Being surrounded by celebrities when she was young kept her from being "in awe" of them. When she was a young woman, Walters' father lost his nightclubs and the family's penthouse on Central Park West. As Walters recalled, "He had a breakdown. He went down to live in our house in Florida, and then the Government took the house, and they took the car, and they took the furniture." Of her mother, she said, "My mother should have married the way her friends did, a man who was a doctor or who was in the dress business." After attending Fieldston School and Birch Wathen private schools in New York City, Walters graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1947. In 1951 she received a B.A. in English from Sarah Lawrence College.
Walters has seldom minced words when describing the visible, on-the-air disdain her co-anchor, Harry Reasoner, displayed for her when she was teamed up with him on the ABC Evening News in 1976-78. Reasoner had a difficult relationship with Walters because he disliked having a co-anchor, even though he worked with former CBS colleague Howard K. Smith nightly on ABC for several years. In 1981, five years after the start of their short-lived ABC partnership and well after Reasoner returned to CBS News, Walters and her former co-anchor had a memorable (and cordial) 20/20 interview on the occasion of Reasoner's new book release. Walters is also known for her years on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 where she joined host Hugh Downs in 1979. Throughout her career at ABC, Walters has appeared on ABC news specials as a commentator, including presidential inaugurations and the coverage of 9/11. She was also chosen to be the moderator for the third and final debate between candidates Jimmy Carter (D) and Gerald Ford (R), held at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall in Williamsburg, Virginia, during the 1976 Presidential Election. Many of her regular and special programs are syndicated around the world. As of 2004, she is in semi-retirement as a broadcast journalist, but remains a correspondent for ABC News as well as a host of ABC's special programs.
On June 14 2007 Walters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has won Daytime and Prime Time Emmy Awards, a Women in Film Lucy Award, and a GLAAD Excellence in Media award. Her impact on the popular culture is illustrated by Gilda Radner's "Baba Wawa" impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live, featuring her idiosyncratic speech with its rounded "R."
Walters published her memoirs, Audition: A Memoir, in 2008.
Because of her pioneering career in women's journalism, most of which on the Disney-owned American Broadcasting Company. In the fall of 2008, she will be honored with the Disney Legends award, an award given to those who made an outstanding contribution to The Walt Disney Company.
Walters started to gain a reputation for her interview skills while at The Today Show. Not all of her interviewees remain dry-eyed, and critics accuse Walters of pumping for the ratings-generating public tears. Critics have also accused Walters of not posing enough tough questions to her subjects, relying mainly on so-called "softball" questions to elicit sometimes unexpected answers. Her Barbara Walters Specials are top-rated and, since 1993, her year-end Ten Most Fascinating People offers a review of the year's most prominent newsmakers. Prior to the move of the Academy Awards to an early Sunday evening time spot, a Walters interview show, usually featuring one or more of the top nominees, was a regular feature. Walters' celebrity interviews at ABC came as part of her $1 million contract to join ABC, with half of it coming from the news department and half from doing celebrity specials.
Walters is known for "personality journalism" and her "scoop" interviews. In November 1977 she achieved a joint interview with Egypt's President Anwar Al Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Her interviews with world leaders from all walks of life are a chronicle of the latter part of the 20th century. They include Russia's Boris Yeltsin, China's Jiang Zemin, the UK's Margaret Thatcher, Cuba's Fidel Castro, as well as India's Indira Gandhi, Václav Havel, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, King Hussein of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Other interviews with influential people include pop icon Michael Jackson.
Walters was widely lampooned in 1981, and often since, when, during an interview with actress Katharine Hepburn, Walters is incorrectly identified as having posed the question: "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?" As she has often pointed out, and the video clips confirm, Hepburn initiated the comment by saying she would like to be a tree, and Walters merely followed up with, "What kind of a tree?
During a story on Cuban leader Fidel Castro mentioned above, she claimed that "for Castro, freedom begins with education". Some critics point to her characterization of Castro as freedom-loving and argue that it painted an inaccurate picture of his government.
On March 3 1999 she interviewed Monica Lewinsky in front of a record 74 million viewers, the highest ratings of any journalist interview. Walters asked Lewinsky, "What will you tell your children about this matter?" and Lewinsky replied, "'I guess Mommy made some mistakes,'" at which point Walters brought the program to a dramatic conclusion, turning to the viewers and saying, "And that is the understatement of the century."
In the 2008 Barbara Walters Oscar Special, Walters appeared confused on a number of occasions while interviewing Harrison Ford. At one point, Walters asks Ford what first comes to his mind after mentioning the movie Blade Runner in which he plays the lead role. Harrison responded, "Ridley, Ridley, Ridley". Upon hearing this, Walters seemed perplexed, asking, "Ridley? Ridley who?" indicating that Walters was unaware that acclaimed director Ridley Scott had directed the film.
The lawyer Roy Cohn said that he proposed to Walters the night before her wedding to Lee Guber but Walters has denied this claim. Her lifelong devotion to Cohn has been explained as gratitude for his help in her adoption of Jacqueline. In her autobiography, she says that Cohn got her father's warrant for failure to appear dismissed.
While promoting her new autobiography Audition during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 6 2008, Walters said that during the 1970s, she had an affair with Edward Brooke, then a married United States Senator from Massachusetts. Walters said that the affair ended to protect both of their careers from a possible scandal..