Barbara Walters’ six decade-spanning career as a pioneering broadcast journalist made her a beloved household name and multi-millionaire. At the time of her death in 2022, this media icon had accumulated an estimated net worth of $170 million. But her fame and fortune were hard-won through determination and resilience in the face of countless barriers. This is the story of how a girl from Boston grew to shatter glass ceilings and forge a path for women in the media along the way to amassing her vast wealth.
A Tenacious Spirit Born Out of Humble Roots
Long before her illustrious career and nine-figure net worth, Barbara Walters began life in modest circumstances on September 25, 1929. She was born to Dena Seletsky and Lou Walters in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father worked in entertainment, managing nightclubs and producing Broadway shows. Exposure to performers and life behind-the-scenes sparked an early interest in show business for Walters.
The family moved to New York City during the Great Depression where Walters attended the private Fieldston School on scholarship. There, she honed public speaking skills in school debates that would later prove invaluable on screen. However, Walters recalls feeling out of place as a middle-class student among wealthier peers, which many believe contributed to her drive later in life.
After high school, Walters enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College. She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English, laying the writing foundation for her journalism career. But beyond the academics, it was personal tragedy that shaped Walters‘ tenacious spirit. Her older sister Jacqueline was born mentally disabled, dealing Walters’ family profound hardship. Witnessing her sister’s struggles instilled early empathy and shaped Walters’ mature interview style of coaxing intimate confessions from subjects.
An Unlikely Pivot From Publicity to Hard-Hitting Journalism
Fresh out of college in the early 1950s, Walters entered the workforce in television publicity and broadcasting promotion. Her first job was writing press releases and working in PR for NBC’s television division in New York.
At the time, news broadcasting was dominated by men. Popular wisdom held that audiences wouldn’t take a woman seriously reporting hard news. So Walters started out utilizing her media savvy in publicity, advertising, and entertainment roles at NBC.
But Walters had no interest in staying confined to softer “women’s interest” pieces. She lobbied to transition from behind-the-scenes PR work to on-air reporting and conducting celebrity interviews. Her persistence paid off. In 1961, NBC hired Walters as a writer and on-air reporter for the Today Show.
Though she started out writing lighter lifestyle segments, Walters leveraged her intelligence and interviewing skills to earn opportunities covering harder news. She gained notice for her poise reporting live from the scene of the 1963 Kennedy assassination. Her grit reporting from Vietnam in the late 60s also earned respect. Walters became Today’s first female co-host in 1974, pioneering a path for women in broadcast.
Smashing Glass Ceilings on the Way to the Top of TV News
Walters truly broke barriers in 1976 when she was recruited by ABC Evening News. As co-anchor alongside veteran Harry Reasoner, she became the first woman to co-anchor an evening news program—a historic first.
While Reasoner earned a $500,000 salary at the time, Walters was paid just $200,000 despite handling equally hard news. “I know I was brought onto the program to fail,” she remarked of the experience.
But Walters exceeded all expectations. Ratings for the newscast shot up 40% with her at the helm. After just two years, she earned over $1 million per year—a $700k raise and the highest salary of any news host, male or female. Walters had leverage at the negotiating table thanks to her proven star power.
In 1979, Walters became a correspondent for ABC‘s 20/20 news magazine. Her exclusive interviews and unclear reporting made the show a hit. She also flexed her versatility with annual Oscar ceremony hosting duties. By the mid-80s, Walters’ paycheck soared to $5 million per year.
Barbara Walters‘ Journey to a $170 Million Net Worth
|Year||Show/Role||Est. Annual Salary||Net Worth|
|1961||Today Show Writer||$75,000||$100,000|
|1974||Today Co-Host||$500,000||$1 million|
|1976||ABC Evening News Co-Anchor||$1 million||$5 million|
|1979||20/20 Correspondent/Host||$3 million||$10 million|
|1988||Peak Career||$12 million||$50 million|
|1997||The View Creator/Co-Host||$5 million||$90 million|
|2003||20/20 Host||$10 million||$150 million|
Walters racked up over 25 Emmy awards across her roles. By the late 80s, she commanded an eye-popping $12 million annual salary. In 1997, she created The View, which became a runaway hit. As co-host and co-executive producer, Walters added hosting duties but took a pay cut to $5 million per year. Even so, by 2014 her net worth exceeded $170 million from decades of lucrative contracts.
More Than Just TV – Walters‘ Other Lucrative Income Sources
- 6-figure speaking fees for appearances at corporate, university, and charity events
- Millions earned creating and producing TV movies and specials via her production company
- Advertising and endorsements earlier in her career (e.g. Prell shampoo commercials)
- Profit participation from hit programs she executive produced
- Royalties from bestselling 2008 memoir Audition detailing her career
- Savvy investments of income over decades in the business
Unlike many celebrities, Walters was frugal in her spending. She amassed savings that grew substantially with savvy investing. This fiscal prudence allowed Walters to accrue the mammoth net worth she had in her later years.
The Queen of the TV Interview – Barbara Walters‘ Style & Impact
What set Barbara Walters apart? For starters, her unique, heart-to-heart interview style that coaxed even unlikely subjects to open up. She asked thoughtful questions and related to interviewees conversationally versus grilling them aggressively.
Walters also wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and ask tough questions. “I never flinched when they cried, and they often did. I tried to draw them out,” she said of her approach. It allowed her to land once-in-a-lifetime exclusives with world leaders and reclusive stars.
Her technique was so disarming that her interviews with figures like President Nixon and Michael Jackson broke ratings records. Walters conducted the first joint interview with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. She also earned unprecedented access to despised leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Her interviews with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin also made global headlines.
Legendary stars rarely granted in-depth interviews but made exceptions for Walters. Her accepting style put them at ease opening up about their lives. Walters got Elizabeth Taylor to divulge never-before-heard stories of her marriages. Katharine Hepburn spoke with rare candor about her most private details. Even Monica Lewinsky chose Walters for her first public interview after the infamous Clinton scandal.
Why Barbara Was a Big Deal: Her Trailblazing Legacy
Barbara Walters‘ true net worth lies in her trailblazing stature as an inspiration for women in media. Prior to Walters, few women held visible spots on TV outside traditionally feminine roles. She stormed these male bastions not through luck but by leveraging brilliance and an exceptional work ethic.
”I never expected or claimed to be perfect,” Walters reflected. “I just tried to be myself in a world where everyone expects women to be something other than themselves." Though discrimination followed her, Walters persisted. She is credited with carving space for the generations of prominent female journalists who followed.
Beyond the glass ceilings she shattered, Walters left a legacy as one of the most respected broadcasters ever. Critics praised her ability to transition between serious and light content. Viewers tuned in for her warmth and intelligence. And public figures agreed to speak with her knowing they‘d get a sympathetic yet honest interview.
Giving Back – How Walters Shared Her Success
Despite wealth and fame, Walters stayed grounded by giving back. She donated millions over the years to causes like women’s rights, poverty reduction, arts education, and disaster relief.
Notably, Walters co-created a Harvard honors program for women broadcasters. She hand-selected and mentored dozens of young women for fellowships. Walters explained, “Women attached too much importance to being liked. I wanted them to have higher ambitions.”
This generosity of spirit characterized Walters’ final decades. While comfortable, she lived modestly in a classic Manhattan apartment. Visitors noted the warmth and lack of pretension she radiated despite her immense success. Walters‘ giving back created a cherished legacy on top of her historic career.
Lessons Aspiring Journalists Can Learn from This Luminary
So what can young journalists today take away from Walters’ groundbreaking career?
First, perfect your unique voice and interview style versus imitating others. Walters forged lifelong fans by highlighting her originality and empathy on screen. She set herself apart from fiery or aggressive personalities.
Additionally, leverage persistence and hard work. Walters routinely put in 19-hour days. Her nonstop drive opened doors male producers claimed would stay shut to women.
Curiosity, listening ability, and pursuit of the truth are also essential. Mastering storytelling formats like interviews and long-form profiles pays dividends. And know that the jobs that seem “less serious” can train skills equally key to hard news. Walters proved PR and entertainment expertise aided her journalism finesse.
Above all, believe in yourself and the value of your perspective. Walters stayed resolute despite rampant discrimination. Thanks to her self-confidence, she ascended to the very top of her industry on her own terms. That takes grit aspiring journalists would be wise to emulate.
Conclusion: Barbara Walters‘ Dollars and Sense Just Part of Her Value
When Barbara Walters passed away in 2022 at age 92, she left behind a monumental net worth of $170 million accumulated across her 60+ years in broadcast media. But Walters‘ true value isn‘t measured in dollars. Rather, it lies in how she transformed possibilities for women in journalism and forged bonds with viewers globally.
Walters brought depth and heart to the most sterile breaking news story. Her warmth and wisdom invited viewers into a conversation versus a lecture. From Barrier-breaker to bonafide superstar, this tenacious trailblazer certainly earned every penny of her fortune. But the doors she opened and the lives she touched are Walters’ real riches and legacy.