Television: Barbara Walters: Getting out while the gets were good


Barbara Walters got out while the gets were still good.

On Friday, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first surprise guest to pay homage to Walters on her last day as a host on "The View."

Clinton was followed by a parade of television stars whose career paths were paved -- at least in part -- by Walters. Celebrities, old friends and longtime employees paid their respects.

But in all those tearful encomiums and declarations of love and respect, what was striking were the few glimpses of Walters’ unvarnished personality.

Particularly now, when news anchors and television hosts are so careful and carefully managed, Walters is sometimes as unfiltered as many of the guests in those fabled interviews that form the spine of the ABC tribute shown on Friday night, "Barbara Walters: Her Story."

When Clinton sat down on "The View," one of the show’s co-hosts, Sherri Shepherd, excitedly addressed the former secretary of state as Hillary. Many co-hosts would have let it go, unwilling to pull focus from the moment, but Walters didn’t. Instead, she reprimanded Shepherd, saying, "I don’t call her by her first name." Clinton hurriedly assured her hosts that "Hillary" was just fine.

The show went on without any further etiquette lessons, but that small interjection was telling. It’s not just that Walters has an old-school sense of propriety. She says what’s on her mind.

Walters finds irksome the casual, first-name faux friendliness that a new generation of personalities affects. Walters, of course, befriended some of the world leaders and movie stars she covered; on air, however, she maintained decorum.

What was notable about Friday night’s two-hour special wasn’t so much that it showed viewers a new side of Walters. Instead, it made clear how skillfully she asked questions.

Most of all, it revealed how less coached and guarded famous people were.

In 1987 Sean Connery said he thought there was nothing wrong with hitting a woman. Bing Crosby told Walters in 1977 that he would never again speak to any child of his who had engaged in premarital sex. In 1988 Robin Givens admitted to feeling physically afraid of her husband, Mike Tyson.

Possibly the worst moment of candor came from Mark David Chapman, who in a 1992 prison interview calmly explained why he shot John Lennon: "I thought by killing him, I would acquire his fame."

Although Walters says she is leaving television, she didn’t say adieu Friday, she said, "bienttt!" And that’s another way of saying, "I’ll be back."


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