Barbara Walters' legendary career offers a 'View' back to TODAY

During Barbara Walters' vast career, which has spanned decades, she’s interviewed presidents, first ladies, kings, queens, rock legends, Oscar winners, talk-show hosts and even President Clinton's mistress Monica Lewinsky, but it's all coming to an end when she retires May 16.

Walters began her career on NBC’s TODAY in 1962, first as a writer and producer of stories related to women. Her popularity on the show grew, which led to Walters receiving more air time. Still, it was an era when women weren’t in the forefront of television. It wasn’t until 1974, after TODAY host Frank McGee’s death, that Walters, a former TODAY Girl, received the title of co-host. Since then, it's been an upward journey.

WATCH: Barbara Walters reflects on her TODAY days

Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable moments from her career.

Hunting rabbits
Walters took on a lot of fun assignments at TODAY. She gave “going undercover” a whole new meaning in December 1962 when she ventured to The Playboy Club and donned a risqué outfit to work as a Playboy Bunny for one night — and even studied a 35-page manual and learned all the Bunny do's and don'ts. As she went to exit the club after getting her story, a bouncer asked if she was leaving “work” early for the night. “Secretly, I think I was kind of pleased,” Walters said of being mistaken for a real Bunny.

It's so hard to say goodbyeWalters became famous for making her interview subjects reach for tissues. Heck, she even made Oprah Winfrey cry during a sitdown. But when Walters exited TODAY on June 4, 1976, it was her turn to get emotional. While her farewell on "The View" Friday is sure to be memorable and heartfelt, it was her sweet goodbye to the TODAY audience that may be her most poignant and vulnerable moment. After all, back then she didn’t know what an amazing career she had ahead of her. “I love you all,” Walters simply told viewers. “I will miss you all.”

Not so wild about Harry
Walters joined "ABC Evening News" in 1976 — she was the first female co-anchor of any network evening — but newsman Harry Reasoner didn’t appear too thrilled to have to share his anchor-desk duties with the lady broadcaster, leading to tension between the two. Reasoner and Walters shared a more cordial exchange when they reunited on "20/20" in 1981, when he dropped by to promote his book. Still, the uneasiness between the two remains legendary. In fact, when "The View" co-host Joy Behar exited in 2013, she took one final shot at Reasoner on Walters’ behalf.

Baba Wawa
You know you’ve arrived when "Saturday Night Live" spoofs you, but Walters wasn’t initially a fan of Baba Wawa. After all, the character, brought to life by comedian extraordinaire Gilda Radner, poked fun at the way Walters said certain words and lampooned her name-dropping. Walters told the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences that her daughter, Jacqueline, helped her get a new perspective on things. “I hated the Gilda Radner (imitation),” Walters said. “(But) my daughter said, ‘Oh Mommy! Lighten up!’ I did.” And on May 10, she even appeared on "SNL" to get a little bit of revenge before retiring.

Oh, to be a treeWalters has scored some huge gets over the years. In 1977, she conducted an interview with Israel’s prime minister, Menachem Begin, and Egypt’s president, Anwar Al Sadat. A decade later, she spoke to actor Sean Connery about slapping women. But it was Walters’ 1981 interview with Katharine Hepburn, in which she asked the actress what kind of tree she’d be, that she’s arguably most known for. In fairness to Walters, she didn’t make the inquiry out of the blue. Hepburn got the ball rolling when she compared herself to a tree.

Getting the final word
Back in the ‘80s, before everyone had a YouTube channel, interviews on television were events. And Walters could always be counted on to get the people everyone wanted to know more about, including rising stars such as Patrick Swayze. Walters interviewed the late actor in both 1988, when he shot to stardom in "Dirty Dancing," and again in 2009 in his final TV interview when the actor bravely shared his thoughts on battling cancer.

Let’s talk about sex
Very little is off limits when doing a Barbara Walters interview. She’s inquired into the sex lives of Boy George, Ellen DeGeneres and Ricky Martin. In 2000, she put pressure on Martin to address the rumors about his orientation. “I don’t want to put you on the spot,” she told the hunky singer, but that’s kind of exactly what she did. He politely thanked her for giving him the opportunity to address the rumors, but opted not to give her an exclusive. (He came out a decade later on his own terms.) In retrospect, Walters said that asking Martin those questions was a mistake. “Unless someone is openly gay and happy to talk about it, it’s nobody’s business — including mine,” she said.

  • Slideshow Photos

    ABC Television's 50th Anniversary Special

    Barbara Walters

    For six decades, she's been a journalism pioneer, interviewing dictators and entertainers, taking a bunny shift at the Playboy Club and becoming a favorite parody topic on "SNL."

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    Woman of influence -

    Barbara Walters, seen here at Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Gala in 2009, has had a career in journalism that spanned six decades.
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    'The View' -

    Walters, seen at far right with Whoopi Goldberg, Jenny McCarthy, Margaret Hoover and Sherri Shepherd, created the talk show "The View" in 1997. It was announced in April 2014 that May 16 would be her last day on the show, but she could continue work as an executive producer.
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    'Baba Wawa' -

    Colin Jost, Cecily Strong and Walters appear during the "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update segment on May 10, 2014. The show has famously poked fun at the journalist, especially her manner of speaking, and showed a number of clips of the satire. Joked Walters, "What an honor it was to see my groundbreaking career in journalism reduced to a cartoon character with a ridiculous voice."
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    Not easy being green -

    Walters attends the "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2011, in New York.
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    Speaking with Syrian leader -

    Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad poses with Walters during a rare interview in 2011, a year after the uprising in Syria began.
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    Non-dirty dancing -

    In his first television interview since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, actor Patrick Swayze danced and spoke exclusively to Walters in January 2009. He died in September of that year at age 57.
    Ron Tom / ABC
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    A life in book form -

    Walters prepares to sign her new book at Borders Books in Vienna, Virginia, on May 8, 2008. "Audition: A Memoir," reflects on her career, her lonely childhood as well as an affair with married black Republican Sen. Edward W. Brooke that finally ended when she and the Massachusetts senator decided disclosure could ruin their respective careers.
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    California lady -

    Then-first lady of California Maria Shriver poses with Walters at The Museum of Television & Radio gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Nov. 15, 2004, in Beverly Hills, California.
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    Mother-daughter memories -

    Jane Pauley, left, of "Dateline NBC," talks with Walters and her daughter Jackie Danforth during an interview on New York's Long Island on July 29, 2002. In the interview, Walters and her daughter talked for the first time about Jackie's troubled childhood.
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    One of many honors -

    Walters receives a lifetime achievement award at the 2000 Emmys.
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    The famous Lewinsky interview -

    Monica Lewinsky poses with Walters on March 3, 1999, during her famed "20/20" interview during which she discussed her affair with President Bill Clinton. Lewinsky admitted to having had an "inappropriate relationship" while she worked at the White House in 1995 and 1996. The program was watched by 70 million Americans, which ABC said was a record for a news show. Even the lipstick Lewinsky wore (Club Monaco's Glaze) quickly became a national rage.
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    'The View' gets off the ground -

    The original cast of "The View" -- Star Jones, Joy Behar, Meredith Vieira and Debbie Matenopoulos -- pose with show creator Walters in 1997.
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    On the ranch -

    Walters interviews then-presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush at his home in Crawford, Texas, on May 5, 2000.
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    Still Superman -

    In his first interview since he was left paralyzed from the neck down, actor Christopher Reeve talked with Walters at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey on Sept. 29, 1995. Reeve was injured in a horse-riding accident in May 1995, and died in 2004.
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    '20/20' -

    Hugh Downs and Walters on the set of the newsmagazine "20/20" on June 28, 1993. The duo worked on the program together from 1979 until 1999, when Downs retired.
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    Interview with Qaddafi -

    Walters interviews Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi outside his tent in Tripoli, Libya, on Jan. 27, 1989.
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    Outside the ring -

    Walters interviewed heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson and his then-wife, actress Robin Givens, on "The Barbara Walters Special," on Sept. 28, 1988. Givens described her eight-month marriage as "pure hell" and "worse than anything I could possibly imagine," as Tyson listened. A week after the interview aired, the actress filed for divorce.
    Robert Maass / ABC
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    'Rocky' road -

    Walters hitches a ride with Sylvester Stallone during her television special on May 18, 1988.
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    Kiss the bride -

    Walters hugs her husband, Merv Adelson, who was then chairman and CEO of Lorimar Television, moments after their wedding in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1986. This was the couple's second wedding -- they divorced in 1984 after three years of marriage, then wed again. Walters was also married two other times, with her first wedding reportedly lasting just 11 months.
    Peter C. Borsari / AP
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    Yesterday's TODAY -

    Walters and Gene Shalit celebrate the 30th anniversary of TODAY on Jan. 14, 1982.
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    After the fire -

    Comedian Richard Pryor talks to Walters on July 24, 1980, just one month after being badly burned in an accident in his California home.
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    The Greatest and his family -

    Boxing legend Muhammad Ali and his wife, Veronica Porche Ali, introduced their daughters Hana and Laila to Walters on May 30, 1978.
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    Cuba with Castro -

    Walters is taken on a sight-seeing tour of Cuba by Fidel Castro in this June 9, 1977 photo.
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    Historic moment -

    Walters arranged a historic joint interview with Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin on Nov. 11, 1977. Begin told Walters that he convinced Sadat to do the interview "for the sake of our friend Barbara." The two would never sit together again for an interview. She later said Sadat was perhaps her favorite interview because of his courage.
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    Meeting the 'Funny Girl' -

    Walters interviewed legendary singer Barbra Streisand for the first "Barbara Walters Special." The show aired on Dec. 14, 1976.
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    Golden girl -

    Walters and game-show host Peter Marshall hosted the first daytime Emmy Awards on May 28, 1974.
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    A seat at the table -

    Walters poses with TODAY co-workers Joe Garagiola, Frank Blair and Frank McGee on Nov. 22, 1971.
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    Breck Girl? -

    Walters poses for a portrait in the 1970s.
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    Lights, camera, action -

    Walters poses with an NBC camera in 1968, at age 39.
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    Famous faces -

    Walters talks with writer Truman Capote on TODAY on Dec. 14, 1967. Decades later, she would call him "brilliant and witty" but said his voice was "so odd" he was hard to hear on the air.
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    With the president -

    Walters interviews President Richard Nixon. She would later comment that she would always remember how much he perspired during one of their interviews.
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    Barbara as bunny -

    In 1962, Walters suited up in the iconic Playboy bunny costume and worked a shift at the famed New York Playboy Club. She described the costume as "a too-tight satin bathing suit and black leotards, more coverage, probably than you'd find at the beach, it just looked barer." She also wore the bunny cottontail and ears. "I feel ridiculous," she said.
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    Early days at TODAY -

    Walters, Hugh Downs and Joe Garagiola on TODAY in the 1960s. She joined the show as a writer and researcher in 1961.
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    Not 'Camera' shy -

    One of Walters' earliest jobs was producing a 15-minute children's program, "Ask the Camera," in 1953. The show was directed by a young Roone Arledge, who would go on to become president of ABC News and create such shows as "Monday Night Football" and "20/20."
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    Glamour girl -

    Walters is shown in a glamour pose in 1953. Born in Boston, she had a brother, Burton, who died of pnemonia at a young age, and a developmentally disabled sister, Jacqueline, whom she has written about in her memoir.
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Piece of pop culture 
525,600 minutes sure goes by fast. On May 13, 2013, Walters announced on "The View" — the successful talk show she started in 1997 that has since been spoofed and imitated — that she’d be retiring in 2014. Well, that time is now upon us. “This is my decision,” Walters told her audience. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and this is what I want to do. ... I’m not walking into the sunset. I don’t want to appear on another program. I want instead to sit in a sunny field and admire the gifted women and OK, some men, too, who will be taking my place. I’ve had an amazing career beyond anything I could ever have imagined."

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