Exactly one year ago today, 2021 got in one last sucker punch with the death of Betty White. Now, 2022 has wrapped up with a heavy blow of its own: trailblazing news anchor and interviewer Barbara Walters has died at the age of 93.
Walters' career spanned more than half a century, during which time she hosted the "Today" show, "ABC Evening News," and "20/20" before creating and hosting her daytime talk show, "The View." Walters also made many appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," where she was played by various members of the comedy show's cast over the years. Gilda Radner debuted the character of "Baba Wawa" in 1975, spoofing Walters' slight speech impediment that caused her to struggle with the letter "R." Walters later told the New York Daily News that she "wasn't so thrilled" with the parody at first. But one night, after she found her young daughter Jacqueline watching a Baba Wawa sketch and reprimanded her, Jacqueline retorted, "Oh, mommy, where's your sense of humor?"
Thanks in part to that admonishment, Walters' feelings about Baba Wawa softened. "Gilda was so wonderful — the sketch immortalized me," she told the NY Daily News in hindsight, also revealing that "years later, when Gilda died, I sent her husband [actor Gene Wilder] a sympathy note and signed it 'Barbara Wawa.'"
Other "SNL" comics who offered their own impressions of Walters include Cheri Oteri and Rachel Dratch (who reprised the role in "30 Rock," via a tongue-twisting interview about a fictional movie called "The Rural Juror"). And in 2014, Walters herself joined the "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update desk to celebrate her retirement.
'Develop A Signature Voice That No One Will Forget'
Sharing the Weekend Update desk with Cecily Strong, Walters gets in a few stern comments about her prior depictions on "Saturday Night Live," before indulging in some humor at her own expense. Walters was often criticized for throwing softball questions at her interview subjects, most notoriously asking Katherine Hepburn in a 1981 interview, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"
Like many notorious quotes, this one has been heavily paraphrased and taken out of context. In the original interview, it was Hepburn who said she felt like a strong tree in her old age, to which Walters responded with the follow-up question, "What kind of tree are you?" (Hepburn's answer: an oak tree). Walters corrected the record in a 2004 "20/20" special, which today demonstrates an eerie bit of forethought. "At my funeral, or perhaps in my obituary, it may mention that I once asked Katherine Hepburn what kind of a tree she wanted to be. Well, that's not exactly what happened," Walters said, playing the original clip as proof. "I didn't ask her, she brought it up! What was I to do?"
Frankly, it's impossible to get through 50 years on camera without asking a silly question or two (I have personally asked many silly questions in a mere fraction of that time). But when it comes to the matter of Katherine Hepburn and the tree, consider the record corrected, Barbara Wawa.
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