What You Didn't Know About Barbara Walters' Father, Lou Walters

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Legendary TV journalist Barbara Walters, who died on December 30, will always be remembered for her ability to ask the "killer questions" to everyone from presidents to pop stars. It was a skill she developed thanks to her parents, particularly her father.  London-born Louis "Lou" Walters was the founder of New York's famed Latin Quarter nightclub. It promised to deliver a fabulous display of "exquisite girls, exciting scenes, delicious food [and] continuous music," per PBS, and it didn't disappoint. He was also a booking agent who helped bring comedian Jack Haley to stardom as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," per ABC News.

Lou moved to Boston as a young man, where he married his wife, Dena Seletsky Walters. In addition to Barbara, who was born in September 1929, they had two other children: son Burton, who died of pneumonia in childhood, and daughter Jacqueline. (Barbara would later name her own daughter, Jacqueline Danforth, after her sister.) 

Jackie was born with intellectual disabilities, which at the time, meant her life's options were limited. As Walters wrote in her memoir, "Audition," her parents kept Jackie isolated in order to protect her from scrutiny, but that meant Barbara was isolated as well. "As a child, I didn't have birthday parties, because Jackie didn't," she wrote. "I didn't join the Girl Scouts, because Jackie couldn't." Instead, Walters' world revolved around her father's business and the celebrities he met along the way.

Lou Walters' legacy lives on in Times Square

Lou Walters' biggest claim to fame was his chain of Latin Quarter nightclubs, particularly the one in Manhattan. Opening in 1942, it held 600 people and attracted such top-notch acts as Sophie Tucker, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. "My father was like Ziegfeld," Barbara Walters recalled on PBS's "Finding Your Roots." She elaborated, "He did beautiful shows. Great costumes. He always spent too much money, everything had to be perfect."

At show rehearsals, the actors and dancers doted on Walters; this comfort level with performers gave her the confidence to break into journalism. "I was never in awe of celebrities, because they worked for my father," Walters told Variety. "I was curious. Even today, if I go out to dinner and I'm sitting next to someone and I ask questions, they'll say, 'Oh, you're interviewing me.'"

In August 1977, Lou Walters died at age 81, just nine years after the club closed, per The New York Times. Sadly, Walters wasn't able to put a memorial on at the time. "I was here alone," she recalled to The New Yorker, referencing her first tough year at ABC News. "I wouldn't have known who to call even to arrange a memorial. It was a terrible year for me." Lou's legacy was later memorialized by former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who had 48th Street and Broadway named after him. "When you see 'Lou Walters Way,'" Walters said in her PBS interview, "just know that this was where the most famous nightclub in America was...and it's very much a part of my life."