Barbara Walters grew up on Miami Seaside, remembers her life

In this file photo from Oct.  7, 2014, Barbara Walters addresses an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.  Walters died, Friday, Dec.  30, 2022. She was 93.

In this file photo from Oct. 7, 2014, Barbara Walters addresses an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Walters died, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. She was 93.

AP

Television journalist Barbara Walters was a member of the Miami Beach Senior High Class of 1947 before she made a number of subsequent Beach High stars and other famous people cry on camera.

READ MORE: Many famous people went to Miami-area schools. Did you know all these?

Walters, the pioneering journalist who, in America’s Bicentennial year 1976 made history as the first female news anchor with a $1 million salary, died Friday at 93.

Much has been written about Walters’ storied career, the major world figures she interviewed from Fidel Castro to Richard Nixon, and the celebrities she made cry — from Oprah Winfrey to Ringo Starr — with her pointed questions.

WaltersCastro.jpg Fidel Castro, center right, responds to a question from then NBC reporter Barbara Walters, center left, during a news conference granted to members of the US press covering Sen. George McGovern’s trip to Cuba, in Havana, in a file photo from May 7 , 1975. AP

Missing from some of the obituaries of the Boston-born broadcasting legend? Her upbringing in Miami Beach.

Walters lived in South Florida at various times as a little girl in the 1930s; as a high school student in the 1940s; and, at 25 in 1955, met the man who would become her first husband in Miami — children’s apparel businessman Robert Katz. Her parents Lou and Dena and her sister Jackie are buried in Miami.

WALTERS20080512014_a.JPG File photo from Aug. 16, 1977, of Lou Walters’ funeral at Lakeside Memorial Park in Miami. Walters was Barbara Walters father. Roy Bartley Miami Herald file

Walters’ father Lou — a latter-day Ziegfeld — made his fortune running nightclubs, most notably Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter on Palm Island in Miami Beach, where, from 1939 to 1959, until it burned to the ground, he promoted shows that featured the stars of the day like Milton Berle, Sophie Tucker, Martha Raye and Sammy Davis Jr.

A park now sits on the grounds that once held the Latin Quarter on Palm Island.

READ MORE: What happened to the hottest club in South Beach? A look back at the Latin Quarter

latin quarter club.JPG A crowd gathers in front of the Latin Quarter club on Palm Island in Miami Beach in the 1940s. Wolfson Archives / Miami Herald File

From the Miami Herald archives, here is Walters on Walters — and others on Walters — and her life and times in Miami Beach.

Can you just cry?

US-NEWS-WALTERS-OBIT-3-ZUM.JPG Canadian communications specialist Marshall McLuhan (left) is interviewed in Nathan Phillips Square in Canada by commentator Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs, host of “The Today Show” in this file photo from Sept. 18, 1970. Harold Barkley The Toronto Star/TNS

In a 1970 interview with the Miami Herald, Walters remembered her early days in Miami Beach as a “poor little rich girl. The great big house. The chauffeur to drive me to school. I was very lonely.”

Walters at Beach High

0012014531.JPG A file photo from April 15, 1998, of Miami Beach Senior High School. Pedro Portal Miami Herald file

Her childhood friend, then Judy Nelson, later famous Florida impresaria Judy Drucker, remembered her pal Walters as a 10th grader at Beach High who would come to The Latin Quarter on Palm Island after school to do her homework in the lobby — amid the showgirls and superstars.

“She wanted to be close to her father,” Drucker told the Herald in 1990. “I’d join her between acts. We were pals. We’d drink nothing but hot tea and eat turkey sandwiches. Her chauffeur would drive her home. She was a very lonely girl.”

She made her classmates at Beach High happy, however, when she arranged for them to hold a dance and to see a show at her father’s other nightclub, the Colonial Inn, which he owned in Hallandale, near Gulfstream Park, in 1944, before he reportedly sold it to mobster Meyer Lansky for $80,000 in June 1945, according to the Fort Lauderdale Daily News.

“I was the envy of the school,” Walters said in the 1970 Herald interview.

Walters’ dates in Miami Beach

OBIT EDWARD KLEIN mug bw Judge Edward Klein served in the Miami-Dade circuit court from 1973 to 1992. He died in 2017. A Miami Beach Senior High grad, he briefly dated fellow student Barbara Walters in the 1940s. Miami Herald file

The Hon. Edward Klein, a Miami-Dade circuit court judge who died in 2017 at 89, briefly dated Walters when they were students at Beach High.

“I met her in the French Club. We weren’t sweethearts. We may have gone out two or three times,” Klein told the Miami Herald in 1990, when an unauthorized biography on the TV star named him. “We were all close to one another. It was a very nice group of kids. They were very happy times.”

Beach High baseball player Stanley Reich was reputedly another Beach beau who may have given Walters her first kiss, according to “Barbara Walters: An Unauthorized Biography” by writer Jerry Oppenheimer, the Herald reported in 1990.

“We dated, maybe six months,” Reich said at the time. “She was a lovely girl, very, very nice.”

“Reich gets credit in the book for giving Walters her first kiss — a brief, awkward peck in the moonlight on the sea wall behind Al Capone’s house,” the Herald reported in 1990. An infamous gangster, Capone had a home on Palm Island near The Latin Quarter.

According to Oppenheimer’s book, that kiss just sort of happened. “I don’t know exactly how that happened. Yes, we were walking, and she showed me Capone’s house. Kids weren’t into sex then. … None of us really could relate to the Latin Quarter. We were too young. We would go to a movie, talk about what we wanted to do in life.”

On a visit to see her parents in 1955, Walters flew into Miami International Airport where she ran into casual acquaintance Bob Katz. They wed in June 1955 but the marriage was annulled by 1957. In her 2008 book, “Audition: A Memoir,” Walters wrote that they did not have enough in common.

Lou Walters on his daughter

dancer00 walters sun dm (1).JPG Lou Walters, owner of the Latin Quarter, with some of his dancers at his nightclub on Miami Beach’s Palm Island in the 1940s and ’50s. Miami Herald file

In a 1962 Miami Herald story after his daughter had joined NBC’s “The Today Show,” and before his 1967 retirement, Lou Walters said Barbara already “makes more money than I do.”

Walters and the mobster

0605031320.JPG Palm Island Park is on the property that once belonged to Lou Walters and his famed Latin Quarter nightclub that burned down in 1959. Patrick Farrell Miami Herald file

In a conversation with then Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin at Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel, Walters was back near her old stomping grounds to promote her “Audition: A Memoir.” She shared some remembrances of her life in Miami Beach.

From that Miami Herald interview, published May 25, 2008:

Walters remembers her South Florida interludes as enjoyable but quite strange. One took place in the latter days of World War II, when the family lived on Hibiscus Island and she attended Ida M. Fisher Junior High in Miami Beach.

“The Army was in Miami Beach and the Navy in Miami,” she says. “As we sat in class we would hear the soldiers marching. We would see German prisoners of war in open trucks — there must have been a prison camp nearby.”

Odder still was an earlier stay on Palm Island, living in a house that her father leased in a package deal with the building across the street that he turned into the Latin Quarter nightclub.

“Along with the the building that was the Latin Quarter, came this pistachio-green mansion on the water right as you got off the causeway,” she remembers. “There was a woman who was the housekeeper who had been there before us. And there was a man named Bill Dwyer and his bodyguard-chauffeur. Supposedly he had the right to live there for a year. My father didn’t know much about him. But sure enough it turned out he did have that right. And so he stayed that winter.”

A good thing, perhaps, that the Walters family didn’t know much about their house guest. Big Bill Dwyer was a New York mobster who had used the fortune he made in bootlegging to go into the gambling business. A lonely 10-year-old Barbara (there were no other kids on Palm Island) became his regular afternoon companion at the racetrack.

“He used to take me to Tropical Park when I was very young, and he’d bet for me,” she says. “And somehow I always won. And other than that we never saw him. The house was so big – they stayed in one room, he and the chauffeur – that I barely saw them.

“When I think about it, it seems very strange. But at the time I was a kid, a little girl. What did I know?”

This story was originally published December 31, 2022 11:14 AM.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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