Inside Walters' Audition
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News

May 15, 2008

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 rehab."

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 life.

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 daughter.

"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.

Copyright 2007 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.