"I was the kind nobody thought could make it. I had a funny Boston accent. I couldn't pronounce my R's. I wasn't a beauty."
Barbara Walters, I owe you, big-time.
On the day of your retirement, I want to thank you for so much. Without you:
- I wouldn't have seen a woman co-host a morning news show ('Today'-1962-76)
- I wouldn't have seen a woman co-anchor a newscast (ABC News, 1976-79)
- I wouldn't have believed that a woman could have a career and raise a child, largely as a single parent (daughter Jacqueline, 1968-present)
- I wouldn't have learned how to ask the graceful, but hard question of any interview (1962-2014)
You made me believe women could do anything, including living publicly in circumstances that were obviously more than uncomfortable. I remember Harry Reasoner looking at you with repugnance as he shared the anchor seat with you in 1976.
Before that, it was Frank McGee, who succeeded the warm and cuddly Hugh Downs as co-host, who looked at you funny. I was young. But I remember. And you put these men in their place, with grace and class. That's what I tried to do when I first got into sports broadcasting. Thank you for teaching me how to do that.
Another lesson you taught me is to rise above your personal circumstances. No one knew the pain you were going through as you divorced three times. And you have been candid in print and on television about your older, developmentally challenged sister, your father's breakdown after he lost his business, and being the breadwinner for your entire family by the time you were 22. No one would have known, had you not said something.
That was the price you paid for being a trailblazer. I don't remember these days, but women before you were 'decoration,' not substantial, to a Today broadcast. As Wikipedia cites, previous "Today Girls" (whom Walters called "tea pourers") included Florence Henderson, Helen O'Connell, Estelle Parsons and Lee Meriwether.
You fought for more, and got it. In the process of fighting, you also took potshots with grace. Everyone's familiar with the "If you were a tree" question.
As Wikipedia describes it:
Walters was widely lampooned for asking actress Katharine Hepburn, "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?" On her last 20/20 television episode, Walters showed video of the Hepburn interview, showing the actress saying that she would like to be a tree. Walters merely followed up with the question, "What kind of a tree?", and Hepburn responded "an oak,because they are strong and pretty."
Critics and writers say you're nothing in entertainment until you're lampooned on Saturday Night Live. And you were, in the very early days. The late and great Gilda Radner created "Baba Wawa" just for you. And she did it so well, you're remembered in a generation that may never have seen you on 20/20, or ever wanted to watch "The View."
For this, and so much more, Barbara, thank you. To borrow a line from the great James L. Brooks movie "Broadcast News:"
"Except for socially, you're my role model"
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