Groundbreaking journalist Barbara Walters passed away December 30, 2022 at the age of 93. A longtime mainstay on 20/20, The View, and many other news shows, Walters paved the way for women in news industries. Those who were fortunate enough to have been interviewed by her collectively mourned, sharing their condolences online.
Known for her immensely personal, deep-digging questions, Walters always aimed to ask what had not been asked before, and to get the scoop. When interviewing celebrities, Walters brought many hard-hitting topics to the forefront of public conversation about fame, representation, and the humanity of famous figures that is not often recognized.
Of course, during a flourishing time for American theatre, Walters interviewed a number of Broadway stars. In our digging, we found 10 instances of Walters interviewing theatre celebrities. Some that were not able to be included in this article, due to a lack of full footage available online, include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Liza Minnelli, and Bette Midler.
Below, see seven times Walters interviewed some of our very own stars of the Broadway stage.
"Julie...if you can't sing anymore, how will it change your life?" Walters asks gently, in a 1999 20/20 interview that is now looked back on as profoundly capturing one of the most heartbreaking and pivotal moments of Julie Andrews' career, following the unexpected loss of her voice due to complications of throat surgery.
Slowly, Andrews replies: "God, you'll have to ask me that again another time...right now, I simply cannot contemplate it. I don't want to say that I never can. So, ask me again in a couple of years, OK?" A sorrowful smile paints Andrews' face, maintaining her famously graceful disposition.
Walters, aiming, as always, to push further and ask the hard questions, responds: "And then if it's still no?"
Andrews' smile falls. "I think it will change something inside of me forever," she admits. Despite the mournful note the interview ends on, Walters approached the difficult conversation with all the empathy and sensitivity it required for Andrews to tell her story, no matter how hard it was for fans to hear.
In Lansbury's first year starring on Murder, She Wrote, Walters sat down to talk with her about all her previous performances, many of which were on Broadway. In a fascinating question, likely referring in part to Lansbury's role in Mame (1966), Walters asks: "For many years, you played women so much older than yourself. Did you mind?"
Candidly, Lansbury answers: "I did mind, I think, more than I ever let on. I covered it up with a sort of professional bravado, but, I wasn't going to let it get me down. I think I sensed in my heart of hearts that my opportunity was going to come, that I was going to get a chance to show what I could really do." Indeed, Lansbury later launched her own production company and became a producer on Murder, She Wrote.
One of several instances where Walters profiled the "greatest star" Barbra Streisand, this particular interview begins with Walters following Streisand on a tour through her personal collection of art nouveau furniture, which she was auctioning off in an effort to "simplify her life." Streisand had also just donated her Malibu home to the state of California. A turning point in both her personal life and her career, after years of overall avoiding the public eye, Streisand was, according to Walters, not only giving up her possessions, but "giving up fear," as well. The 1993 interview offered a deeply intimate glimpse into Streisand's inner psychology, as she describes her metamorphosis from living inside her mind to aiming to be more present in "the real world." The discussion shed light on anxiety and the pressure of fame in a way that surely opened up larger conversations down the line about the unglamorous realities of being a celebrity.
Following the trailblazing success of Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway, Walters initiates the interview with a statement that may sound obvious today, but was crucially validating in 1983: "homosexuals are human." During a time when gay relationships were not perceived as being capable of the serious commitments that society upheld straight relationships to be, Walters asks Fierstein if long-term monogamous relationships, such as the relationship seen in Fierstein's La Cage Aux Folles, were a rarity in the gay community.
He responds: "It is the norm in the homosexual community. It is not what you see on the news." In a powerful statement that was delivered to the televisions of Americans all across the country, Fierstein proclaims that having a life partner is not exclusive to heterosexuality. "Those are not heterosexual experiences, and those are not heterosexual words. Those are human words: love, commitment, family, belong to all people."
While Burnett does discuss her play Hollywood Arms in this 2002 interview with Walters, she also divulges the details of her daughter Carrie Hamilton's early experiences with addiction from the ages of 13 to 17, and her passing due to cancer at the age of 38. Hamilton had appeared onstage as Maureen in the first national tour of Rent, and was an emerging playwright at the time of her death. Hollywood Arms was written by Burnett in tandem with her daughter, and it premiered on Broadway just months after Hamilton's passing.
Guided by Walters' questions, Burnett shares her grief for her daughter, and opens up about their joint decision to go public about Hamilton's recovery from addiction, so that they would have control of the narrative before it was leaked to the press. Said Burnett, "I knew the tabloids were going to go after it, and I talked to Carrie and said, 'Honey, we've got to talk about it before anybody else, because we know the truth.'" In a time when addiction was, and still is, stigmatized, Walters' interview made a case for compassion and care.
The stage and screen star was interviewed by Walters in 1996 to discuss her Oscar nomination for her role alongside Barbra Streisand in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces, which Bacall describes as being an opportunity to finally be celebrated as a top-tier actress, several decades after her peak in fame. She tells Walters that, if she receives the award, it would be a long-awaited hallmark of her distinguished talent: "At last, I am at least being given credit for being an actress, because, you know, I never really have been. I've always been thought of as a personality, a name, a star, but not an actress. I've not been taken seriously, for the most part."
In a classic Walters moment, she muses that she asks people what they believe is the greatest misconception about them so often, but it had never been quite so fitting of a question until interviewing Bacall. "I can't think of anybody who I could say that with more honesty than with you, because there is such a misconception about you...what do you think it is?" Walters asks.
Bacall answers bluntly: "People don't think of me as a human being." Notorious for her unfazed facade, she states that although everyone sees her as confident and in-charge, she has many vulnerabilities, saying, "'As a woman, I've fended for myself for a long, long time...and I suppose, over the years I've built up a certain veneer to protect myself, but in actual fact, I'm not like that at all. I'm still a pushover, and hypersensitive, and ridiculous."
Walters quips, "Two out of three of those, I agree with," and the pair laugh.
To end this article on a more lighthearted note, and to show that Walters was as playful as she was probing, we present this moment from the interview Walters did with Hugh Jackman. In the interview, Walters reveals that when seeing The Boy From Oz on Broadway, Hugh Jackman brought her on stage...to give her a lap dance. During his performance in the 2003 show, he had roughly 10 minutes each night to ad-lib, and frequently brought audience members on stage, and, occasionally, gave lap dances. When Walters attended the closing night performance, she had been the lucky lady in the crowd to be called on stage by Jackman. And once the time came for her to interview him, she was sure to announce that event to the world. By doing this, Jackman offered to give her another lap dance...and thus, a viral video was born.