interview. “I was a little nervous because this is Bill Gates, and I was worried we’d get into computer talk, but that didn’t happen.” Though Gates was open to discussing all topics and set no ground rules, Barbara was disappointed that they were not able to do the interview at his waterfront estate in Washington. Gates wanted no cameras in his house. One of the highlights of this interview is Bill Gates singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” when Barbara asked him what he sings to his baby, after disclosing that he and his wife take singing lessons. She says, “I was surprised at how easy he was to talk to, and how personable.”
3. Monica Lewinsky: 1999
This interview was the highest rated of all time and in it, Barbara shows her distinct, pull no punches, interview style. She asks Lewinsky, “One juror, at the grand jury, asked you why you kept having affairs with married men. Why did you? Why do you?” Another shocker, “You showed the President your thong underwear. Where did you get the nerve? I mean, who does that?” In 2013, Barbara told David Letterman that she still keeps in touch with Lewinsky and is sad that the world has not allowed Lewinsky to move on.
2. Hugo Chavez: 2007
Barbara Walters took some heat for this interview. Some felt she was going for ratings rather than true news reporting and that Chavez had agreed to the interview to boost his popularity which was on a rapid decline in Venezuela. As recently as 2013, Barbara says that “He certainly was not the most physically attractive person, but he was very warm, very welcoming, though for us it was somewhat of a frightening trip.” Barbara asked him about calling President Bush “The devil” in a speech he had made at the United Nations. “Yes, I call him a devil in the United Nations,” he says. “That’s true. Another time, I said that he was a donkey just because I think that he is very ignorant … about the things that are actually happening in Latin America and the world.” This did not go over well with the American people.
1. Bernie Madoff: 2011
For this interview with one of the most hated criminals of our time, Barbara was only allowed to bring in with her a pen and pad and twenty dollars worth of quarters for the vending machines. This was considered a “media interview” which is different from regular familial visits to inmates. No cameras were allowed for this interview. Madoff told Walters that he passes the time by reading and recently finished a book about Wall Street robber barons. He also said, “I feel safer here than outside.” Barbara asked him what he would like to say to his grandchildren to which he responded, “I am sorry to have caused them pain.”