It has been all things Barbara Walters
this past week, ever since her 612-page tome "Audition: A
Memoir," hit the bookstores. Just before she began her
25-city tour this week, Walters stopped in Madison, Conn. at
R.J. Julia Booksellers for her only book signing in the Nutmeg
State. Some people camped out three and four hours waiting for
the icon of broadcast journalism to make an appearance.
In person, Walters is as attractive as she is on "The
View" and on her quarterly "Specials" in which
she interviews celebrities and other newsmakers. Four years
ago, the woman whose career in television spans more than a
half century, retired from co-hosting 20/20 because she said
she was tired of "interviewing movie stars just out of
As with any woman in journalism and for that matter any
working woman, I've followed Walters' career since her early
days on the "Today Show," first with Dave Garroway,
then Frank McGee and finally Hugh Downs before she jumped ship
and went to ABC, where she became the first co-anchor of the
"Evening Nightly News with Harry Reasoner."
In her book and in countless interviews, Walters has spoken
openly of how McGee at NBC and Reasoner at ABC demonstrated
that they were surely unhappy with sharing their hosting and
anchoring duties with a female. In fact, after much haggling,
NBC agreed that when interviewing people, McGee would ask the
first three questions and then Walters could ask the fourth.
Reasoner was just as unwelcoming. He kept count of the minutes
he and Walters were each on the air and then would chide
Walters if she had more airtime. Even the all-male press corp.
on various news junkets across the globe in the early days of
television would not embrace her. Walters continued to battle
the old boys' network.
Walters' book is a wonderful read. It offers a glimpse into
early television, the workplace for a female before and even
after Betty Friedan published her "Feminine
Mystique" and openly shines a spotlight on the guilt that
working women carry with them as they pursue careers, marriage
and family. As Walters notes, it is a constant balancing act,
one she did not accomplish well when it came to her personal
Her father Lou Walters, was a booking agent and then a
theatrical impresario who founded the Latin Quarter only to
demonstrate he was more a dreamer than a good businessman.
Growing up, Walters went from living in penthouses overlooking
Central Park to the family squeezing into a small
rent-controlled apartment on the west side of Manhattan. There
were ups and downs throughout her personal life.
Walters carried the instability of her father's business
and the mental disability of her sister Jackie, three years
her senior, with her throughout her life. Add to that three
failed marriages and an adopted daughter who turned to drugs
in her teen years and finally ran away from home. However, her
daughter's life turned around and today as an adult in her
late 30s, her daughter, Jackie, named after Walters' sister,
runs her own therapeutic home for wayward female teens in
Maine. As adults, mother and daughter respect each other's
lives and enjoy a close loving bond.
"Audition" is a very detailed chronology of
Walters' life both professionally and personally. She titled
the book "Audition" because she says she was always
auditioning. That may be true in her professional life.
However, in one's personal life, how many of us get to
audition for our roles as a daughter or son, parent, sibling,
husband or wife and lovers before we step into the roles?
Aside from the detail, Walters speaks with warmth, honestly
and even humor. For example, one chapter is devoted to three
prominent men who were in her life: former senator Edward
Brooke of Massachusetts; former senator John Warner of
Virginia; and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan
Greenspan. Walters has tongues wagging with her discussion of
Brooke with whom she had an affair while he was still married.
In her book, Walters writes: "Sometimes when he said
that I was the oldest woman he had ever been with, I thought
of telling him. 'Oh, yeah? Well, you are the blackest man I
have ever been with.'" Brooke, an African-American and
now 88, did not object to Walters' mentioning their affair in
her book, she said. During a press conference last Saturday, I
asked Walters what impact writing the book had on her. She
said that part of the book was very painful to write about,
including her sister's mental disability, her father's
attempted suicide and the problems she had raising her
"They were hard to write about. On the other hand, it
erased the ghosts," said Walters, who doesn't believe
there is anything controversial in the book.
She says it is a revealing book, but not
a kiss-and-tell book.