Investigative Facts About Barbara Walters, The Boundary-Breaker

January 16, 2023 | Byron Fast

Investigative Facts About Barbara Walters, The Boundary-Breaker

When it came to Barbara Walters’ interviews, sometimes it was hard to tell who was more famous: the interviewee or Walters herself. Maybe it was her four marriages. Maybe it was those piercing eyes. Or maybe just how easily she could bring her subjects to tears. Walters was a chameleon who could somehow manage to be compassionate, predatory, and heartlessly indifferent—all within a single interview. So, who was the real Barbara Walters? Read these facts and decide for yourself.

1. There Was Tragedy Around Her

Barbara Walters was born in Boston on September 25, 1929, the third child of Lou and Dena Walters. The first child, however, hadn’t made it past 14 months. It was pneumonia that got him. Walters’ second sibling was Jacqueline, who had mental disabilities that she acquired at birth. Likely, Walters’ parents were nervous to have their third child.

As it turned out, baby Barbara was a happy and healthy child.

Barbara Walters facts Getty Images

2. Her Name Had A Journey

While Walters is a pretty standard name for an American, where it came from is a real story. Walters' grandfather grew up in Poland and had the last name Waremwasser. Her father, when he arrived in London, turned around and made the name Warmwater—almost a direct translation.

Once he moved to New York City—in 1909—Mr. Warmwater thought that just plain “Walters” would help him avoid annoying jokes. It’s a pretty unconventional way to come about a name, but there wasn’t much conventional about Walters’ father.

Barbara Walters facts Shutterstock

3. She Wasn’t Ordinary

While growing up, Walters didn’t have the most traditional childhood. While most of her uncles worked in shoe or dressmaking, Walters’ father was in show business.

Her dad would often take her to the club during the day when the performers were rehearsing. Of course, the actors and dancers were always excited to see the boss’ daughter and made a big deal about her presence. Sometimes, they would even toss her around and make her dizzy.

Walters soon became relaxed around celebrities: something that would be a great benefit in her future career.

Barbara Walters facts Getty Images

4. She Was On The Move

While Walters’ father was doing well in show business, it was sometimes a little up and down. Some days the family was more than comfortable financially and other days not so much.

What this meant for Walters was a lot of moving around. The family bounced around between New York City, Massachusetts, and Florida. By the time her education was complete, Walters had been to three schools in New York, two in Florida, and one in Massachusetts.

You can say one thing: Walters was mastering the art of meeting new people.

Barbara Walters facts Flickr, Joella Marano

5. She Was Astute

Of course, along with the changing of schools came different homes. One of the more colorful places she lived was with a family friend named Bill Dwyer. Dwyer had earned his money bootlegging during prohibition but had left this illegitimate business in favor of owning sports teams.

Walters later wrote that, since this “good fella” shared a room with his chauffeur, she assumed he was gay. Even at this young age, Walters had an eye for getting to the truth. This was going to be a huge benefit once Walters got to work.


Barbara Walters facts Wikimedia Commons

6. It Stayed With Her For Life

Walters earned her Bachelor's degree in 1951 and quickly started her career. She worked for a year in advertising and then made a change that would stay with her for the rest of her life: She started working in television.

Her first job was with NBC, and one of her first experiences was producing a children’s TV show called Ask The Camera in 1953. NBC then lifted her up out of children’s TV, but it was going to be a bumpy ride.

Barbara Walters facts Getty Images

7. She Wanted To Get Away

Walters' first foray into programming for adults was with TV host Igor Cassini. The show was mostly celebrity gossip, but Walters almost managed to be the source of the news and not just the producer. But things soon got messy. What happened was that Cassini had a thing for Walters, but the feelings were not mutual. Cassini wanted marriage, and Walter just wanted to get away.

Barbara Walters facts Getty Images

8. She Was In A Triangle

The host that Walters was producing was loudly proclaiming his love for her, but the truth was Walters was seeing someone else. When Cassini got a chance to meet the object of Walters’ affection, instead of taking the high road, he did something...else: He hit him.

This wild love triangle was enough for Walters—she quit the show and moved to CBS.

Barbara Walters facts Getty Images

9. It Was Every Girl’s Dream

The man that Walters was in love with was Robert Henry Katz. He was a business executive who had also been a Navy lieutenant. Walters’ father was supportive of the marriage, and he offered up what every New York City girl wants in a wedding: The Plaza Hotel.

The ceremony was set for June 25, 1955. But this fairy tale was actually a disaster.

Margaux Hemingway factsWikimedia Commons

10. She Wanted Out

Walters later admitted that even before their wedding, she found her fiance kind of dull. She was having a serious case of cold feet and went running to her father for advice. She tried to explain what was happening, but Lou Walters wasn’t budging. He had already booked The Plaza after all.

He told his daughter that the wedding was happening whether she wanted it or not.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

11. It Was More Than Cold Feet

It turned out that Walters had something more than just cold feet. Less than a year into the marriage, Walters wanted out. Now, however, her father—or even The Plaza—couldn’t stand in her way.

They somehow managed to get the marriage annulled. Walters' first marriage had lasted only 11 months: probably shorter than it took dad to pay off the wedding. Oh well. Clearly, Walters was not the type to be tied down. That proved true in both her personal and professional lives.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

12. She Bounced Around

While Walters' personal life was in turmoil, her professional life incredibly volatile too. She went from being a writer on CBS’s The Morning Show to working at the women’s magazine Redbook. Then it was time to head back to NBC—and hopefully avoid Cassini.

There, she became what NBC called a Today Girl. And this was a BIG problem for Walters...

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

13. She Kept It Light

Back then, around 1961, people believed audiences didn’t really want to get hard news from a woman. So, The Today Show had young women, the "Today Girls" presenting the lighter side of the news and also the weather.

While Walters was happy to be on the air, she wasn’t going to be satisfied just talking about cute puppies and predicting snow storms. Walters knew that if she wanted a serious job in news, she had to change the system. So she set a plan into motion.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

14. She Had A Plan

Walters was clever and she had an idea. She agreed she would still do lighter news, but what if she became the writer, reporter, and editor of it as well? Walters put together two very popular—and outrageously opposite—stories.

She showed her flexibility by producing A Day in the Life of a Nun and followed it up with the daily life of another kind of woman: one of Hugh Hefner’s Bunnies. Her outrageous plan worked. People started to notice that Walters was much more than just a Today Girl: She was the future.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

15. He Seemed Familiar

Another person who noticed Walters had something else in mind—romance. Her next guy was Lee Guber. Guber had something in common with Walters’ father Lou: They were both theatrical producers. This gave Walters a good reason for anxiety about this relationship.

Her father’s job made her childhood a nightmare of countless schools and living with a felon—did she really want that in a husband?

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

16. She Wanted Out—Again

In the weeks leading to her second marriage, things went from bad to worse. Walters seemed to be going through the same misgivings she’d had the first time around. In a moment of neurosis, she canceled her engagement to Guber.

But by November of that year, something happened in America that would make the entire nation take a look at their lives and question everything. It made Walters stop and think too.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

17. She Looked At Her Life

In November of 1963, then-President John F Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. The country was in shock, and this tragic event caused Walters to look at her life with a more somber tone. She decided that marriage was indeed for her, and Lee Guber was the man she would share her life with—even though sharing her life would be difficult.

Walters was back on board for the wedding. There was, however, someone lurking in the shadows and ready to spoil everything.

JFK Assassination factsWikimedia Commons

18. It Was A Last Ditch Effort

Back in college, Walters had dated the infamous lawyer—and communist hunter—Roy Cohn. Well, Cohn said that the night before Walters’ marriage to Guber, he called her. What Cohn wanted to say to Walters could not wait another minute.

He wanted to propose. Walters later claimed this didn't happen, but Cohn stood by his story. Walters turned Cohn down. But let’s not forget about Cohn: He’ll be popping into Walters’ life more than a few times.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

19. She Demanded A Change

In 1971, NBC offered Walters a job hosting an already existing show called For Women Only. Walters was ecstatic, but she also had a plan to bring women’s television to a broader audience—one that included men.

Walters agreed to do the show, but she had a surprising stipulation. She insisted they change the title to Not For Women Only. Her first episode aired in 1971, and within six months the ratings had tripled.

Barbara Walters factsNot for Women Only (1968–1979), NBC

20. She Had To Wait Her Turn

Walters soon got to move from Not For Women Only to co-helming The Today Show. This was a big promotion, and she had a great relationship with her co-host Hugh Downs. But it wasn't to last. Trouble started when Downs walked away from the show and they replaced him with Franks McGee. This was the beginning of the nightmare.

McGee seemed a little afraid of Walters’ celebrity and had a strange rule when interviewing with Walters. He demanded to have the first three questions. McGee seemed to want to keep Walters in her place—and he didn’t stop with the three-question rule.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

21. She Got What She Deserved

Walters was doing The Today Show with McGee, but McGee was in some kind of strange denial that he worked with her. Walters was clearly the co-host, but McGee would not allow her credit to reflect that. Believe it or not, Walters remained uncredited until McGee passed from cancer in 1974.

Sadly, it took a man’s demise for Walters to get what she already deserved.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

22. She Wasn’t Happy

Another thing that Walters deserved was happiness, and apparently, she wasn’t getting it from her husband. During their tumultuous marriage, Walters went through unimaginable tragedy. She had three miscarriages that she kept a secret from the public.

The couple really wanted a child, so in 1968, they adopted. They named the child Jacqueline after Walters’ sister. Just like her miscarriages, Walters kept this from the public—but this time for a very different reason.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

23. She Kept It A Secret

When Walters and her then-husband Guber adopted a baby girl, Walters didn’t miss a day of work. She also didn’t make a big deal of the adoption to the media. The reason why was that Walters didn’t want the child’s birth mother to know that a celebrity had adopted her child.

The adoption didn’t save the marriage, however, and in 1976, Walters and Guber divorced.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

24. She Landed In his Arms

Free from her marriage, Walters was single and ready to mingle. Since Walters was always buried in politics, she found comfort in the arms of a politician. He was Edward Brooke and known for being the first African American elected to the US Senate. But there was a big catch. He was also known to have a wife.

After having her fun, Walters decided to end it before it became a scandal. After all, she soon had other scandals to worry about.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

25. She Met Castro

Walters’ 1977 interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro caused a huge stir. Some accused Walters of flirting with the controversial leader, but Walters claims that the only familiarity they shared was when Castro made her a grilled cheese sandwich after the interview.

Aside from cheese sandwiches, Walters did not shy away from asking the hard questions.

Jack Nicholson factsFlickr, Marcelo Montecino

26. She Called Him On It

Walters had no problem asking Castro about the lack of freedom in Cuba. She called him out on the fact that there was no free press in Cuba, and that the government controlled everything. Castro agreed with her and said that that’s the way they liked it on their tiny island nation. Before long, Walters was onto the next.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

27. She Broke A Record

The Castro fiasco didn't slow Walters down one bit, and she soon moved to ABC and signed a groundbreaking contract. It was for five years and it was for $5 million. This made Walters the highest-paid TV anchor, regardless of gender. It was also significant because it was the evening news and Walters could now finally report on hard news.

There was, however, one little snag: another grouchy male co-anchor.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

28. She Lost Another

Walters' co-anchor on the ABC Evening News was Harry Reasoner, but he was anything but reasonable. It turned out that Reasoner had nothing against Walters in particular, he just didn’t share well with others.

Reasoner’s issues made for a tense set, and it lasted only five years. Reasoner wanted out, so he deserted ABC and returned to his old favorit,: CBS. That’s two co-anchors that Walters had—one way or another—parted ways with. Maybe it was her who was the problem?

Barbara Walters factsABC Evening News (1970–1978), ABC

29. She Did It Again

Whether Walters had a problem with men or not is anyone’s guess; it certainly wasn’t stopping her from meeting them. Around this time, she met Merv Adelson on a blind date.

Adelson was a TV producer and one of the founders of Lorimar Television, which was responsible for shows like Knot’s Landing and Eight is Enough. In 1981, Walters and Adelson tied the knot. It was a match made in TV heaven.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

30. She Finally Said Yes

What wasn't a match in heaven was when Walters finally got the chance to interview acting legend Katharine Hepburn. The African Queen actress had declined Walters' requests for an interview for years and then—out of nowhere—suddenly was down for it.

Hepburn did, however, have one proviso: She wanted to meet Walters first. This was a huge mistake. What Walters didn’t know was that Hepburn was setting her up.

Katharine Hepburn FactsWikimedia Commons

31. She Was Empty Handed

When Walters arrived at Hepburn’s house, she walked right into a trap. Hepburn was at the top of the stairs, and she was furious. She first accused Walters of being late. Walters, who was really aiming to please, was mortified.

Hepburn’s next growling utterance was to ask if Walters had brought any chocolate. Walters looked at her two empty hands and truly wished she could be somewhere else. They had several more meetings, and Walters never arrived again without chocolate.

Katharine Hepburn FactsGetty Images

32. She Asked A Stupid Question

What most people remember about Walters’ interview with Hepburn is the ridiculous tree question. Walters received a lot of flack for asking the annoying pop psychology-type question: “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

To be fair, if you listen to the whole interview, it was Hepburn herself who first referred to herself as a tree. The damage, however, was done. Walters would have to live with the aftermath.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

33. She Put Her On The Spot

Walter was interviewing a teenage Brooke Shields, who had just done a very provocative—and iconic—ad for Calvin Klein where she wore not much more than jeans. Walters seemed on the offensive and maybe wanted to take Shields down a notch.

According to Shields, Walter intimidated her by asking her measurements right from the top. Shields later said that it was an outrageously inappropriate question for a 15-year-old girl.

As it turned out, instead of harassing this teenager, Walters should’ve been taking care of her own.

Brooke ShieldsGetty Images

34. She Almost Lost Her Daughter

While Walters was busy interviewing her heart out, her own daughter was struggling. Jacqueline complained she didn’t fit in with her mom’s celebrity life, so she went on the lam. With only a small bag and her thumb, Guber hitchhiked across the Southwest.

For a whole month, Walters had no idea where her daughter was. When she finally managed to locate her, Walters had a situation on her hands.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

35. She Rescued Her

When Walters got her daughter back from her month on the road, she went into repair mode. Walters assumed there were substance  issues, so she set her up for an intervention—one that Jacqueline was not on board for. In the end, Walters' hunch about the substances was correct.

Her daughter later said that the intervention probably saved her life. Next, it would be Walters herself that needed saving: from a handsome actor.

Barbara Walters factsShutterstock

36. He Flirted

In 1982, Walters was all set to interview tough guy—and all-around hunk—Clint Eastwood. What Walters wasn’t prepared for was to be swept off her feet. Once she began interviewing the Hang ‘Em High actor, the flirting began.

Many years later, she told Jimmy Fallon that Eastwood asked her to dinner. Her reply was a plot twist. For some unknown reason she said no. Regrets, she had a few—and here’s one more.

Clint Eastwood factsWikimedia Commons

37. She Had A Friend In Need

Remember the infamous Roy Cohn? The one who had proposed to Walters on the eve of her marriage? Well, Cohn was now in desperate need of her help, and sadly she owed him one. You see, Cohn had helped get her father off when he had his own trouble with the law.

Now, Cohn was facing a variety of charges—including witness tampering and perjury—and Walters had to step up as a character witness for this very unpopular man. The jury ended up acquitting Cohn of all charges.

It may be that Walters’ allegiance was a mistake: Cohn got disbarred a few years later.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

38. She Found Her Place

Walters seemed to be having all kinds of trouble—both personal and professional—with men. There was one co-anchor, however, that Walters had gotten along with: Hugh Downs. Downs was now hosting the in-depth news program on ABC called 20/20 and the producers invited her to join him.

Walters had quite literally found her home away from home. 20/20 was hard news, alongside a man she trusted and respected and who felt the same about her. But while her professional life soared, her personal life went in the opposite direction.

Barbara Walters facts20/20 (1979- ), ABC News Productions

39. She Was Fickle

In 1984 Walters split with her second husband Merv Adelson. But Walters once again seemed fickle in this romantic decision. To everyone’s surprise—two years after the divorce—she married him again. It seemed that Walters just couldn’t rid herself of Adelson—until 1992, when the two finally called it quits for good.

There are no reports that Walters shed a tear over her divorce; she was too busy making others cry.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

40. She Brought Him Down

Walters had a reputation for making the people across from her break down in tears. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was a United States Army General who was the leader of the coalition forces during the Gulf War. The man had seen a lot of nasty things, but he was about to meet someone worse.

Enter Walters and her piercing gaze and pointed questions. She had him in tears with one simple question about his father. Walters, however, was just getting started. Her next interview would be the cry-fest of the millennium.

Brooke Astor FactsGetty Images

41. She Got Her To Talk

In the late 1990s, then-president Bill Clinton was in the line of fire for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Of course, it was Walters who nailed the first interview with Lewinsky, which came after months of silence. The interview lasted two hours and it attracted just short of half of all American TV viewers. With all the hype, Walters had to deliver—and she didn’t hold back.

Barbara Walters factsGetty Images

42. She Asked A Weird One

While interviewing Monica Lewinsky, Walters wasn’t afraid of asking the hard questions—or the weird ones. Walters ended the interview by asking Lewinsky what she would tell her future children about sleeping with the president of the United States.

Lewinksy teared up and replied: “Mommy made a big mistake". But it's Walters' reply that went down in infamy. Walters then took a look at the camera and replied: “Well, that is the understatement of the year".

Walters seemed to love putting people on the spot. Next up, Ricky Martin!

Barbara Walters facts20/20 (1979- ), ABC News Productions

43. She Lied

In 2002, something became publicly available that Walters was hoping could remain a secret: the 1930 census. It turned out that while Walters claimed her birthday was in 1931, it was actually two years earlier than that.

Walters never did come clean about it, but the facts don’t lie. In 1930—the year before Walters claims she was born—Walters was already six months old. So, Walters was a little older than people thought. Did that mean it was time for retirement?

Barbara Walters factsShutterstock

44. There Was A Rumor

In March 2013, there was a rumor running around America that Walters was retiring. The rumor was very specific and stated she would be retiring in May and she would announce it on her show, The View, four days after her retirement took effect.

One thing Walters didn’t like was having someone other than her dictate the narrative of her life. So, on April 1, she went on The View and took back control.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

45. She Scolded Them

In her chair on The View on April 1, Walters didn’t say she was retiring, but she didn't say she wasn’t. What she did say was that when she did decide to end her career, she would announce it to her fans on The View. And then she added a little something for those that may have started the rumor.

She said that the “paparazzi guys” would be the last ones to know. Consider yourself scolded. Ironically, Walters did call it quits in May, just as they had predicted.

Barbara Walters factsThe View (1997-), ABC

46. She Won’t Follow

By 2016, Walters got a cruel diagnosis: dementia. She retreated from the public eye and spent more and more of her time in her New York City home. Sadly, by December 2022, Walters passed, leaving her daughter Jacqueline Guber to grieve on her own.

You may wonder if Guber will follow in her famous mother’s footsteps. Not a chance: Guber has seen life in the spotlight, and she wants nothing to do with it.

Barbara Walters factsShutterstock

47. She Had Her On Tape

In 1976, Walters made a visit to the White House, where the residents that term were Gerald and Betty Ford. The first lady offered to give Walters a tour of the house, and Walters happily accepted.

Halfway through the tour, however, Walters realized something shocking: Ms. Ford reeked of booze and was more than a little unsteady on her feet. Walters decided not to air the tipsy White House tour—but years later wished she had.

Barbara Walters factsWikipedia

48. She Met An Angel

While Walters was riding high on her popularity, it doesn’t mean she never had a misstep. In 1977, she interviewed country singer darling Dolly Parton. There probably couldn’t be two more different people, and Walters decided to attack these differences by asking what most thought were tactless questions.

Among her comments, Walter implied Dolly was a "hillbilly," asked if her chest was real, and slyly insulted Dolly's sense of fashion. In the end, people thought Parton was an angel and Walters was the stuck-up judger who tried to bring her down to earth: epic fail.

Olivia Newton-John factsWikipedia

49. She Tried To Out Him

In 2000, singer Ricky Martin was clearly living La Vida Loca. The Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, and actor had just become a huge star, and even iconic interviewer Barbara Walters was lining up for an interview. Martin graciously accepted. He had no idea what he was in for.

It seemed that Walters had a plan: She was going to get the then-closeted Martin to come out as gay right on the air.

Barbara Walters factsWikimedia Commons

50. She Damaged Him

Martin was probably expecting a light-hearted interview, and he did get that—until Walters let her true colors show. Walters told Martin that he could stop the rumors about his orientation right then and there. All he had to do was give a simple yes or no.

We now know that Martin was gay, but he wanted to come out when he was ready. Years later, Martin compared his feelings after the interview to PTSD. Walters later said she regretted the question. I wonder if she regrets this lie she told America.

Barbara Walters factsFlickr, Eva Rinaldi

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,  15, 16, 17, 18, 19

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