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Audition: A Memoirby Barbara Walters
"Her book is composed of four strands: accounts of the interviews (padded, but fascinating); behind-the-scenes contract negotiations with her various employers (dull); reminiscences about her domestic arrangements, beginning in childhood (carefully couched, but interesting); and kiss-and-tell revelations about her romantic life, which just about killed me." Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
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."
And now, at last, the most important woman in the history of television journalism gives us that "whole package," in her inspiring and riveting memoir. After more than forty 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.
"Although Walters writes, 'It was not in my nature to be courageous, to be the first,' her compulsively readable memoir proves otherwise. No one lasts on TV for more than 45 years without the ability to make viewers feel comfortable, and Walters's amiable persona perfectly translates to the page. She gives us an entertaining panorama of a full life lived and recounted with humor and bracing honesty. Walters is surprisingly candid: about her older sister's retardation, her father's suicide attempt, her midlife affairs (including ones with John Warner — before and after his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor — and a very married Edward Brooke, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction), her daughter's troubled teen years and her acrimonious relationships with coanchors Frank McGee and Harry Reasoner. She vividly recounts her decision to leave NBC's Today Show after 14 years to become the first female nightly news coanchor, and tells of the firestorm of criticism she endured for accepting that pioneering position and its million-dollar salary. Alternating between tales of her personal struggles, professional achievements and insider anecdotes about the celebrities and world leaders she's interviewed, this mammoth memoir's energy never flags. 32 pages of photos. (One-day laydown May 6)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Breaking news: Barbara Walters wears fake eyelashes, is afraid to drive, gave up her black married lover to save her career (while his went down the tubes). These and other true confessions provide the tabloid interest through 600 pages of the network diva's new memoir, 'Audition.' But it's her heartfelt candor that lifts this book above mere titillation. Finally we learn why Walters... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) is so relentless. It's a question I've often pondered watching her on television after beginning my own TV news career 30 years ago. In this engaging and chatty look back at a life largely lived in public view, Walters provides the answer. As Walters explains it, relentlessness is what comes from a nomadic youth spent following her father's roller-coaster show business career from Boston to New York and Miami. Lou Walters' night club, the Latin Quarter, made him a Broadway legend, but he died in a Florida nursing home, leaving his wife and developmentally disabled adult daughter to be supported by Barbara, who was a single mom. Seeing her own career through the lens of show business, living 'just one bad review from closing,' Walters admits she always feared her hard-fought success would be taken away. Hence, for all her stellar achievements, we understand her compulsion to prove herself in a never-ending audition. But blended with this personal drama is a delightful tale of the golden age of television, including the stomach-churning contract negotiations and network rivalries. Through 50-plus chapters, you feel as though you've enjoyed a year of weekly lunches with Walters at Cafe des Artistes, the famed New York hangout for ABC stars. She regales you with juicy behind-the-scenes details of the celebrities she's interviewed, mixed in with stories of her own trials and tribulations. In the end, you envy her a little less and admire her more. There are moments when you're tempted to groan — she has a sycophantic weakness for royalty and at times writes about herself as she would about the Hollywood celebs she relentlessly profiles — but she quickly corrects course with unexpected candor that is completely disarming. When I opened the chapter 'Special Men in My Life,' I was tempted to say, 'Spare me, please.' But, honestly, who can resist hearing what it was like to have 'a long and rocky affair' with the elegant, married African-American senator Edward Brooke or date the future Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan ('a very nice dancer') and John Warner, the Southern senator once married to Elizabeth Taylor? By the time you finish reading 'Audition,' Walters has won you over, and you suspect she might be pleasantly surprised, like Sally Field winning her Oscar: 'You like me. ... You like me!' What you don't expect, after watching Walters' sometimes cloying interview style and well-crafted TV personality for so many years, is her self-reflection and self-effacement. You also don't expect such breezy and clear writing. If Walters really wrote this memoir — and I suspect she did — I'm impressed. Her career began in the 1950s, when she worked behind the scenes at the NBC TV affiliate in New York. She met other people who eventually became media legends: ABC News chief Roone Arledge, CBS' Andy Rooney and New York Times columnist Bill Safire. We watch Walters' ascent from glorified tea pourer to 'Today Show' co-host. Recalling relentless public criticism from the critics and her male colleagues, she notes with a chuckle an early Newsweek review of her interviewing style as 'dumdum bullets swaddled in angora.' More hurtful was the critique from legendary '60 Minutes' producer Don Hewitt, who once told her, 'You don't have the right looks. And besides, you don't pronounce your r's right.' Walters' speech impediment was immortalized in 1976 on 'Saturday Night Live' when Gilda Radner proclaimed, 'Hewwo! This is Baba Wawa.' What really stung was not Radner's caricature, but Time magazine noting that Walters was being paid $100 for each minute of her 'weadily wecognizable delivewy' as the million-dollar co-anchor of ABC News. (She admits to trouble with her r's but not her l's and says she went to a speech specialist early in her career but couldn't shed the remnants of what she describes as a Boston accent.) As for Radner's impersonation, Walters admits it was dead-on and she was glad to have a chance to compliment the comedian later. Her years on the 'Today Show' with Hugh Downs and Joe Garagiola were among her best in television. But what followed was perhaps her worst. NBC management paired her with Frank McGee and dictated that she jump in only on the fourth question for big news interviews after he'd asked the first three. Soured, she left to become the first woman network news co-anchor for ABC, but this provided little relief as she faced the big chill from co-anchor Harry Reasoner. She eventually found her oasis in the 'Barbara Walters Specials' and later '20/20' where her tenacity to score the big interview was rewarded. Always the overachiever, she created her own TV show, 'The View,' and, now in her 70s, she continues her Academy Award and '10 Most Fascinating People' specials. The best part of 'Audition' is that Walters takes us with her on all the big interviews. It's a bit like walking through her office or New York apartment and hearing the stories behind the photos (many included here) that showcase her with the biggest names from the past 50 years of politics and entertainment: Judy Garland, Princess Grace, the Shah of Iran, Golda Meir, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, the Dalai Lama, Cher. She shares the struggle of getting a good interview with Warren Beatty and Mel Gibson. She admits her regret that she never interviewed Jackie Kennedy, Princess Di, Queen Elizabeth or the current and past popes. Perhaps so many years of prying into the personal lives of others and probing for vulnerabilities compel Walters to pull away the scabs of the insults and injuries she's endured. Quite matter-of-factly, she relives the heartbreak of three unsuccessful marriages. More poignantly, she recalls the disappointments of several failed pregnancies and the ecstasy of adopting Jackie, whom she named after her disabled sister. 'The Hardest Chapter to Write' describes her daughter's rebellious teen years, when Jackie was derailed by drug use and ran away from home. Walters shares these confidences with the blessing of her now happy adult daughter to 'give hope to other parents who are struggling with their own adolescents' hard-to-understand emotions and rebellion.' For someone who lived her life on television, sharing these most painful years, 'which, in truth,' she says, 'I would rather not remember,' is perhaps the best therapy. This, we now understand, is what Walters means when she tells aspiring young people that if they want to pursue a career like hers, 'Then you have to take the whole package.' I must admit, I was one of those young women who cheekily wrote Walters a letter asking for advice after college. I also rejected her well-known admonition that women 'can't' have it all — a great marriage, successful career, and well-adjusted children — at least not at the same time.' In 'Audition,' Walters shows us the challenges she faced as a trailblazing, mostly single, working mom. But she also inspires and entertains us with a life of accomplishment. Rose Kennedy once told her in an interview, 'I know not age or weariness of defeat,' which aptly captures Walters' own sentiments as she faces retirement. And that leads me to my last question: After writing this book, has Walters done her last audition? Somehow, I think not. Kathleen Matthews worked for 30 years at Washington's ABC News affiliate as a producer, reporter and news anchor." Reviewed by Kathleen Matthews, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"A legitimately star-studded autobiography... the portrait of a deftly calculating woman with an impeccable sense of timing... There will never be another television news career like this one." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"An unusually ambitious and successful book.... Walters knows how to put on a show. Although nothing in Audition comes as a shock... it has just the right number of personal but not icky revelations, and they enrich, rather than spoil, a sense of intimacy." Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker
About the Author
Barbara Walters is the first woman ever to cohost a network news program. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. An ABC News correspondent, she is also host of The Barbara Walters Specials and the creator, cohost, and co-executive producer of ABC Daytime's The View. She lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
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
“Dont 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 . . .
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