After five decades in TV news, Barbara Walters has finally written her autobiography. Audition: A Memoir (Knopf, $29.95) hits the stores May 6, the day Walters is on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "It will be unusual for me to be answering the questions instead of asking them," she says with a hint of nerves. Though she saved the details of her sizzling secret affair with the married Edward Brooke, the nation's first black U.S. Senator, for the Oprah appearance, the Queen of "Gets" sat down with TV Guide to talk about her "extremely personal — maybe too personal — story.
TV Guide: You've always been discreet about your personal life. Why a memoir now?
Barbara Walters: It's a time in my life when I'm very happy and very much at peace. I don't have anything to lose by being open.
TV Guide: Why call it Audition?
Walters: I've been auditioning my whole life. As a child, because we kept moving, I was auditioning to make friends. In my career, I felt that up until two minutes ago, I was auditioning. And I'm auditioning with this book. [Laughs] I think I've finally finished.
TV Guide: It's very revealing.
Walters: I had to tell the whole story, and my life's influences. My sister was developmentally disabled, and my father, owner of one of the most glamorous nightclubs in New York, made and lost fortunes. My family's [problems] made it imperative that I keep working and put up with a lot of things I might not have.
TV Guide: What is the greatest misconception about you that the book clears up?
Walters: That I'm very together and very authoritative. That I never bled.
TV Guide: You don't say anything bad about your three ex-husbands.
Walters: They were very nice men. The first one I barely remember. I was walking into a building and a man [came out] and I thought, "He looks familiar." Then I realized it was my first husband. The other marriages were to very, very nice men, both of whom were in show business, which, for me, was a mistake.
TV Guide: You write a lot about your insecurity in your career.
Walters: I always thought it was going be over tomorrow. It was very tough as a woman. For example, when I was on the Today show with one of its hosts, I had to wait until he asked three questions before I could ask one.
TV Guide: Frank McGee?
Walters: Frank McGee. It was only after he died that I was made co-host — after eleven years.
TV Guide: What was your low point?
Walters: When I was at ABC in the '70s [as coanchor of the evening news], I thought I was a total failure. Some of the things that were written about me were horrendous. Then I got a wonderful telegram: It said, "Don't let the bastards get you down," signed John Wayne. I had to work my way back, and that's when I did some of my best interviews.
TV Guide: You're tough on those who hurt you professionally. Is this payback time?
Walters: None of this is payback. It's the way it was. Even with The View, where we had our problems, I know what the different women contributed. I have enormous affection for Rosie [O'Donnell]. She's a large talent with many lovable qualities. And I called Star [Jones] and we had breakfast.
TV Guide: You've been criticized for too friendly attitudes in interviews with such infamous leaders as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. What's your answer?
Walters: Critics can say what they want. These were not friends whom I was entertaining in my home and having cozy lunches with. If you saw the whole interview with Chavez, it was very tough.
TV Guide: Oprah said to you she feels like she "was born for greatness." Was Barbara?
Walters: What Oprah meant was that she born to do great things. And indeed she has. At one time she used to imitate me. I say I take full credit for being her mentor. [Laughs] But I wasn't destined for this career. A lot of what happened to me was that I was there at the right place at the right time. And I worked very hard.
TV Guide: Do you feel you broke ground for TV newswomen?
Walters: Without sounding pompous, I feel that way now. I'm very proud if I helped other women. But I was also fortunate — because there were so few others, I had a chance to make a mark.
TV Guide: So is "retire" an ugly word?
Walters: No. I will retire some day. I will walk out of television at the top. But not this year, I still love what I do.
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