The Untold Truth Of Barbara Walters

Now in her seventh decade as a journalist, Barbara Walters is easily one of the most recognizable faces on American T.V. As a host of shows like The View20/20, and ABC Evening News, Walters has interviewed some of the 20th and 21st-centuries' biggest celebrities and most important political figures, including every sitting U.S. president starting with Richard Nixon. She's credited as a pioneer in the field of journalism, has been nominated for over 20 Emmy awards, and in 2009 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards. But that doesn't mean things have always been a bed of roses for Babs.

Want more on Barbara Walter's backstory? You've come to the right place. 

Her father was in show business (sort of)

Walters was born in 1929 (or 1931, some sources claim) to Dena and Lou Walters in Boston. Lou Walters, a booking agent who then became a night club owner, had a toe in show business, which may have set the stage for his daughter's later success.

According to the New Yorker, Lou is credited with inventing the Latin Quarter, "an American version of the type of Parisian night club that had elaborate floor shows with dozens of expensively costumed chorus girls." Lou opened a club in Boston in the 1930s, followed by versions in Miami Beach and New York. While she understood why people may covet her father's glamorous life, Walters also told NPR's "Morning Edition" about how "I'm sure it's a life that people would look at and envy. ... [But] I didn't want that. I wanted a normal life. I wanted a daddy who was home."

And yet, Walters later wrote in her 2008 book Audition: A Memoir about how interacting with the showgirls off-stage prepped her for her career as a journalist, saying, "What I did learn...was that behind these fantasy figures were real people...They may have been glamorous onstage, but I saw them offstage without their costumes and makeup, and they had problems, just like everyone else...As a result I was not in awe, years and years later, when I began doing interviews with big-name stars."

Her father made some poor financial decisions

Despite Lou Walters' success with his night clubs, some risky financial moves eventually led the family to ruin. As the New Yorker describes, "in the late fifties, profligacy, a mean partner, and changing public tastes brought harsh reversals. [Lou] spent his later decades in serious economic and emotional distress."

Walters recounted in her memoir how the families' monetary distress led her father to attempt suicide. While he recovered in the hospital, Walters writes, "The vultures descended. Creditors appeared out of the woodwork, some demanding to be paid back the money they'd loaned my father, others demanding to be paid for outstanding bills... The days of the penthouses were over."

Again, her father's fate seems to have informed Walter's own; she told NBC's Dateline in 2003, "I mean we lived in enormous luxury — penthouses, trips to Europe, everything. And then my father lost it all. I mean all. So I really — it wasn't in my head that I had to support my family. I had to support my family."

She dealt with sexism on the job

A review of Walters' autobiography in the New Yorker revealed that during her early years as co-host on NBC's Today Show, she had to contend with some less-than-stellar behavior from her male counterpart, Frank McGee. McGee laid down the ground rules that when an important guest appeared on the show, Walters wasn't allowed to pose a question until McGee had already asked three.

However, if Walters was out on the road and interviewing a guest, she could speak as soon as she liked, prompting her, in the New Yorker's words, "to go off in pursuit of the journalistic form that has primarily defined her career, the 'get,' in which Walters somehow persuades an elusive news celebrity to accept an on-camera visit from her."

In 2015, Walters shared advice for other aspiring female journalists with Oprah's Master Class, saying (via Huffington Post), "Fight the big fights. Don't fight the little fights, if you don't get all the lines, if you're not where you should be. Be the first one in. Be the last one out. Do your homework. Choose your battles. Don't whine, and don't be the one who complains about everything. Fight the big fights."

She wrote an advice book in 1970

Along with her memoir Audition, Walters is the author of a guide to the art of conversation titled How to Talk With Practically Anybody about Practically Anythingwhich published in 1970.

Per Brainpickingsthe book is "a perceptive and witty guide to just what the cover promises, extending [Walters'] experience of interviewing greats to everyday life and outlining 'how to talk easily with anyone, anywhere [and] how to get beyond the superficial forgettable small talk that most people use as a substitute for communication.'"

Along with giving lessons on the art of talking, Walters is a big proponent of the power of listening, writing in the book, "People bursting with good will and abundance of mental health are charming company; their need for ego-boosting, however, is minimal. People sinking into self-pity and depression are dreary, but they can't get out of it by themselves. So every now and then, just sit there and listen, listen, listen. You're paying your membership dues in the human race."

She made TV history

Barbara Walters has been breaking ground for women in television since the early days of her career. As CNN.com describes, in 1976, she became the first female co-anchor ever of a nightly news program, joining ABC World News Tonight for a then unheard-of $1 million a year salary. Her co-anchor was Harry Reasoner, but Walters ultimately later revealed that the pair hadn't exactly gelled, and her five year deal with the program ended after just two. Walters then moved on to 20/20.

Later, according to Biography.com, "In September 2000, Walters renewed her contract with ABC News for five more years. Her reported $12 million yearly salary made her the highest-paid news host in history." Additionally, the site points out that her two-hour interview special with Monica Lewinsky in 1999 "made broadcasting history as the highest-rated news program ever broadcast on a single network."

She once posed an embarrassing question Katharine Hepburn

Barbara Walters sat down to interview legendary Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn in 1981. In the introduction to the interview, Walters gushed, "If they said I could only interview one person, over and over again, for the rest of my life, I would pick Katharine Hepburn." 

And yet, the interview took an especially memorable turn when a star-struck Walters asked Hepburn, "What kind of tree are you?" Hepburn's response: an oak, rather than an elm.

Walters has never really lived down the bizarre, earnest question, and over the years it has morphed into the oft-repeated, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

She later interviewed Hepburn again in 1991 for 20/20
, but this time avoided any talk of foliage. 

She fought for The View

The View premiered in 1997, and has since won thirty daytime Emmy awards. At its inception, Walters negotiated for her production company, Barwall, to eventually own 50 percent of the show, with her also taking on the role of producer. Even though ABC execs were, according to Vanity Fair, reportedly doubtful, Walters was undeterred and moved full steam ahead with her concept of a talk show featuring a diverse panel of women. 

Original View co-host Joy Behar told the magazine"Barbara decided to have this show as something that she would keep for herself, I think, as she got older, which is a smart idea...She had a lot of clout at that time with the network...I think she singlehandedly kept that show on the air until it caught on."

In 2010, Walters made history yet again when then-President Barack Obama visited the show, marking the first time in history a president appeared on a daytime television talk show. According to Vanity Fair's write-up, "Walters personally re-wrote every single question that was asked of the president that day, and choreographed the order in which they would be asked."

She ended up in the middle of the Rosie drama

Despite Walters' top status at The View, she still got mixed up in all the drama surrounding co-host Rosie O'Donnell's tenure on the show.

O'Donnell originally appeared on The View from 2006 until her now-legendary fight with Elisabeth Hasselback in 2007, which seemed to prompt her departure a month later. According to Vanity Fair, "It had been Barbara Walters's idea to hire O'Donnell." In Audition, Walters described O'Donell as "like a roller-coaster ride or a bumpy trip on a fast-moving bus."

The years went by; Walters sold her share of the show in 2012 and retired in May 2014. Then, in July 2014, O'Donnell was re-hired; rumors of feuds with co-host Whoopi Goldberg quickly surfaced. Walters, who by that time had left the show, was still mixed up in all the drama and told Vanity Fair, "I think Rosie and Whoopi together was not peaches and cream... And I don't think we needed the two of them together... It was not a combination that I would have thought was a natural."

The magazine went on to report"Walters, one executive says, was not pleased with O'Donnell's on-air sourness. Privately, says a mutual friend, she was concerned." O'Donnell left again in February 2015; per the same VF article, Joy Behar noted that despite the changes, everyone was missing Walters' ability to "keep a lid on the craziness."

She had some criticisms of Star Jones

During her 2008 publicity tour for Audition, Barbara had some pretty critical words for Star Jones, her former co-host of The View who left in 2006. After a dramatic 2003 weight loss, rumors quickly spread that Jones had undergone gastric bypass surgery, which she vehemently denied at first, but finally later confirmed.

Walters told Oprah Winfrey in May 2008, "[Jones] decided to have a gastric bypass operation, but then she decided not to tell anybody...Then we had to lie on the set every day because she said it was portion control and Pilates. Well, we knew it wasn't portion control and Pilates."

Jones later fired back, saying "It is a sad day when an icon like Barbara Walters, in the sunset of her life, is reduced to publicly branding herself as an adulterer, humiliating an innocent family with accounts of her illicit affair and speaking negatively against me all for the sake of selling a book...It speaks to her true character."

She was conflicted about her SNL impressions

Back in the 1970s, Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner debuted a running impression of Walters, the infamous "Baba Wawa." 

At first, Walters was hurt by the impression, writing in Audition, "People started calling me Baba Wawa behind my back, and even to my face...I was so depressed at the time, I felt they were laughing at me rather than at Gilda's characterization of me." However, she later ran into Radner and acknowledged that the impression was "brilliant."

In a tribute to Radner years later, Walters defended herself, saying, "I don't talk that way, and I do pronounce my Rs..." 

She's been married four times

Walters has had four marriages: executive Robert Henry Katz, theater producer Lee Guber, real estate developer and TV producer Merv Adelson, and... real estate developer and TV producer Merv Adelson, again. 

Walters told ABC News in 2014, "I don't think that I was very good at marriage...It may be that my career was just too important. It may have been that I was a difficult person to be married to, and I just seem to be better alone. I'm not lonely, I'm alone."

She had an affair with a married senator

It turns out that Audition was chock full of scandalous details that Walters had heretofore kept quiet. Perhaps most notably was the revelation that Walters had carried on an affair with married Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke in the 1970s. According to Walters, at that point Brooke was the "most fascinating, sexiest men I ever met."

Brooke–also a groundbreaker as the first black member of the U.S. Senate elected by popular vote–reportedly told his wife about the affair in the hopes of getting a divorce, but a friend reminded him that he needed to save face in order to gain reelection. For her part, Walters worried about the implications on her career, writing, "I slowly began asking myself if we could ever be married. Would such a marriage destroy his career? Would it destroy mine?" 

The affair ended before before Brooke failed to win re-election for a third term in 1978, and Walters later told Oprah in 2008, "He was a wonderful man and a wonderful senator...I have always felt that I perhaps ruined his future...I regret that he didn't get re-elected. So if you ask me if I regret it, yes."

She "dated' Roy Cohn

The late lawyer (and Donald Trump mentor) Roy Cohn earned a reputation as one of the twentieth century's most controversial and hated attorneys. Regardless, Walters had a friendship with Cohn, and in her memoir notes that he once got a warrant for her father's arrest dismissed. Although Cohn was gay (albeit closeted), she was seen around town his arm until his death from AIDS in 1986, and Vanity Fair reports that Cohn would even call Walters his fiancee. The magazine notes that legendary gossip columnist Liz Smith mentioned: "Of course, it was absurd...but Barbara put up with it." According to the same Vanity Fair profile of Cohn, Walters also acted as a character witness in Cohn's 1986 disbarment hearing.

Walters has caught flack over the years for playing along with Cohn's ruse, but defended herself in her memoir, writing, "I was his claim to heterosexuality...He never said that he was gay, he never admitted to me that he had AIDS. He was a very complicated man. He died, alone, up to his ears in debt. He had been disbarred and he was hated. And I might have thought the same way, but he did something when my father was in trouble, [and] I never forgot that."

She has some controversial close friends

Along with her relationship with Cohn, Walters has faced criticism for cozying up to polarizing figures like Fidel Castro (the subject of a famous 1977 interview which earned Walters death threats), Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad (whose aide she admittedly tried to help obtain a CNN internship and admission to Columbia University), and now-President Donald Trump.

After Walters announced her retirement in 2013, Salon.com opined of her relationships with maligned political figures, saying, "Her legacy as a breaker of barriers is sound. Her habit of using her position to protect and cover for some of the worst abusers of power in the world should also be remembered as we are forced to spend the next year celebrating her achievements. It's actually remarkable how, in a city and an industry full of very powerful people, not all of whom are corrupt monsters, Walters has consistently grown close to the worst that the elite has to offer..."

She revealed her greatest regret to Piers Morgan

In 2013, Walters found herself in the hot seat, and revealed to Piers Morgan, "I regret not having more children. I would have loved to have had a bigger family... I have one daughter. I don't have brothers and sisters."

Walters later discussed with ABC News how she regretted how much her career had cut into her time with her daughter, "I was so busy with a career. It's the age-old problem...And, you know, on your deathbed, are you going to say, 'I wish I spent more time in the office?' No. You'll say, 'I wish I spent more time with my family,' and I do feel that way. I wish I had spent more time with my Jackie."

She has made some controversial choices

Despite her undeniably storied career, in addition to bad press around certain friends she's kept, Walters hasn't always been popular in her handling of controversial issues. 

She's caught some major flack throughout the years for: defending Woody Allen after he was accused of molesting his daughter; shutting down former child actor Corey Feldman when he attempted to speak about child abuse in Hollywood during a visit to The View; aggressively questioning pop star Ricky Martin about his sexuality; and shading Katy Perry as Perry's marriage was falling apart (okay, maybe that last one wasn't quite so controversial). 

She's also made just about everyone cry.

Her daughter got arrested

In May 2013, Jacqueline Danforth, Walter's adopted daughter, was arrested for driving under the influence near Naples, FL. According to NBC-2, Danforth and her husband Dennis Pinkham were pulled over by the cops after the car was reported "parked in the middle of I-75 with its lights turned off while drivers came close to hitting it."

The report went on to reveal that "Deputies asked Danforth to get out of the car. During that time, they confronted the passenger of the vehicle–her husband, 45-year-old Dennis Pinkham–who deputies say had marijuana in his pocket." From there, Danforth got, as the report says, "out of control." 

"Pinkham was placed in handcuffs, which agitated Danforth so she grabbed the deputy and began shouting.'" Danforth was then "taken to the ground" by officers. 

Although the younger Walters has preferred to stay out of the spotlight, it seems that the trappings of celebrity have still found her. "Jackie has found it difficult, all her life, because she wants to be anonymous, she just doesn't like to be a celebrity," Walters told ABC News in 2014. "She may be the only one in the world who doesn't like to be a celebrity."