The Woman's Network
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
NEW YORK, May 6
It's hard to imagine now, with a dozen photographers snapping away and hundreds of people lined up at a Broadway book signing, that Barbara Walters once considered herself a flat-out failure.
"I would sit in the makeup room and cry," she says, recalling her unhappy stint as co-anchor of ABC's evening newscast. "I thought they might ask me to resign." To her boyfriend at the time -- the future Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan -- "every night I would wail, 'My career is over.' . . . I must have been enormously boring, and he put up with it."
But others were not so kind. For all her success as a woman breaking television barriers, Walters's life, as recounted in her new memoir, "Audition," has been buffeted by a long line of men behaving badly.
There were the three husbands who became ex-husbands, the reporters who wouldn't accept her as one of the gang, the anchors who openly balked at sharing the limelight.
When Frank McGee took over as host of the "Today" show in 1971, he told NBC executives that Walters could continue to sit at the anchor desk if her role was limited to conducting "girlie" interviews -- and the management men agreed. Walters's protests led to a compromise: She could pipe up after McGee had asked important newsmakers three questions, if there was still time.
"You'd think we were talking about the 1800s, when women were subjugated," Walters says in a hideway office at the huge Barnes & Noble, resplendent in a brightly colored dress, elegantly coiffed and made up, regal but approachable. In her pungent voice -- a dead giveaway when she's trying to be anonymous on the weekends -- Walters says just enough and no more, as if the cameras are on and a commercial break is approaching. She whips out a gold credit card to buy 10 copies of the book, because some of her friends are perturbed at not having received a signed copy.
As the world now knows, Walters rarely lacked for romantic attention, including her affair with the married Sen. Edward Brooke -- a liaison that could have wrecked both their careers had word leaked out.
What emerges from the book is a tenacious 78-year-old woman who, despite occasional mistakes, has managed to overcome every setback in achieving her exalted status as veteran journalist, celebrity interviewer and world-class yenta. In true tell-all fashion, she details her strained relations with her father (a Broadway producer who once attempted suicide), her sister (who was developmentally disabled) and her daughter Jackie (who as a teenager was sent away to a boarding school to battle a drug problem).
Walters wasn't successful at marriage. Her first, to businessman Robert Katz in 1955, lasted three years. Her second, to theatrical producer Lee Guber in 1963, lasted 13 (they adopted Jackie after three miscarriages). The third, to Lorimar Television CEO Merv Adelson in 1986, lasted six years.
And there were the near-misses. She and Claude Philippe, the Waldorf-Astoria's top caterer, talked of tying the knot, but he never got around to divorcing his wife. Roy Cohn, the shady ally of Joe McCarthy, proposed, to her astonishment. In the '70s she dated investment banker Alan Greenberg -- overlapping with her relationship with Brooke -- and Greenspan. And then there was future senator John Warner, who went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor.
The calculated leak last week of the two-year affair with Brooke, now 88, generated worldwide headlines. Walters says she never could have kept it secret today. "The whole idea of my being with an African American would probably at that time have cost me my job," she says. "He was also married. I am not the first person to ever have a relationship with a married man." They talked about getting married; Brooke divorced his wife and, when Walters broke it off, wound up marrying someone else. Walters says she felt "some guilt" at being partly responsible when the "superb senator" lost his reelection bid.