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What I Know Now: Barbara Walters

Trailblazing TV journalist chats about aging, success and how to stop sweating the small stuff

Barbara Walters (Trunk Archive)

Barbara Walters shares what she has learned ... and much more. — Trunk

Why She's Retiring

En español | This was the right time. The kinds of interviews I did all these years — nobody wants them anymore. You have three minutes of a morning show. That's different from before. And The View, which I created, has been on the air for almost 17 years. It's very successful, and I hope it will stay on after me. But 17 years is enough. I don't want to do anything forever.

See also: After Barbara Walters signs off May 16 ... then what?

Her 'What's Next'

Why do I have to do something next? I don't ask my friends, "What are you gonna do next?" I've worked for 50 years in television — 37 years at ABC. Why can't I do what I'd like to do? Maybe go to a movie or a museum, maybe sleep until 9, maybe see a friend. I look forward to not having every day planned, or having to be at a certain place at a certain time.

Making Peace With Aging

Nothing is going to stop you from aging physically. You can change the way you look by doing certain things, if you want. But you cannot stop getting older. So [at 84] it's not something that's on my mind every day. I don't get up in the morning saying, "Oh my dear, I'm old." I get up and think, "I hope it will be a good day. I hope there will be things to smile about."

Dealing With Criticism

When I was on the Today show, there were people who liked me a lot and people who thought I was too pushy. That didn't bother me. But when I became the first woman coanchor of a network news program [ABC Evening News in 1976], I was vilified. That did hurt me. I thought my career was over. No one wanted a woman, and they certainly didn't seem to want me, and I had a cohost [Harry Reasoner] who really didn't want me. What saved me was that Roone Arledge, who was president of ABC News, felt I had value. And he let Harry go back to CBS and kept me on, which was remarkable. And that is when I probably did my best work, because I traveled all over the world and did interviews that I think remain important to this day.

Her Game-changing Style

Years ago when I was doing interviews, I felt that the personality, the character, was as important as the specific thing a famous person did publicly. And it was important to me to have my viewers feel they knew this person. I was criticized for that. But now when people do interviews, these are the questions they ask.

Most Important Interviews

The interview [in 1977] with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. Israel and Egypt were fierce enemies, and the future of the Middle East was resting on their shoulders. I think the fact that I was able to get them together was remarkable and unique. Fidel Castro [interviewed that same year] was different. We spent days with Castro. We traveled all over the mountains with him. Those are the kinds of interviews you don't do today because the leaders want to know what your ratings are and which program has the most time.

Her Biggest 'Get'

Monica Lewinsky remains the most watched. At the time [1999] it was a sensational interview. I think it's very sad that Monica has not been allowed to move on. And I've seen Monica, so I know. This is a woman who is now 40. Everybody else has moved on. The Clintons are in a very good place, and they should be. But Monica, for whatever reasons, has never been able to create an important life for herself.

Next page: Walters take on news, working women, and flirting with Clint. »

Most Flirtatious Interview

Clint Eastwood [in 1982]. I heard recently that he's getting divorced, and I thought I should write him a letter: "Dear Clint, I'm still here." I have to tell you he hasn't yet called me up to say, "Dear Barbara, how are you?"

The big "gets" to come: The queen [Elizabeth II], because she's never done an interview. Prince William and Catherine. The pope. Those would be very important interviews. But I'm not trying to get any of them. There are younger people than I who are out there, plowing the field, trying to push ahead. It's their time.

How TV News Has Changed

There's no privacy. There's nothing that's sacred. And that's something that we all talk about and deplore, but it's the way our life is and the way we have created it. It also used to be that news was holy, and you did not give opinions. I mean, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted and the most famous, but you didn't know how Walter thought. Today, in order to be successful, you have to be opinionated, and that's what people want to hear.

The Power of Family and Friends

The most important thing for a parent is for their child to be happy. My child is a grownup, and she is happy, and that gives me great peace of mind. And since I don't have brothers or sisters, my friends are very important. I have some very close ones — old and new — but the same qualities remain: We trust each other, we have fun, we can say anything to each other and not leave the room and worry, "Why did I say that?"

Why Her Ex-husbands Admire Her

I remember Nora Ephron saying once, "Never marry a man you wouldn't want to divorce." In other words, marry a man who, if you had to get a divorce, would be decent about it. I never did ask for alimony. I was working. That made a big difference. And my marriages didn't break up over another woman or another man. It was also logistics. One [husband] lived in California. I mean, you can do that for a year but not for 10.

Women and Work

I used to say it would be very hard to have a good career, and children, and a marriage, and balance it all — and it still is. Women, and now men, still struggle. But you do have more understanding employers, and women don't feel as guilty if they work.

Letting Go

We have a tendency to sweat the small stuff. Kitty Carlisle Hart once said to me that she looked in the mirror before going to bed and said, "Kitty, I forgive you." I've never forgotten. If there's something that's been troubling me that I can't do anything about, in my own mind, I close the door.

Secrets of Her Success

I used to say it was because I didn't have to go to the bathroom often and could outsit anybody, male or female — but I was being funny. I think the secret of my success is that I persevered. I didn't give up. I didn't say, "This is a lousy job, and I'm unhappy, and I'm going to quit." I went through the tough times, and they were tough. And I was fortunate that I came out the other end.

Being a Role Model

When someone comes up to me and says, "You paved the way, and thank you," I am very proud. A lot of women think today, "What's so tough? She had a partner that didn't like her. I have partners that don't like me. She was failing. I failed." But the fact that I persevered and succeeded in what was so much a man's world — the world of television news — gives me great pride. That's my legacy. It's not a particular interview I did. That's nice, but who cares? It's that maybe I made it easier for the next woman.

Myrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media.

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