When Barbara Walters was promoted to co-anchor of TODAY in 1974, she became the first woman in the show’s history to hold that title. Some 48 years later, TODAY’s two current co-hosts, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, are also women.
The renowned interviewer, who paved the way for women in broadcast journalism, died on Friday December 30 at the age of 93.
“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully at her home surrounded by her loved ones,” her rep, Cindi Berger, confirmed to TODAY.com. “She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not just for female journalists, but for all women.
The cause of death was not immediately revealed.
The Boston native debuted on TODAY in 1961 as a writer who first transitioned into high-profile on-air segments focusing on lighter topics, like fashion and celebrities . In 1962 she dressed as Playboy Bunny and worked at Playboy Nightclub in New York and also traveled to Paris for couture shows.
“I wasn’t a model, I wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t pronounce my Rs very well, I wasn’t an actress,” Walters recalled of his early days on camera in a 2000 interview with the Television Academy. Foundation.
“I wasn’t anything ‘TODAY’s girl’ had been before, so I was kind of considered still TODAY’s reporter. And during those years, because I was able to write my own material, because I was able to go out and do interviews, there were obstacles that I think I overcame.
Walters conducted many compelling interviews always in the area of women’s interests – such as with Grace Kelly, after her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Judy Garland – and followed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to India and Pakistan in 1962. His work, alongside then-anchor Hugh Downs, brought TODAY into its golden years.
“I did a rather touching and difficult interview with Princess Grace of Monaco,” Walters said in an interview marking the 55th anniversary of TODAY in 2007. “Hard because it was like pulling teeth.”
By the 1970s, she had managed to report more serious stories. As she described it, “I did movie stars and I did the tea segments. … Gradually, I did less pourer tea interviews and more black coffee.
“I’ve done political interviews, I’ve done almost every president,” she continued. “I did quite a few interviews with President Richard Nixon. He kind of favored me. I did the first interview when Jimmy Carter was making the announcement.
She also covered the funeral of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and traveled to China to report on the visit of President Richard Nixon in 1972, the only NBC News woman sent there at the time.
“Little by little, people could see: here’s a woman doing the same thing as men, and that’s okay,” Walters also told the foundation. “It was the feeling that women couldn’t make the news, no one would take it seriously.”
When asked at TODAY’s 40th anniversary celebration in 1992 how she made the transition to hard news, she said, “In a weird way, it was easier because you could see it through. … You can write it, you can edit it and put it on the air and see it finished.
But Walters, who worked at TODAY for 15 years before heading to ABC, was not an official TODAY co-host for most of her tenure. “Women weren’t co-hosts back then. I was the third cast member,” she recalled in 2007.
When she finally claimed a co-anchor title two years before leaving TODAY in 1976, she not only shattered the morning show’s glass ceiling, she shattered it.
Jane Pauley was her successor and Deborah Norville arrived in the early 90s. Katie Couric then led the series from 1991 to 2006, followed by Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry and current co-presenters Savannah and Hoda – the first formation of presenters entirely feminine TODAY.
“I didn’t think, ‘Ah! I’m going to show everyone,” Walters told the foundation. “I really wanted to do it. That was what interested me. … Yes, I like to do lighter things, but I was also interested in politics and I also read newspapers and I liked to do that kind of stuff. So I did it.
She then gave advice to women interested in advancing in their careers.
“Working harder than anyone,” Walters said. “You’re not going to get it by whining, and you’re not going to get it by shouting. You’re not going to get it by quitting smoking. You’re going to get it by being there, and I think that’s what happened with me.