How Barbara Walters Learned to Love ‘Baba Wawa’ ‘SNL’ Sketch

During the first season of Saturday Night Live in 1975, cast member Gilda Radner performed an impression of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters, which 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 television journalism. The year before Baba Wawa’s debut, she made history by becoming the first female co-host of an American news program, NBC’s Today show. When Radner produced the impression, which poked fun at Walters’ mild speech impediment, the reporter 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 watching it. It was a Saturday night,” Walters recalled in 2009. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And she said, ‘I’m watching Baba Wawa, mother.’ And I said, “Well! I mean how—you know—look what she’s doing!” And she said, ‘Oh, Mom, light up’.”

Walters came to appreciate Baba Wawa; it didn’t hurt that Radner’s impression had solidified Walters as a household name. But it took her a while to figure it out. “Years later when Gilda died [in 1989]I sent her husband [actor Gene Wilder] a note of sympathy and signed it Barbara Wawa,” Walters said New York Daily News. “Gilda was so wonderful – the sketch immortalized me – but at the time I wasn’t too thrilled.”

Watch Gilda Radner’s ‘Baba Wawa’ Impression on ‘Saturday Night Live’

The TV journalist was also later published SNL by Cheri Oteri, Rachel Dratch and Nasim Pedrad. In 2014, she appeared on the show for the first time, impersonating herself during a Weekend Update segment. Walters got in on the joke, stating that it had been an “honour to see my pioneering career in journalism reduced to a cartoon character with a ridiculous voice.”

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