During the first season of Saturday Night Live in 1975, cast member Gilda Radner performed an impression of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters who was renamed Baba Wawa. The sketch was a hit, but one person didn’t find it so funny at first: Barbara Walters.
Walters, who died on Dec. 30 at the age of 93, blazed a trail for women in TV journalism. The year before Baba Wawa’s debut, she made history by becoming the first female co-host of a U.S. news program, NBC’s Today show. When Radner brought out the impression, which poked fun at Walters’ mild speech impediment, the journalist was less than pleased.
At least until her 7-year-old daughter changed her perspective. “I hated [Baba Wawa] until I walked into my daughter’s room one night and she was up watching it. It was a Saturday night,” Walters recalled in 2009. “I said, ‘What are you doing up?’ And she said, ‘I’m watching Baba Wawa, Mom.’ And I said, “Well! I mean, how — you know — look what she’s doing!’ And she said, ‘Oh, mommy, lighten up.'”
Walters came to appreciate Baba Wawa; it didn’t hurt that Radner’s impression had strengthened Walters as a household name. But it took her awhile to come around to it. “Years later, when Gilda died [in 1989], I sent her husband [actor Gene Wilder] a sympathy note and signed it Barbara Wawa,” Walters told New York Daily News. “Gilda was so wonderful — the sketch immortalized me — but at the time I wasn’t so thrilled.”
Watch Gilda Radner’s ‘Baba Wawa’ Impression on ‘Saturday Night Live’
The TV journalist was also later impersonated on SNL by Cheri Oteri, Rachel Dratch and Nasim Pedrad. In 2014, she appeared on the show for the first time, spoofing herself during a Weekend Update segment. Walters got in on the joke, declaring that it had been an “honor to see my groundbreaking career in journalism be reduced to a cartoon character with a ridiculous voice.”
Watch Barbara Walters Spoof Herself on ‘Saturday Night Live’