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"...I can take a deep breath and enjoy the view.."
And there you have it, or them: Last words of a singular career that ended a little while ago. Write them down or remember them, if only to say "'last words, my eye...'" when Barbara Walters returns to the air after a brief "retirement sabbatical..."
Nevertheless, this morning's "The View" was her last official on-air appearance, not counting tonight's career retrospective.
She went off in style: Saluting 25 "incredible" women of the TV news industry who, in fact, are incredible - a who's who of female newscasters, each of whom has insisted she owes her career, or at least some of it, to the trailblazer they all surrounded on "The View" set. Robin Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Paula Zahn, Jane Pauley, and on and on and on...
They were introduced by Oprah Winfrey who had this to say: "I had to be here to celebrate you because what you have meant to me. You have literally meant the world to me. There are so many things to say but not enough time to say them all. I want to thank you for being a pioneer and everything that that word means - being the first in the door, to knock down that door, to break the barrier, to pave the road we all walk on. I thank you for that..."
Walters looked surprised. Maybe she even was. But she was also undeniably pleased.
It was a nice hour, and in some ways a characteristic hour, with friends mixing pleasure with business - the usual promotional fly-throughs, courtesy of Hillary Clinton, selling a book, and maybe a candidacy ("I am running," she joked. "Around the park.") And Michael Douglas, another longtime Walters friend and starring in a forthcoming movie with Diane Keaton, who showed a picture of his father, Kirk, now 97.
But that's OK. Television is about I-rub-your-back-you-rub-mine, and Barbara Walters has done plenty of back-rubbing over the decades - consecrating careers, or pushing them into places of distinction, all the while pushing hers into an aerie essentially occupied by one person: Herself.
There were no tears and no tears were expected. Steely, tough and focused, Barbara Walters didn't get to be the most influential woman in the history of network news - and one of the three or four titans of this business - by succumbing to emotion. Walter Cronkite didn't tear up on his last night. Barbara did not on her last day.
Her final words were practiced - she said the exact same speech at the party in her honor the other night at The Four Seasons... But you also knew they were from the heart: "True, I was the first female co-host of an evening new show, but it's also true I was a flop" - she said the word as if the 40-year-old memory still stings.
"I was drowning, gasping for air, and then someone threw me that life preserver, called prime-time specials..."
Those specials - four a year, and for which she was paid $500,00, one-half of her famed $1 million salary in 1976 - created one of the unique bifurcations in TV history: A newswoman who interviewed real newsmakers and also real stars...
But those specials did indeed save her.
Meanwhile, she got advice from Clinton this morning: "Take some time off...take a real vacation."
Will Walters, who turns 85 this September, take this counsel? What do you think? Consider: She was just getting started at age 65, a couple of years before she even started "The View."
Who knows. She may just be getting started again.
Skepticism of course is warranted: Barbara Walters retiring? No she's not. But she says she is... then she says she's not. Last night on "Late Show with David Letterman," she and that other legend declared that they would walk off into the sunset together.... After first declaring that they had no desire to leave at all.
What's going on here? Shrinks have terms for this -- "inner conflict," is certainly one. "Lapsus linguae" may be the other -- a slip of the tongue that reveals the true inner emotions... Barbara's had those recently.
Wednesday night, watching her glide through the movable feast of power brokers in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons -- all gathered to fete this spectacular 50-year run which may or may not be coming to an end -- someone was overheard to say: "I give her three weeks."
That may be generous. I give her three days. (By the way, you may want to watch the tribute Friday at 9. It's quite good.)
Everyone says the same thing about Walters: She looks great, vital, beautiful... a Dorian Gray in a red suit who defies the clock. They also say she can't retire, anymore than Mike Wallace or Walter Cronkite could. It's not just the push and pull of a great career - which always seems to exert a magnetic pull over any avowed intention to back out, drawing them back in, over and over again... It's something much deeper: An identity bound tightly to that career, as if one cannot be separated from the other. The obvious benefits of work are one thing -- keeping active, remaining vital, doing everything you are so good at doing. But it's that deeper power the legends never have control over - the one that says they have to keep going because if they don't, they stop becoming what they were all along.
Johnny Carson was the only singular legend in TV history that I'm aware of who could bodily remove himself from that strangely human paradox -- though hard to say how successful he was because he died a mere ten years after leaving "Tonight": A recluse in a Malibu compound who swung a tennis racket and had no wistful glance back to the glory days... Or so one is lead to believe. We are all still waiting for the Bill Zehme biography.
But Barbara's different. Wednesday night was Her Crowd: Oprah, David Geffen, Woody Allen and every other luminary you could care to think of, all elbow-to-elbow in a packed room that parted only when the queen moved through. She looked happy, and sad; in the moment and also wistful. She made jokes because jokes are always a nice way to diffuse complex emotions: "At least now I have time for Botox. But since I'm not going to be on TV anymore, I don't need the Botox."
She explained (redundantly): "I don't know how to say goodbye. So I won't, and instead say, 'à bientôt...'"
That means "see you later." Or to quote that overquoted Hallmark-like saying, "A good-bye is never painful unless you're never going to say hello again."
After a 17-year run, Barbara Walters will step down from co-hosting duties on "The View" on May 16, but she stopped short -- far short -- of saying she was "retiring."
In fact, ABC News said Walters, 84, would remain with the network "for life," occasionally handling news assignments when warranted. She will remain on "The View" as executive producer with Bill Geddie, with whom she created...Read more »