New York — That "other" Barbara Walters is on again! Whenever newspersonm Walters turns from public affairs to celebrity interviews , she becomes newswomanm Barbara Walters, asking coquettish questions, seemingly cribbing her questions from the pages of Photoplay instead of Foreign Affairs magazine.
If you watch her this week ("The Barbara Walters Special," ABC, Tuesday, 10- 11 p.m., check local listings) chatting with Kenny Rogers, James Garner, John Ritter, and Laurence Olivier, you will be hard-pressed to find the hard-hitting, no-holds-barred investigative reporter who harasses Menachem Begin and other world figures on "World News Tonight" and "Issues and Answers."
Instead, you will find a warm personality asking warm (and only occasionally probing) questions of a bunch of "nice guys." But probing questions are not what she is after.
"If I'd been your mother, I'd have said, 'Why marry him?'" is the way she asks the third Mrs. Rogers why she ever wed Kenny in the first place. Coaxing, stroking, softly urging, Miss Walters manages to come out of the whole embarrassing situation with what amounts to a fairly honest and sincere self-appraisal by a performer not noted for his straightforwardness.
In the cases of James Garner and John Ritter, the same holds true -- Miss Walters asks what would ordinarily be considered awkwardly intimate questions but manages to evoke seemingly honest answers . . . but by the skin of her teeth. The most amazing feat she accomplishes is that she manages to hold on to her own dignity as she allows her subjects to make revealing but still somehow dignified replies.
And then there is Lord Olivier, a man for all seasons, for all interviewers. When Miss Walters asks him how he would like people to remember him, he responds: "I'd like them to remember me for a diligent . . . something like . . . expert workman."
"Sounds so prosaic," Miss Walters murmurs, caught off guard for just a moment.
"Is it?" Lord Olivier responds. "Well, I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God's a workman. I don't think there's anything better then a workman."
In its own rather kittenish way, "The Barbara Walters Special" is a "workmanlike" job.
But considering the high ratings usually garnered by the Walters entertainment interviews, ABC might do well to utilize that hard-edge interview technique she is capable of more often on its news programming.