Did Barbara Walters Ask Katharine Hepburn What Tree She'd Be?

By | June 1, 2020

test article image
987: (L-R) Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Walters on '20/20' on Sept. 18th. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

“If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?” That’s the question that Barbara Walters has been rumored to have asked Katherine Hepburn in her 1981 interview. Walters became the butt of jokes and water cooler fodder, but when it comes down to it she didn’t really ask that question, at least not in that context. The question is asked in the interview but it’s not as weird as it sounds, Walters doesn’t read it off a card or anything. The entire interview is extremely fascinating and a fun watch and through a misremembering of the facts the nuance of the question has gone down in history as one of the worst questions asked in an interview.

Walters was just asking a follow up to something Hepburn said

test article image
Wyndham's Oak in Stilton, UK, thought to be over 1000 years old. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Barbara Walters interviewed Katherine Hepburn a few times, but the one that everyone remembers occurred in 1981 when Hepburn was 74 years old. Walters asked how Hepburn had become so much of a legend and the star replaced that she had become “sort of a thing.” Walters asked “what kind of thing?” and Hepburn said “I’m like a tree.” The answer teed up Walters to ask a follow up question which is obviously “What kind of tree are you?” Hepburn answered, “I’m not an elm, with Dutch Elm diseases or a weeping willow dropping all its leaves.”

Instead, Hepburn answered that she hoped to be an oak tree. She continued, “I saw one recently in the woods, a white oak, strong and great like that.” While answering, Hepburn stretched her arms out as if she was growing into a large tree.