Columns and Commentary

Flashback 2008: Lou Carlozo interviews a bathrobe-clad Barbara Walters

January 9, 2023

Posted by Lou Carlozzo

This interview originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo section on June 11, 2008.

By Louis R. Carlozo

You have to wonder how Barbara Walters would react if the next celebrity interviewee showed up in a fluffy white bathrobe — which is exactly how she answered the door of her Four Seasons penthouse suite for my Interview with her.

*I hope you don’t mind,” said Walters, who had a slew of other interviews and a book signing to prepare for, and little time to do it in. And so there she stood: Barbara Walters, in black nylons and elegantly coiffed, with the tiniest lacy edge of camisole visible.

My response? “No problem.” ( gulped.)

Touring behind her memoir “Audition” (Knopf) and clearly in an upbeat mood — “You have to see this bathroom, It just goes on and on!” she offered — Walters invited me to sit down on the couch next to her.

(I gulped again.)

With her book tour handler close by to keep track of time, Walters felded my questions with as much grace and good humor as she dishes them — even when I kicked things off by turning the tables with a classic query from her 1970 book “How To Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything,” as reprised in her memoir

Lou Carlozo: I hope you don’t mind if I ask the first question you suggest for any interview.

Barbara Walters: Oh God! (Laughs.)

Lou: “If you were not doing what you’re now doing, what would you most likely be doing?”

Barbara: If I were lucky I would probably be writing for one of the early. morning shows, which is what I was doing when I was accidentally hired to appear on the “Today” show. But by now? (Pauses.) I’m not sure I’d even be working.

Lou: Why do you say that?

Barbara: Television kind of gobbles you up. I think I’ve been on TV continuously longer than anyone else-which is amazing when you consider that I’m 101 years old, and I don’t look it. (Laughs.)

Lou: Did being a pioneer among women on TV give you an advantage, or did it make things much tougher?

Barbara: If I was on top of the game, I was also ahead of the game, so it was a great struggle I was a total failure when I went from NBC to  ABC to become the first female co-anchor of a network news program. That was a big deal, but my career was totally over. There was no place else to go. But you couldn’t have the same career now, because with cable and the Internet and blogs, everybody’s a reporter.

Lou: So if you could teach the bloggers a thing or two, where would you start?

Barbara: You’d better have a very strong beginning and a very strong ending … and one of the things you have to answer very strongly is, “Why should I care? Why should this matter?” When I try to get an interview, I don’t tell [the subject] why I want to do it; I try to find out why they want to do it.

Lou: Which interviews were your most deeply satisfying?

Barbara: Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat — the only joint interview they ever did — that was historic. That has to be one of the ones I’m most proud of. With Fidel Castro, I was the first American to cross the Bay of Pigs after the invasion.

We spent 10 days with camera crews; that would never happen now. I did the first interview with Christopher Reeve after his accident, and the last before his death. I got close to him and his wife, Dana. Christopher and I celebrated our birthdays on the same day [Sept. 25], so there was even more of a bond.

One of the most important programs I did was called “Born in My Heart,” and it dealt with people on “20/20” who’d adopted children. One child was my own daughter, Jackie. One of the hardest chapters to write in this book was about my daughter.

Lou: What about the interviews that got away?

Barbara: The last pope and this pope have done no interviews. I didn’t get to interview Princess Diana, but I did get to know her fairly well. She promised me “the next interview,” and then of course her terrible death.

Queen Elizabeth has never done an interview. I had said to someone at one point that I’d really stopped trying to get the big hit, and he said, “What if Osama Bin Laden called?” Well, I’d pack tomorrow. I’d pack today.

Lou: How hard is it to land some of these people?

Barbara: It took me 25 years to get another interview with Fidel Castro. A lot of interviews take many years to set up: the first interview with Moammar Gadhafi when he was not our friend. You have to be patient.

Lou: As a master interviewer, how would you rate my performance honestly?

Barbara: One of the things that’s important to me is that at least you’ve read the book … some interviewers pride themselves on not reading the book. But I do a great deal of homework and I write my questions and I rewrite them and rewrite them. I’m looking at you, and you’re not writing anything down, even though you have a tape recorder. But you’re obviously making an effort to read the book. And that’s something you should remember: Do your homework.

Lou: Another classic Walters question: “If you were hospitalized for three months but not really too sick, who would you want in the next bed?”

Barbara: I love Johnny Carson’s answer the best: the best damn doctor in town. Either that, or somebody funny who doesn’t talk too much.

Lou: Sounds like Carson

Barbara: (Laughs.)

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