On the program she invented, on the network where she worked for the past 37 years, on the medium where she broke barriers and rules for more than 50 years, Barbara Walters will announce on Monday morning, definitively and with no regrets, that she is calling it a career.
“It’s time,” Walters said, previewing the announcement she will make to the national television audience watching her daily program, “The View.”
“I keep thinking of the line from ‘Cabaret,’” Walters said. “ ‘When I go, I’m going like Chelsea.’ When I go there is not going to be any, ‘Please can I have another appearance?’ I don’t want to do any more interviews. I don’t want to do any other programs. I’m not joining CNN. This is it.”
Like Johnny Carson, another television standout who took charge of his exit from the national stage, Walters is picking her television end date exactly one year in advance: over the next year she will participate in a series of retrospectives on ABC prime-time news programs and her home on “The View,” seeking, she said, “to say goodbye in the best way.”
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Expectations that Walters, the nation’s first female anchorwoman, would make a formal retirement announcement surfaced in March. She returned from a vacation at that time to say on the air that she had no announcements to make.
But in an interview last week in her apartment overlooking Central Park, decorated with mementos and photographs of her interactions with boldfaced names of the past half-century, Walters, 83, confirmed that she had been pondering this decision for several years.
“It’s not something that just happened,” she said. “I’ve been thinking, When is the time? When I was turning 70 it was pretty old for television — to me now that’s a kid! But I remember thinking then, Is this the time to go?”
That was still in the previous century, well before the surgery to replace a heart valve in 2011. More recently her health again became news when she suffered a concussion in January after fainting at a pre-Inauguration party at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. After several days it was announced that Walters had contracted chickenpox, which gave her an infection that led to the fainting spell.
“I am not leaving because I am in ill health,” she said.
The inspiration for stepping aside next year is to take advantage of that continuing good health, Walters said.
“I want to leave when I’m still very active and very viable.” She mentioned several times that she would like an opportunity to smell a few roses.
“I want to go someplace and actually see it,” she said. “I’ve been to China three times. I hope the Great Wall is still there. I went when Nixon went, but wound up running after him with a tape recorder.”
Last month, she said, she went to London on assignment (she has a special airing on May 24 on the next generation of the British royal family) and stayed for only a day and a half. “I’d like to stay maybe three days sometime,” Walters said.
After another year, that is. The farewell tour (a term Walters rejected) will include appearing on one last edition of the 10 most fascinating people (they will not pick an all-time Top 10, but Walters will select a No. 1 overall); a last interview with President Obama and Michelle Obama; a series of retrospective clips from “The View”; possibly a last Academy Awards special (which Walters stopped doing three years ago); and a special next May that will attempt to sum up her career.
Walters has a wall in her apartment that is a fair approximation of how that summation might look: the list of interview subjects include Fidel Castro, Golda Meir and every president since Richard M. Nixon.
Castro made a charismatic impression; Moammar Gadhafi proved mercurial; Yasser Arafat gave her one of his trademark kaffiyehs. He also signed it, but her housekeeper thought it was laundry and put it in the wash.
“I asked Yeltsin if he drank too much and I asked Putin if he killed anybody,” Walters said, referring to the two Russian leaders. “Today there are not a lot of heads of state that you’d even want to interview.”
Any subjects who got away? “The queen,” she said. “My bosses at ABC said maybe I should tell her it’s my last year.”