#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
The most important woman in the history of television journalism gives us her inspiring and riveting memoir. After more than fifty years of interviewing heads of state, world leaders, movie stars, criminals, murderers, inspirational figures, and celebrities of all kinds, Barbara Walters has turned her gift for examination onto herself to reveal the forces that shaped her extraordinary life.
Barbara Walters’s perception of the world was formed at a very early age. Her father, Lou Walters, was the owner and creative mind behind the legendary Latin Quarter nightclub, and it was his risk-taking lifestyle that gave Barbara her first taste of glamour. It also made her aware of the ups and downs, the insecurities, and even the tragedies that can occur when someone is willing to take great risks, for Lou Walters didn’t just make several fortunes—he also lost them. Barbara learned early about the damage that such an existence can do to relationships—between husband and wife as well as between parent and child. Through her roller-coaster ride of a childhood, Barbara had a close companion, her mentally challenged sister, Jackie. True, Jackie taught her younger sister much about patience and compassion, but Barbara also writes honestly about the resentment she often felt having a sister who was so “different” and the guilt that still haunts her.
All of this—the financial responsibility for her family, the fear, the love—played a large part in the choices she made as she grew up: the friendships she developed, the relationships she had, the marriages she tried to make work. Ultimately, thanks to her drive, combined with a decent amount of luck, she began a career in television. And what a career it has been! Against great odds, Barbara has made it to the top of a male-dominated industry. She was the first woman cohost of the Today show, the first female network news coanchor, the host and producer of countless top-rated Specials, the star of 20/20, and the creator and cohost of The View. She has not just interviewed the world’s most fascinating figures, she has become a part of their world. These are just a few of the names that play a key role in Barbara’s life, career, and book: Yasir Arafat, Warren Beatty, Menachem Begin, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Roy Cohn, the Dalai Lama, Princess Diana, Katharine Hepburn, King Hussein, Angelina Jolie, Henry Kissinger, Monica Lewinsky, Richard Nixon, Rosie O’Donnell, Christopher Reeve, Anwar Sadat, John Wayne . . . the list goes on and on.
Barbara Walters has spent a lifetime auditioning: for her bosses at the TV networks, for millions of viewers, for the most famous people in the world, and even for her own daughter, with whom she has had a difficult but ultimately quite wonderful and moving relationship. This book, in some ways, is her final audition, as she fully opens up both her private and public lives. In doing so, she has given us a story that is heartbreaking and honest, surprising and fun, sometimes startling, and always fascinating.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I thought for a while that is what the title of this memoir should be because it was my older and only sister, Jacqueline, who was unwittingly the strongest influence in my life. Jackie was three years older than I, but all our lives she appeared younger. My sister was mentally retarded, as the condition was called then, though only mildly so. Just enough to prevent her from attending regular school, from having friends, from getting a job, from marrying. Just enough to stop her from having a real life.
Her condition also altered my life. I think I knew from a very early age that at some point Jackie would become my responsibility. That awareness was one of the main reasons I was driven to work so hard. But my feelings went beyond financial responsibility.
For so many years I was embarrassed by her, ashamed of her, guilty that I had so much and she had so little. Very little was understood about retardation almost eighty years ago when Jackie was born. There were few schools that dealt with what we now call the “intellectually impaired,” few workshops where they could go and learn a trade, few employers who could figure out how to use their talents and their loyalty.
Today Jackie could probably get a job, something simple but productive. She might even have met and married a nice man. But back then Jackie’s life was essentially one of isolation, except for the relationships she had with me and my mother and father.
My parents protected her. They never discussed her outside the family or explained her condition to anyone. People wouldn’t understand, they felt, and Jackie would be shunned and humiliated.
Jackie’s isolation also contributed to my own sense of isolation. As a child I didn’t have birthday parties because Jackie didn’t. I didn’t join the Girl Scouts because Jackie couldn’t join. I rarely had friends over to the house because they didn’t know what to make of my sister and I would hear the whispers—real or imagined.
When I was older, my mother, heartsick at Jackie’s loneliness, would often ask me, when I was going out with a girlfriend or on a date with a boy, to take her along. I loved my sister. She was sweet and affectionate and she was, after all, my sister. But there were times I hated her, too. For being different. For making me feel different. For the restraints she put on my life. I didn’t like that hatred, but there’s no denying that I felt it. Perhaps you’ll be horrified at my admission. Or perhaps you’re guilty of some of the same emotions and will feel relief that you are not alone. I imagine, as I write this, that almost anyone who has a sibling who is chronically ill or mentally or physically impaired will understand what I mean.
I recently came across a book that helped explain a lot about the impact Jackie had on my life. It’s called The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling, written by Jeanne Safer, a psychotherapist who grew up with a very difficult brother. I recognized myself on almost every page: “the prematurely mature child; the looming responsibility for a sibling’s care and well-being; the compulsion to be an overachiever; the fear of failure.” I wish I had read the book earlier in my life, but I’m not sure it would really have made a difference. Jackie would still have been Jackie. And the same set of circumstances would have driven my life.
Much of the need I had to prove myself, to achieve, to provide, to protect, can be traced to my feelings about Jackie. But there must be something more, the “something” that makes one need to excel. Some may call it ambition. I can live with that. Some may call it insecurity, although that is such a boring, common label, like being called shy, that means little. But as I look back, it feels to me that my life has been one long audition—an attempt to make a difference and to be accepted.
My sister was a very pretty child. Her mental condition had nothing to do with her physical appearance. She was fair haired, fair skinned, with a sweet smile, shorter than I, curvier than I. I had dark hair, a sallow complexion, I was often told, and was skinny. “Skinnymalinkydink” was what my parents lovingly called me. (Yes, it was meant lovingly.) You wouldn’t have known by looking at Jackie that there was anything different about her, until she opened her mouth to talk. Jackie was the worst stutterer I have ever known. She stuttered so badly that sometimes when she was trying to get a word out, her tongue protruded from her mouth. My parents tried almost every technique available to help her as she was growing up, but nothing seemed to make a difference. At one point they even took her to see the man who supposedly helped Britain’s King George VI get over his speech impediment. He couldn’t do anything for my sister. It was frustrating to listen to her. It was hard to be patient and easy to mock her. My first memory of my sister is when I was about three and Jackie six; the boys in the neighborhood were pulling at her skirt and making fun of her because they’d heard her talk. We both ran crying into the house.
Until Jackie died from ovarian cancer in 1988, I worried about her, supported her, made decisions for her that my parents couldn’t make, and agonized over the fact that although I couldn’t always love her, she always loved me. She taught me compassion and understanding. (In later years these feelings would be important to me in interviewing.) Often frustrated herself, often cranky and prone to tantrums, she never expressed resentment or jealousy of me.
When my daughter was born, I named her Jacqueline—Jackie. I wanted the grown Jackie to feel that she, too, had a child, because I knew by this time she never would. So yes, though I had mixed feelings about my sister, I do believe the love was stronger than the resentment, and the sympathy for her was overwhelming.
I tell you all this because young people starting out in television sometimes say to me: “I want to be you.” My stock reply is always: “Then you have to take the whole package.” They laugh politely, not knowing what I’m talking about, and I don’t elaborate. I’ve guarded my sister’s privacy for years. And though she was the central force in my life, she was part of the package that I’m about to unwrap on these pages.
That package also includes my brilliant and mercurial impresario of a father, my loving but frustrated and conflicted mother, the amazing and celebrated people I met from childhood on, and my professional career in television. Oh, that! But mostly this memoir is a personal story of how and why I got from there to here.
Before I end this prologue, let me tell you a story. Back in the sixties, when I was appearing daily on NBC’s Today show, I was living on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. My apartment was across from Carnegie Hall and on the corner of a very busy street. It was also near several large hotels that catered to businessmen. Perhaps because of this, the corner was the gathering place for some of the most attractive “ladies of the evening.” Each morning at five o’clock I would emerge from my building wearing dark glasses, as I hadn’t yet had my makeup done, and I was usually carrying a garment bag. It seemed obvious to the “ladies” that there was some big “number” I had just left. Now, bear in mind that, even then, I wasn’t exactly a spring chicken. But I would emerge and look at the young ladies, some of whom were still teenagers. “Good morning,” I would say. “Good morning,” they would answer. And then I would get into this long black limousine with its uniformed driver, and we would glide off into the early morning light. And you know what effect all this had on the ladies?
I gave them hope.
Perhaps this book may do that for you.
So here it is, the whole package, from the beginning.
Table of ContentsPrologue
Lou, Dena, and My Princess Grandmother
The Pistachio Green House
New York, New York
Miami at War
“A very normal girl”
It Gets Worse
Television 102 and a Strange Marriage Proposal
Passage to India
A Funeral and a Wedding
Thirteen Weeks to Thirteen Years
Becoming Barbara Walters
Garland, Capote, Rose Kennedy, and Princess Grace
Born in My Heart
Dean Rusk, Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, and Prince Philip
Sad Times in Florida
Winning Nixon, Losing Sinatra
Exit Hugh, Enter McGee
Marriage On the Rocks
Historic Journey: China with Nixon
A Dead Marriage and the Dead Sea
Resignation in Washington. Victory in New York
Fun and Games in Washington
Special Men in My Life
Egypt, Israel, and ¡Hola, Castro!
The Million-Dollar Baby
“Don’t let the bastards get you down”
Thank Heaven! The Specials
The Historic Interview: Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
Exit Harry, Enter Hugh
Heartbreak and a New Beginning
The Hardest Chapter to Write
9/11 and Nothing Else Matters
Presidents and First Ladies: Forty Years Inside the
Heads of State: The Good, the Bad, and the Mad
Adventures with the Most Mysterious Men
Over Again, Never Again
Celebrities Who Affected My Life
To Be Continued . . .
Reading Group Guide
"Suffused with an emotional intensity. . . . It belongs to a part of American culture that Walters helped invent.”
—The New Yorker
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's conversation about Barbara Walters's revealing and inspiring memoir, Audition.
1. Is it surprising that Barbara Walters begins her book by saying that she had planned to title the book Sister [p. 3]? How were her identity and her conscience affected by the difficult life of her sister, Jackie?
2. Lou Walters's business affected every aspect of his family's life, and Barbara Walters remembers that with his most successful nightclub the Latin Quarter, “the cancan girls changed our lives forever” [p. 25]. How much did her father's show business career—and its effect upon her parents' marriage—shape the person she was to become, and the choices she was to make?
3. Barbara began her career at Today in 1961 as a writer for an on-air segment pitched to women viewers. “Glamour, not humor, and certainly nothing intellectual, was the requirement if a woman wanted to be in front of the camera. All I wanted was to do whatever I was asked to do so I wouldn't be replaced by some other female writer. I just wanted to keep my job. For the next twenty years, thirty, maybe even forty, I would feel the same way” [p. 111]. Does she feel that the situation for women in the television business has changed very much from the way it was when she began? What aspects have not changed?
4. Barbara occasionally went out with Roy Cohn, who proposed marriage from time to time. The only time she thought of saying yes was when he suggested that her parents and Jackie could also come to live in his four-floor town house. Cohn later died of AIDS, and Walters remained loyal to him throughout his later life because he had rescued her father from an indictment [pp. 103, 115]. What makes her revelation of this friendship so interesting?
5. Barbara's career has been helped by the presence of two other women: her daughter's governess, Zelle, who stayed for thirty-four years, and her housekeeper, Icodel Tomlinson, who still lives with Barbara and who from the beginning “became the backbone of our small family” [p. 169]. “Each loved Jackie as if she were her own child” [p. 170]. Is this the ideal situation for a single working mother? Why, given the abundance of care given to her daughter, does she feel guilty about Jackie's upbringing?
6. What effect might her parents' marriage, her father's financial recklessness, and his refusal to consult her mother on major life changes, have had on the development of Barbara's character and on her own approach to marriage?
7. “Because people saw me and others on their TV screens, they automatically assumed we must have some sort of special wisdom. Television not only validated our opinions, it made us all-knowing. . . . Television imbues us with an authority that often makes me uncomfortable” [p. 129]. Is this observation on the authority of television personalities accurate? How does this memoir affect your understanding of Barbara Walters as a person, compared with how she has come across as a television personality?
8. Why does Barbara say, “I was bad at marriage” [p. 134]? What issues led to the breakup of her three marriages? How were the men she married wrong for her? What did she learn about herself in her affair with Senator Edward Brooke [pp. 254-59], and why was he more exciting than either John Warner or Alan Greenspan, two other men with whom she was seriously involved in her “late-blooming, delayed love life” [pp. 259-69]?
9. Barbara Walters has been unusually successful with getting people to talk about personal issues, and has tried to approach her subjects with sympathy. Interviewing Richard Nixon, she wanted him to “talk about how he got through the dark days” and asked him whether there were times “when you thought you might go under, emotionally” [p. 245]. Why did this not work with Nixon? Why, in general, has this approach been so effective for Barbara Walters?
10. Why was Barbara worried she had made the wrong decision in moving to ABC to cohost the evening news with Harry Reasoner? How did she handle the fact that he was so resentful that he was insulting her on the air [pp. 308-09]? What mistakes did she make, and what allowed her to overcome the criticism and get through this tough period in her career [p. 323]? What were the occasional advantages, for her, of being an attractive woman?
11. Barbara's sense of guilt is highlighted in many stories in this book. Her sister's illness and death [pp. 365-70], her mother's illness and death [pp. 372, 374], and her daughter's troubled adolescence [pp. 376, 385], are particularly painful memories: “These are ghosts that don't go away” [p. 372]. Does she have any reason to feel guilty, or is her sense of guilt overblown, considering how much she did to support her family?
12. Regarding Oprah Winfrey Barbara writes, “Talk about revealing yourself. She kept very little of her own life back, and in so doing, millions of people could relate to her and know that she had suffered as many of them had” [p. 501]. How much does it mean to her to have Oprah acknowledge her as a mentor [pp. 502-03]? How does she differ from Oprah, as a television personality?
13. Barbara tells the story of the biggest “get” of her career: the two-hour exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky, which was watched by nearly fifty million people [pp. 520-39]. How did she convince Monica Lewinsky to talk with her on television? What do the events leading up to this interview tell us about the skill and the ambition of Barbara Walters herself?
14. Barbara choose the title Audition because, as she says, “as I look back, it feels to me that my life has been one long audition—an attempt to make a difference and to be accepted” [p. 4]. Does her sense of insecurity come as a surprise? How did she manage to overcome it?
15. In most of her interviews, Barbara is successful in getting her subjects to reveal themselves. But in her 1982 interview with Clint Eastwood, he made her feel “flustered and goofy” [p. 501]. Why does Eastwood get this result? What kinds of interview situations make her vulnerable to revealing herself?
16. There are various people Barbara Walters says she wishes she could have interviewed, including Princess Diana [p. 491]. Who would you be most interested in seeing her interview, and why?
17. Reviewers have commented that Barbara's desire to be liked is felt throughout her narrative. Is this more often a feminine quality than a masculine one? Would you consider it a liability or a benefit in her career? Do you think she is writing more for an audience of women than of men, and if so, why?