As the world said goodbye to Barbara Walters, with homage heralding her great journalistic career, I remembered a woman who didn’t take Walters at all seriously.
Comedian Gilda Radner, one of the original “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”, was the first to stun America with her parody of the news legend. We watched with open-mouth delight at the political irreverence of the new show, Saturday Night Live. But in 1975, but when Gilda took on Barbara Walters, the icon, and turned her speech into a joke. It was beyond believable.
In her skits, Radner portrayed Walters as a big-haired, boastful newswoman who couldn’t pronounce the letter “R”.
Radner’s fellow cast members that first season of Saturday Night Live included John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. Between 1975 and 1980, Gilda Radner created and performed the parody of Barbara Walters several times. At first Barbara Walters was insulted by the way Radner ridiculed her, but later she learned to stop being bothered by it.
Barbara said it was her teen-aged daughter, Jacqueline, now in her 50s who taught her to lighten up. As Barbara explains it,
“I hated the Gilda Radner ‘Baba Wawa’ until I walked into my daughter’s room one night—she was up watching it … I said, ‘What are you doing up?’ and she said ‘I’m watching Baba Wawa.'”
Walters recalled being annoyed and frustrated.
“I mean — look what she’s doing,” she remembered saying to Jacqueline Dena Guber, now 54,
“Oh Mommy, lighten up,” her daughter replied.
“And then — I did.”
There’s a saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Saturday Night Live certainly flattered famous people back in the day. In early seasons, comedian Eddie Murphy parodied Mr. Rogers and rock legend, Little Richard. Recently, Alec Baldwin has been flattering the heck out of Donald Trump.
Though she’d been gone from television for several years, Barbara Walters was a staple in our households and in our hearts. I liked and respected her style and her technique. In the voice of Gilda Radner, “Goodnight, Baba Wawa! Rest Easy.