Posted by: Susan Vollmer | 6 July 2008

Barbara Walters — Audition: A Memoir

In 2008, Barbara Walters’ latest book came out titled Audition: A Memoir.  What a great title for a book about her life.  Most of us think of her as a broadcast journalist, which she is, but she also shares personal aspects of her life that I certainly did not know.


While reading her words, I could hear her voice and Boston accent.  The book definitely had the ring of truth, which is of utmost importance to any journalist.  It’s important to do research to be as accurate as you possibly can be and as objective as possible, even when reporting on the most difficult subject – yourself.


While growing up, her father had various Latin clubs over the years, which he owned and managed.  As a child, she learned that the people behind these entertainment acts were real people with real problems.


“This gave me an understanding of celebrities that I never would have had.  As a result, I was not in awe, years and years later, when I began doing interviews with big name stars.”


Barbara also wrote, “Those early years at the Latin Quarter also affected the way I later asked questions and listened to answers.  I knew that the childhood years of most celebrities were their most poignant and could often explain their future choices as, of course, it has mine.”


One of her favorite persons to interview was Anwar Sadat.  “When I arrived for the interview, I noticed a slight, bemused man sitting on one of the empty boxes our television equipment had come in, the crew setting up the cameras and microphones, monitors and lights.  There were no security guards, aides, or secretaries around him.  The president of Egypt was simply taking in the scene.”


In November 1977, Barbara was one of many international journalists covering Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem.  At the Tel Aviv Airport, “there were hundreds of people waving Israeli and Egyptian flags.  I wondered how the Israelis had managed to get so many Egyptian flags so quickly.  And how the Israeli army band had gotten the music and learned the Egyptian national anthem.  But most of all I remember all of Sadat’s former enemies lined up to greet him – Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin.  It was almost too much to comprehend.”


Over the years, broadcast journalism has changed, with less time spent on heads of state and more time spent on celebrities and their alcohol / drug problems or on notorious criminals.


As of 2007, “the most-watched news special in television history,” was the two-hour interview that Barbara had done which aired on 3 March 1999 with nearly 50 million people watching.  The interview was of Monica Lewinsky.  She was the intern at the White House during the Bill Clinton administration who had become involved in a notorious scandal.


In 1997, Barbara became instrumental in the creation of a daytime television program called The View.  The show combined women of different viewpoints, ages and personalities who could disagree in a friendly, entertaining way.  The show would include discussing hot topics plus include some guests.  The show has had ups and downs with its staffing but has returned to its original roots.


In 2004, Barbara announced that she would be retiring from ABC’s newsmagazine titled 20/20, where she had worked for the past 25 years.  She had worked hard in journalism, where often you are only as good as your last story.  The uncertainty of her life as a child, watching her father earn and lose fortunes, had shown how quickly a family’s lifestyle can change.  She often worried that her success would be taken from her and worked even harder as a result.


She decided to leave the 20/20 part of her television work while she was still excellent at it and when she decided it was not fun nor prestigious anymore.  “The hard-news stories we used to report on were few and far between except on CBS’s stalwart 60 Minutes.  But that newsmagazine catered to an older audience.  20/20 was after the young – the 18-to 49-year-olds.”  Barbara wrote, “And it seemed that every celebrity, every murderer, every frog had a lawyer or a press agent all interviewing the interviewer to determine where they could get the most airings for their clients, what kind of questions would be asked, and how much promotion and advertising would be guaranteed.  The interviewer had to audition to land the interview.”


Audition is a great title for the book.  And perhaps this entire life is an audition for the next one to come.


Reviewed by Susan Vollmer

Author of Legends, Leaders, Legacies



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