AUDITION by Barbara Walters (Knopf), 624 pages, $34 cloth. Rating: NNN
I give in. Barbara Walters is the real thing.
Yes, she got her first job because she was the daughter of Lew Walters, owner of the Latin Quarter nightclub. Yes, she’s way too cozy with the people she interviews. She craves the celebrity connection on both the professional and personal level; past boyfriends include U.S. Federal Reserve honcho Alan Greenspan and John Warner, before he became a senator.
But Walters succeeded because she worked her ass off, first at an agency placing ads on the nascent Today Show and then as a writer and editor. Before she got her on-air break, she showed an uncanny skill, though she had no training, for writing the hosts’ intros and timing her edits to the second – without using a watch.
Once on the air, her own deep research helped her become a superb interviewer. There’s a reason why world leaders chose her as the person they’d talk to.
From her mid-20s through her 30s, she was single – two subsequent marriages died – and supported her father (who many times lost everything), mother and mentally challenged sister Jackie.
Readers often skip the first 200 pages of memoirs by famous people so they can get to the fun name-dropping parts. Resist this urge with Audition. For one thing, through her dad, Walters knew tons of celebs as a child. More important, her experience growing up definitely defined her personality and fostered her awesome drive.
She made mistakes and was often cloying, but did nothing to deserve the appalling treatment from her male colleagues – particularly Frank McGee and Harry Reasoner, who badmouthed her often and even rolled their eyes on camera. Their problem? Misogyny, pure and simple.
Audition – called that because Walters always felt the need to prove herself – doesn’t reveal a new literary star. Too many people are “nice,” “terrific” or “talented.” But that’s not the point.
What matters is that there isn’t a female anchor on the continent who doesn’t owe Barbara Walters – big time.