Barbara Jill Walters was born on September 25th, 1929, In Boston, Massachusetts. She was born to Jewish parents who were descendants of refugees from the former Russian Empire. Walters had a brother, Burton, who died of pneumonia in 1944, and an older sister Jacqueline, who was born mentally disabled and passed away from ovarian cancer in 1985.
Her father, Lou, managed the famous Latin Quarter nightclub and worked as a Broadway producer and booking agent. Walters recounts that her father was quite successful throughout his show business career and that she remembers him taking her to nightclub show rehearsals that he both directed and produced.
The Real Face of Fidel Castro
The year 1977 also held a significant interview for Walters as she interviewed Cuban leader Fidel Castro. She spent two days speaking with him. And, perhaps to the surprise of viewers, the footage revealed his personality as carefree, charming, and even humorous. But Walters made sure to ask hard-hitting questions. His reply was eye-opening: “Barbara, our concept of freedom of the press is not yours.”
Walters concluded the broadcast by stating how powerfully they disagreed on the concept of freedom. It was interviews like these that established Walters as an intelligent, intuitive, and steely journalist who was not afraid to peel back the layers and uncover the core issues.
The Riveting Interview of 1999
One of her most intense interviews was on March 3rd, 1999, with Monica Lewinsky. A record 74 million people (the highest-ever rating for a news program) tuned in to see the conversation between the two women. One of her heaviest questions for Lewinsky was, “What will you tell your children when you have them?” It was a direct yet intimate question for which Lewinsky gave an honest answer: “Mommy made a big mistake.”
Walters then took the initiative to amplify the drama surrounding the interview as she turned to the viewers and said, “And that is the understatement of the year.” She was unwilling to miss an opportunity to create a memorable moment with her words. By this time, viewers certainly felt that they knew the journalist they had let into their homes very well. But, as Barbara Walters herself would know, to fully understand a person, you must examine their past.
A Unique Childhood
Because of her father’s work, the family moved around consistently from Massachusetts to Miami Beach to New York City. Being around celebrities as a child helped Walters develop a comfort around notable figures when she entered into journalism as an adult.
Walters grew up around singers, dancers, actors, and comedians. From her little spot in the lighting booth, she was able to observe a lot behind the scenes. These experiences helped her understand that famous figures were truly just human beings with real problems like everyone else.
Her Father’s Influence
Walters is also an avid reader and has been since she was a young girl. She would often read while hanging out with her father at the Latin Quarter club. Her studious habits paid off when she graduated with a B.A. in English from Sarah Lawrence College. Walters then immediately began looking for work in New York City.
Unfortunately for her father, nightclubs had become far less popular by now, and Lou Walters began drowning in debt. His financial problems became so bad that, when Walters was 28 and working in the radio-and-television department of a PR firm, her father attempted to take his own life with prescription medicine.