Barbara Walters started smashing the TV-news glass ceiling in 1961 when she became the first female correspondent on Today. During the following five decades, the Massachusetts native was also the first woman to cohost a morning news show (Today in 1974), to coanchor a nightly news program (ABC Evening News in 1976), and then, for 25 years, to cohost the ABC newsmagazine 20/20. She became known as the Queen of Scoop as she wrangled major stars and world leaders for her trademark in-depth interviews and produced and hosted annual Oscar specials and The 10 Most Fascinating People. Finally, Walters conquered daytime 17 years ago with The View, the all-female talk show that dares to spotlight politics as well as makeup, cooking and gossip.
On May 16, Walters, 84, retires from The View and regular on-air work (that night, at 9/8c, ABC will air Barbara Walters: Her Story, a two-hour retrospective of her life and career). "May 17," says Walters, "will be the first time since school that I won't have a full-time job."
TV Guide Magazine: How are you doing as your final day on The View draws near?
Barbara Walters: Mixed feelings. I try not to think about it, because then I wonder, "What do I do on May 17?" But I made this choice. I wanted to leave when The View was still strong and when, hopefully, people will say, "Why are you going?" I'll still be The View's executive producer, with Bill Geddie. And if Fidel Castro or a former president dies, I would do something for ABC News, where I'll keep an office.
TV Guide Magazine: What will you miss most about a steady TV gig?
Walters: Knowing there's a place to go. I will miss not having a forum to give my opinion and sitting with guests like New York's mayor and the president.
TV Guide Magazine: Who were the interview subjects who got away?
Walters: I've never been able to book Queen Elizabeth or a pope. I would have promised to never do another interview if I would have been able to interview [the notoriously reclusive] Greta Garbo.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you consider The View one of your top achievements?
Walters: It's a program that I created with great pride that's lasted longer than most shows on TV. I have very fond feelings about all 10 cohosts. I think we jump-started their careers.
TV Guide Magazine: How will the show change when there's no Barbara?
Walters: Maybe they should hire a man. That was not in my thinking when the program began, but it would be good for the show, give it a new feeling.
TV Guide Magazine: What are you most proud of in your career?
Walters: That there are so many women in television now. That's my legacy. The title of "Today Girl" ended when I came on air as a correspondent. When the male host [Frank McGee] died, I became the first female cohost. It was no longer "with Barbara Walters." It was "and Barbara Walters."
TV Guide Magazine: Young women might find it hard to believe how much ridicule you encountered as you broke through barriers.
Walters: I got a tremendous amount of criticism when I was the first coanchor of ABC Evening News. My partner, Harry Reasoner, didn't want me, which made it very difficult. When I see my colleague Diane Sawyer doing the evening news so successfully — I'm not responsible for her success, but it gives me a great deal of pride.
TV Guide Magazine: When did you feel you were accepted?
Walters: After the ABC show failed, I thought my career was over. Then Roone Arledge, the head of ABC News and a genius, made me a general reporter. That's when I did the best stories. I did the only joint interview with the enemies, Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. I spent 10 days in Cuba for an interview with Castro. That was the most exciting and important time. That's when I cleared my reputation.
TV Guide Magazine: You certainly bagged the world's leaders, good or awful.
Walters: I've interviewed every American president since Richard Nixon.
TV Guide Magazine: Can you share some fun POTUS facts?
Walters: Nixon tried very hard to be one of the guys. He told risqué jokes to the camera crew. Clinton keeps you waiting and then talks to you for two hours, whereas Obama comes on time and tells you that you have 26 minutes, and that doesn't mean you have 27.
TV Guide Magazine: Who are the celebrities you've enjoyed most?
Walters: I've interviewed hilarious people, from Bob Hope to Robin Williams. I danced with Al Pacino and George Burns. Then there's Oprah. I could never interview her too much. She's an amazing woman.
TV Guide Magazine: You wrote a best-selling memoir, Audition. Do you have more books planned?
Walters: I'm thinking about a book in which I'll share the anecdotes behind the interviews I've done. Interesting backstage stories.
TV Guide Magazine: You've made so many of your subjects cry. Will you cry on your last day?
Walters: I try very hard not to make people cry! I'm going abroad in June, because it will be very difficult for me to be around when the show's still on. And come September, it's going to be a very strange experience for me [when the show returns]. The idea of having free time is both wonderful and scary. I'll have to start giving dinner parties.
TV Guide Magazine: Or maybe watch TV for fun?
Walters: I am definitely going to watch House of Cards!