A few views on Walters' memoir

It expands on things we knew before

Commentary

May 06, 2008|By Verne Gay

No wows.

Audition, the memoir of the most celebrated female television journalist in history, is on bookstands this morning (Knopf). But those in search of singular shocks or rocking revelations will be disappointed.

Barbara Walters has written an intelligent, thoughtful, often kind and even revealing autobiography. But with few exceptions (like the affair with former Sen. Edward Brooke, discussed today on The Oprah Win- frey Show), hers is a long career played before the public eye. We already know the narrative well. (ABC airs a special pegged to Audition tomorrow at 10 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2.)

That, however, does not mean that Walters did not have a few surprises left. Here, in chronological order, are the 10 things about Walters I didn't know, and perhaps you didn't, either:

Her father, nightclub impresario Lou Walters, attempted suicide in 1958. His newest club had failed, and he fell into a deep depression; on the way to the hospital, writes his daughter, "For the first time, I had the most overwhelming feelings of love and compassion for him. I kept stroking his face and saying, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.'"

Her greatest -- perhaps only -- failing, was marriage. (Walters was hitched/divorced three times.) Of her second marriage, to producer Lee Guber, she writes, "I felt trapped and restless. Perhaps I just wasn't cut out for marriage."

She had several miscarriages. Again, she has discussed this before, when talking about her adopted daughter, Jackie. But the discussion here seems like a wound never closed: "You're ecstatic [when pregnant], then you all but fall apart when you drop to the low. ... I feel guilty even saying it, but the truth is that I'm almost thankful I didn't have a baby. I think of my [mentally disabled] sister. Was her condition hereditary?"

Walters is almost certainly a Republican. In these pages, she is sympathetic to Richard M. Nixon, and has a real fondness for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. (She and Henry Kissinger are old pals.) John Wayne? A hero as only the Duke can be -- during her darkest days at ABC News, he sent her a note reading, "Don't let the ... get you down." Democrats? This line about Hillary Clinton, at their first interview, makes one wonder: "She looked great. Mrs. Clinton is quite small on top but rather large in the hips."

Frank Sinatra despised Walters. She had attempted to confirm his betrothal to the future Pamela Harriman by calling him at home. Unforgivable. "For the next 30 years, Sinatra took a hate to me." She wrote a letter of apology -- he "tore it up, unopened."

Her Today co-host, Frank McGee, despised her, too. She reveals he had an office romance, a drinking problem and, finally, went kind of nuts. Yes, revenge is served best ice-cold.

She dated Alan Greenspan, who was a cheapskate. Yes, Walters' old fling is well-known, but she's delicious on the subject: "If I had a reservation, it was that Alan was very frugal, not just with me, but with himself. He wore the same navy blue raincoat until it practically fell apart." He even told her not to buy a Manhattan co-op -- which would have been worth "at least" $30 million today.

CBS offered her $10 million to join in 1991. Yes, the CBS courtship has been reported before, but a possible turning point in TV history came down to this: "I couldn't audition one more time. It was as simple as that."

Rosie O'Donnell was a difficult co-host. Surprised? Ha! Of course not. But Walters lards the familiar tale with extra details -- let's call them confirmations: The premise of The View, she says, is teamwork, "but for Rosie, it was more like Diana Ross and the Supremes, as little by little she took over."

O'Donnell left of her own accord -- most of us observers believe in the "push theory," however, while Walters writes, "I truly believe that Rosie did not intend to hurt me."

Yes, Virginia, there were skirmishes with Diane Sawyer -- but no war. "Today, when Diane and I no longer compete, we have a relationship of good humor and affection. I mean that sincerely."

Verne Gay writes for Newsday.

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