This is normally not a problem. When she appeared not long ago on the peculiar CNBC talk show of her former ultimate boss, ex–Disney chairman Michael Eisner, he confided that he was so nervous to be interviewing the Mother of All Interviewers his shirt was soaked. Only half-joking, Walters replied, “The reason that I am so successful is that I do not sweat. And I don’t have to go to the bathroom very often. That is the key to my success.”
That, and her mastery of the ins and outs of power, fame, and high society—the subtle, ceaseless game of collecting friends, trading favors, and dispensing the rare but well-aimed swift kick to keep her place at the top of the pile. (At the end of the interview, Eisner thanked her “for a dinner you gave for me last night.” “That was fun!” she chirped.)
On The View, Walters talks endlessly about her friends in high places, of dining with Henry Kissinger, chatting up Princess Margaret (“Which one of you remembers her except me?” Walters asked), and spending quality time at an Alpine ski resort with kings Constantine of Greece and Juan Carlos of Spain. Recently, Walters even showed off a holiday card from Rick and Kathy Hilton, pictured with their children, including the infamous daughter, Paris. “I like them!” she burbled. “I’m not going to say they’re my most intimate friends.”
She’s had a lifetime of making the right friends. Walters has even taken pains to cultivate Trump over the years; he says she invited him to her Aspen vacation home in the late eighties. She attended Trump’s third wedding, to Slovenian model Melania Knauss. She’s possibly the only celebrity extant who has enlisted not just one but two major gossip columnists—Cindy Adams and Liz Smith—as a kind of Praetorian guard. The three of them huddled together in a corner of The Four Seasons last month for Terry McAuliffe’s book party, avoiding the middling guests before Bill Clinton arrived.
“Be careful, Barbara has a lot of friends,” Adams cautioned me in her gun-moll’s rat-a-tat-tat after greeting me at her East Side penthouse wearing a white housecoat and getting ready to order Chinese. “If you chop her,” Adams warned over the yapping of her Yorkies, “a lot of people will come out of the woodwork.”
Walters assembled for my benefit a long list of mostly famous pals as character witnesses—from Beverly Sills to Vernon Jordan to Mayor Bloomberg to a schoolmate from Birch Wathen on the Upper West Side. They dutifully took my calls, and said what was expected of them.
“Barbara is not duplicitous,” Bloomberg assures me. “She says what she believes. But she’s politic. If she didn’t like your outfit, she probably wouldn’t tell you. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
Vernon Jordan, a civil-rights activist turned Lazard Frères director, dates his friendship with Walters back to a 1970 interview she did with him on Today. “What I like about her is she will bring you chicken soup,” Jordan tells me. “When I was shot”—by a white supremacist in 1980, as he was returning to a motel in Indiana with a white female friend at 2 a.m.—“I was in New York Hospital for 88 days, and Barbara would come to visit me every Friday, and go to the Hamptons the next morning … She will be with you in the good times, and she will be with you in the bad times.”
Rather, a self-described “longtime admirer,” concurs. “She can brush off slights,” he says, “but if you do damage, real damage, to Barbara, it can be twenty years later, and you may have forgotten what it is, but she will find a way to get back at you. Conversely, if you do something nice for Barbara, she’ll never forget that either, and twenty years later, she’ll come out of nowhere and will do something incredibly good and kind and helpful. Barbara has demonstrated that she believes revenge is a dish best served cold. If I were Donald Trump, I would take out extra life insurance.”
To which Trump says, essentially, bring it on. “Barbara’s had a long career, but she’s never had anything like this. She was always supposed to be above the fray,” he says. “This affair has been traumatic for Barbara because it just looks like it has passed her by. I’ve seen great boxers become old in one night. It happens to every one of them, and they never expect it to happen. The guy gets knocked out or knocked down. You see it, and you say, ‘Wow. It’s over for that fighter!’ ”
Longtime ABC News president Roone Arledge didn’t want Walters to do The View. He believed it would stretch her too thin and get her into trouble.