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

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By Michael Maloney

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 goodbye
Walters 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 tree
Walters 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.

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."

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."