Walters is clearly proud of how long the specials, and particularly special lasted, “The interviews have a texture to them that I think has been unique,” she said, though she harbors one regret, which is that she didn’t travel to South Africa in 1994 to personally interview Nelson Mandela. On that trip, she had interviewed not only former Prime Minister Golda Meir, but also Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan, with whom she formed a lasting friendship.
“It was November, which was sweeps,” Walters recalls. (Dayan’s widow, Raquel, would wear to her husband’s 1981 funeral a dress that belonged to Walters.) The historic nature of what was at stake for Israel and its neighbors, as well as the powerful and charismatic personalities of the players, made it irresistible; to this day, Walters says her all-time favorite interviewee was then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
“She rattled a lot of cages before women were even allowed into the zoo.”Sherri Shepherd, one of Walters’s co-hosts on said, “I think every talk show where you see more than one person of color is due to Barbara Walters.
In the landscape of network TV, you would always see one black person, and it was the foresight and creative vision of Barbara Walters who said, ‘You know what?
Maybe all black people don’t think alike.’ ” And for anyone tempted to dismiss Walters, by invoking Gilda Radner’s mid-70s “Baba Wawa” impersonation, consider that at the same time, Walters was doing groundbreaking work in the Middle East, including her unprecedented 1977 joint interview with former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
On May 16 Walters will retire from appearing on television (she will still serve, with her longtime business partner, Bill Geddie, as *The View’*s co–executive producer).
They did no formal polling, but, Walters says, “If you’re delivering the turkey sandwich, we ask your opinion. Because Egypt and Israel had been at war since 1948, the two men had never met, and the Egyptian ambassador, Ashraf Ghorbal, didn’t want to be in the presence of his Israeli counterpart, Simcha Dinitz, for the first time on television.
The public interest in world leaders is greatly diminished, she says, and even the leaders themselves are less charismatic. ’ If I got an interview with so-and-so, and I brought it back, [producers would] say, ‘We’ll give him two and a half minutes on ’ It’s like visiting a country and nobody wears a native costume anymore. We’re reading the same things; we’re watching the same things.
“There is no Fidel Castro, except for Fidel Castro,” she told me over lunch. I can’t think of a world leader—I’m trying very hard—that everybody is dying to interview.
Stiviano, the female companion of disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Her own fame has outlasted that of most of her subjects (Mary Kay Letourneau, Mr.