Barbara Walters has always been an odd character. Walters has made her fame as a hard-hitting journalist who’s interviewed world leaders like the Shah of Iran and Vladimir Putin. But she’s also known for her puff-pieces with celebrities with inane questions. In response to being told that Walters asked him stupid questions, Truman Capote once said “That woman is incapable of asking any other kind of question.”
While we’re not quite as cruel as Capote, this 1983 interview with Harvey Fierstein doesn’t look good on her. She sits down with Fierstein to talk about his successes that year with Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles.
Right out of the gate, the segment is regrettable. Even though homosexuality wasn’t widely talked about on network television at the time, Walters comes off as particularly clueless. Early in the segment, she says “His message — that homosexuals are human, just like the rest of us. And in one part of the play, Harvey plays a very human drag queen,” almost as if she’s surprised drag queens are human.
She then goes on to describe La Cage Aux Folles as:
A visual guessing game — men dressed up as women! But it’s also a wonderfully sentimental love story about a pair of lovers who have been together for twenty years just like husband and wife. The only thing is — they’re both men in this number about when they both fell in love.
(We’re pretty sure they were both men throughout the rest of their lives, too.)
However, the real awkwardness comes when she interviews Feirstein. She starts the interview by asking if love and commitment are just heterosexual thoughts. A visibly annoyed Fierstein explains that love and commitment are human thoughts.
She then asks if gay people often have long-term relationships and seems vaguely surprised when Fierstein confirms that monogamy is common among the homosexual community.
The real howler, however, comes when in response to Fierstein saying “we all have the same problems.” She then asks “Do we? What’s it like to be a homosexual?”
Fierstein immediately sighs like he can’t believe she’s asking him this. He then says:
You do ask the easy ones, don’t you? What’s it like being a heterosexual? I don’t know, I’m just a person. I’m a person who sees the world in the opposite light that you do. That’s all. But I see the exact same world as you do. I assume that everyone is gay unless I’m told otherwise.
Walters looks shocked as he says that. Fierstein continues:
You assume everyone’s straight unless told otherwise. When I see a beautiful woman on the street, I appreciate her as a beautiful woman but not as a sex object.
Walters then asks “Do you feel jealous of her?” Fierstein gives her a look and says “Why would I feel jealous of her?” Walters replies “Because she might be after the same man.” And Fierstein just says he’s not attracted to heterosexual men.
And that’s just the first five minutes of the eleven minute segment. Walters continues on asking clueless questions. While it could be argued that she’s trying to explain to Middle America what gay people are like, she comes off as if she’s learning gay people are people for the very first time herself.
Still, Fierstein comes off as as brilliant and charming as he is — and we couldn’t love him more.