Spotlight on Barbara Walters
In her book Audition, Barbara turns the spotlight on herself, opening up about her own life as she never has before. "It was going to be a little book," Barbara says. "But then I thought, 'If I'm going to do it, I've got to tell everything.'"
Barbara says the title of the book comes from her sense that her entire life has been an audition. "As a child, I felt that I didn't belong—I was auditioning. I kept going to different schools—I was auditioning. Most of my professional life, I've been auditioning," she says. "I think for a lot of us, life is an audition."
Barbara says The View controversies began when then-co-host Star Jones got gastric bypass surgery but decided not to tell anyone. "In the beginning, she was going to," Barbara says. "I was even going to do an interview with her on 20/20 because we thought it would be helpful. People would see her losing weight, so they should understand the dangers and the good things."
Star's choice to not go public with her gastric bypass operation made things difficult for The View's co-hosts, Barbara says. "We had to lie on the set every day because [Star] said it was portion control and Pilates. Well, we knew it wasn't portion control and Pilates," she says. "And the whole point of the program is honesty."
Barbara says the co-hosts went along with Star's choice because they wanted to support her. "She was our colleague, and she did not want us to out her, and we cared about her and thought we owed that to her."
Meanwhile, Barbara says, The View audience was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Star's new image. "They didn't relate to her anymore. You can change if you're honest about your change," Barbara says. "[The viewers] turned on [Star] because they knew she wasn't telling the truth. If she'd said, 'I had a gastric bypass operation. ... Let me tell you what's good about it. Let me tell you what's bad about it. I'm losing weight; I'm also doing Pilates and watching my diet,' it would have been different. They would have loved her for it.'"
In order to offset the cost of her wedding, Barbara says Star wanted to promote some of the products—like flowers or bridesmaids dresses— on The View so she could have them for free. "[The View producers] made a big mistake in the beginning because we said, 'Okay.' But when we drew the line and said, 'We must stop,' Star started to do it on other television programs," she says. "The audience, instead of seeing her as this lovely, romantic bride, began to see her as a greedy bride." The New York Post even called her Bridezilla.
The combination of the gastric bypass surgery and the wedding had damaged Star in the eyes of The View audience. Barbara says focus groups showed that viewers felt Star was damaging the program and that she had fallen from her spot as the program's most popular host. As a result, Barbara says, ratings were down and ABC decided not to renew Star's contract.
According to Barbara, Star decided she was going to announce her departure on June 29. On June 27, however, Star announced live on the show that she was leaving The View. "I thought she was just telling people two days early, so I got up and said, 'Let's everybody give her a standing ovation,'" Barbara says. "Suddenly, I see Bill Geddie, my co-executive producer, and I think he's going to burst a blood vessel."
What Barbara didn't know, she says, is that Star gave an interview days earlier to People magazine, accusing Barbara of lying. Star told People she wasn't leaving The View because of bad ratings but because of Rosie O'Donnell. Barbara says Rosie was hired to replace Meredith Vieira after it had been established that Star was leaving the show. "It wasn't because of Rosie," Barbara says. "Had Star stayed, we probably wouldn't have hired Rosie because the truth is that Rosie and Star had a bad relationship and we would not have been able to keep both of them."
Barbara says she took Star's interview with People very personally. "I had so many years with Star," Barbara says. "I had such affection for her, and now I was so furious with her. I thought, 'I didn't do this to her. She did this to herself.' She could have left with any kind of grace."
Star's unexpected early announcement was her last day on The View. Barbara says that while she thought the situation would diffuse, the network decided they didn't want Star to return.
Barbara also says she was extremely saddened to hear the news that Star filed for divorce from her husband. "She went into the marriage with such hopes and romance, and I ached for her," she says. "It's a cliché to say I wish her well, but I really do," Barbara says. "We had nine wonderful years with Star, and you don't forget that."
Barbara says Rosie took over the show from the day she got there. "It was like Diana Ross and The Supremes," she says. "Rosie made some wonderful changes, but it was also very difficult."
While vacationing in the Caribbean, Barbara received a call from co-executive producer Bill Geddie who told her that Rosie called Donald a snake oil salesman on the air. "[Rosie] also said he had gone bankrupt. I knew he had not. I've done too many interviews with Donald, who was my friend. I knew he had never gone bankrupt," she says.
Barbara says that after Rosie made those remarks, Donald threatened to sue The View and ABC. Hoping to smooth things over, Barbara called Donald to assure him that she would clear up the bankruptcy issue on air. "Donald then did every television and radio program he could, saying that on the phone call I said Rosie had been a big mistake and I was sorry I hired her," Barbara says. "That hadn't happened."
Barbara also addressed Donald's comments about Rosie on air, saying she and The View loved and supported Rosie. But Barbara says Rosie felt as though she had not adequately supported her. "She felt that as much as I defended her, I didn't defend her enough," she says.
Meanwhile, ratings for The View were sky-high during Rosie and Donald's controversy. "The audience tuned in every day to see who she was going to hate today," Barbara says. But when Rosie had originally agreed to do the program, she had only signed on for one year. In April 2007, Rosie decided not to return to The View the following season.
"I was very disappointed," Barbara says. "By that time, I was used to her. I knew how to handle it. We all did."
On the show, Rosie said she was strongly against the war in Iraq, and it had become a frequent topic among the show's co-hosts. Amid one of the many discussions, Rosie commented that the United States could be considered terrorists for its invasion of Iraq. "People felt, including some of our affiliates and sponsors, that she said the troops were terrorists. She never said that," Barbara says.
Barbara says Rosie was upset that people were misinterpreting her comment, and brought the discussion up on The View. "Because Elisabeth is the most conservative and supported George Bush, Rosie said to Elisabeth, 'You should defend me.' Elisabeth said, 'You should defend yourself.' And there came a screaming match like you had never heard on television."
Barbara says she was home during this taping and called the control room to tell them to go to commercial. "Bill's feeling was if they went to commercial, Rosie would walk off stage. It was a terrible day," Barbara says. In fact, the screaming match was so bad that she's never rerun it or let anybody see it again, she says.
After the on-air fight with Elisabeth, Rosie chose not to return to the show to finish out the season.
Barbara says that since then, she and Rosie e-mail from time to time. "I will always have the greatest affection for her," Barbara says. "I truly mean this. She gave the show a whole boost. She brought energy to it."
Despite all the ups and downs The View has faced, Barbara has only positive feelings for the show. "In the arc of my life, The View is one chapter," she says. "We're going on our 12th year. Two years were difficult, and 10 were simply wonderful, and that's what I want to feel about it."
Since the '50s, Barbara has been married and divorced three times. She says every time she said "I do," she did so with a heavy heart.
Barbara was 23 when she married her first husband, Robert Katz, in 1958. "All my friends were married. I'd graduated from college," she says. "I knew I didn't want to get married, but it was time."
The marriage didn't last long. In fact, Barbara says years later, a man said hello to her on the streets of New York City, and it took her a few moments to realize who he was. "I thought, 'He looks familiar,'" she says. "Then I thought, 'That was my first husband. I knew I'd seen him somewhere.'"
In 1963, Barbara married theater producer Lee Guber. Their wedding came just two weeks after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. She says a lot of people got married at that time because they realized life is short and the future is uncertain. During their 13-year marriage, Barbara says she suffered three miscarriages. Eventually, the couple decided to adopt a daughter, Jackie.
After their divorce in 1976, Barbara waited 10 years before marrying her third and final husband, Merv Adelson, the CEO of Lorimar Television. "Both times I thought, 'I don't think this is going to work,' but without going into every detail, they were wonderful men," she says. "I don't regret any of them, but I didn't have six [marriages], and I haven't had another one."
Barbara says she'll never marry again. "I guess I'm not very good at marriage."
Barbara says she first met Senator Brooke at a restaurant in New York City. "We were introduced, and he had this just wonderful grin," she says. "I mean, like a real rascal." During a visit to Washington, D.C., they had lunch in the Senate dining room and discussed her favorite topic—politics. Then, Barbara says he asked her out to dinner and things took a romantic turn.
For the next two years, Barbara and Senator Brooke dated in secret. "You have to remember this was 30 years ago. If this were today, it would be different," she says. "Had this come out, it would have probably, at the time, ruined my career and his."
Though he was married with two children, Barbara says Senator Brooke only went home during the holidays. He spent his weekends in Washington or in New York City with her. "[He and his wife] were not particularly close," she says. "[But] you didn't get divorced in those days."
At the time, Barbara says very few people knew about their relationship. When a gossip columnist began alluding to their affair in the press and a friend warned her that things were getting dangerous, she says she told Senator Brooke she couldn't see him anymore. "[I said to him,] 'I can't do this. We have to break it off,'" she says. "He did something he had never done. He went home and asked his wife for a divorce."
"He was a wonderful man and a wonderful senator," Barbara says. "Throughout this book, I talk about being guilty about this and being guilty about that. ... I have always felt guilty that I perhaps ruined his future."
Barbara says she regrets the fact that his promising political career ended, but she doesn't regret their relationship. "It was wonderful," she says.
She may have been "the other woman" for years, but Barbara says she was never the senator's mistress. "I was supporting myself. I was working on the Today show. I had a child," she says. "Not every woman involved with a married man is a mistress."
Before her memoir hit bookstores, Barbara says she contacted Edward Brooke to let him know she was going public with their story. "He's now remarried, very happily to I hear a beautiful woman. They have a son," she says. "But I don't know what would have happened had he not met me. He might have had a whole other kind of career in the Senate."
"I had a troubled relationship with my father because he wasn't around that much," she says. "I appreciate him so much now."
Barbara's mother, Dena, was very different from her father. In her memoir, Barbara describes her mother as practical and somewhat depressed. Lou may have been well-known and respected by the big shots of that era, but Dena was the strong one at home. "[She] was a Rock of Gibraltar," Barbara says.
Dena didn't just shoulder her family's financial worries. During Lou's travels, she raised Barbara and Jackie, the family's eldest child, by herself. Barbara says her sister was diagnosed as "backward" at a young age and considered mildly retarded.
Known for years simply as "Lou Walters's daughter," Barbara says she always knew there would come a day when her father's financial risks would catch up with him.
In June 1958, Barbara says her father tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. "All I remember is being in the ambulance and saying, 'I love you, Daddy. I love you, Daddy,'" she says. "All the compassion that I had for him and all of the love that was there came out."
Lou survived the overdose, but Barbara says no one in the family ever asked him why he wanted to die. Looking back, Barbara says debt and professional failures may have prompted his suicide attempt.
"My father never worried about money or cared about money. He sold the Latin Quarter. He opened another nightclub in Florida and then one in New York. They were both big failures," she says. "I don't know whether he thought that the insurance would cover it, but he borrowed on his insurance. Whatever it was, he was in terrible despair."
Barbara says her father no longer lived up to his idea of Lou Walters. "It was all too much for him," she says.
When the media found out her father was in the hospital, Barbara says she contacted Walter Winchell, the most influential columnist of the time, and lied. "I told the newspapers that he'd had a heart attack," she says.
From then on, Barbara says she knew her nightmare had come. "For the rest of my life, I would be supporting my family and my sister," she says.
"I loved my sister. I was ashamed of her. People didn't understand. ... She stuttered terribly. People made fun of her. People made fun of me. I didn't bring friends home," she says. "I felt terribly guilty because she was very loving, and I didn't always feel that way."
Knowing Jackie would probably never have children, Barbara says she named her daughter after her sister. "I wanted her to feel she had my Jackie," she says.
Jackie also influenced Barbara's career path. "Part of the drive and part of the having to work and everything was because I had to take care of my sister," she says. "I think anyone who has a sibling who is in any way disabled ... there are those moments when you go, 'It's too much.' When I think of her, because she was beautiful and loving and all of that, it makes me cry."
"I went down with her when she had the operation, and I left because I had to make a speech, for heaven's sakes. I left her two days after the operation, and I said, 'I'll be back,'" Barbara says. "I went to Milwaukee to make this speech for ABC. I mean, it wasn't a speech for money, but I was auditioning. I was being perfect."
Just before Barbara was scheduled to go onstage, someone came into her dressing room and told her the terrible news. "They said, 'You're on.' And I went out and made the most awful speech," she says. "I wasn't there when she died."
To this day, Barbara says she regrets that her decision to leave meant her sister died alone. "I also am in a way grateful that it happened that way," she says. "She was in no pain."
Barbara says she and her second husband adopted Jackie when she was just four days old. Over the years, as Barbara's fame grew, she says Jackie began acting out.
"We had a very normal life at home. She always had the same babysitters and people. ... I thought our life at home was very normal, but she was a celebrity's daughter," she says. "She felt certain things were expected of her—maybe too much and maybe too little."
When her daughter turned 14, Barbara says everything began to go wrong. Unbeknownst to her, Jackie was doing drugs. "We sent her to one school. It didn't work. We sent her to another school. That didn't work," she says. "At one point, she ran away."
After tracking her down, Barbara enrolled Jackie in an alternative school. "We sent someone to take her from where she was—physically take her to this alternative school," she says. "She was there for three years."
"She took the lesson of her life and turned it into a triumph for other girls," Oprah says.
Before Barbara sat down to write about her experiences as a mother, she says she got Jackie's blessing. "I said to her, 'Do you want me to talk about this? Do you want me to talk about the drugs?'" Barbara says. "She said, 'Maybe it will help other parents understand. Maybe it will help them feel less guilty.' Maybe some of the things that she and I learned together—because I learned along with her when she went away—maybe it will help."
So far, Barbara says it's the only chapter Jackie's read.
"What do you now know for sure?" Oprah asks.
"You must have someone or something to love, even if it's a dog or a cat," she says. "You must have a reason to get up in the morning, and it doesn't have to be a career. You must have something beyond yourself—spirituality, religion, I don't care what you call it—something that makes you know that there's something out there beyond you."
As she gets older, Barbara says she knows more about how to treat others. "You must be kind, which is why I'm not going to be a very good interviewer anymore," she says. "I'm getting too soft."
After almost 80 years, Barbara has come to one final conclusion: "I've stopped auditioning."