Bad at marriage and worse at skiing, but good at getting television viewers to flush simultaneously
Audition: A Memoir. By Barbara Walters. Knopf, 612 pp., $29.95.
By Janice Harayda
How popular was the two-hour Barbara Walters Special on Monica Lewinsky? “There were reports,” Walters writes, “that the water level in some cities dropped during the commercial breaks as large numbers of people were flushing at the same time.”
This peculiar factoid suggests the bizarre tone of Audition, an overstuffed memoir by America’s first female network news coanchor. In a half century in broadcasting, Walters has never learned to write for the eye instead of the ear, and this leads to unintentional comedy. (“If I was bad at marriage, I was even worse at skiing.”) Walters also indulges her instinct for score-settling, celebrity puffery, and self-contradiction. (“I have always been a terrific editor, if I do say so myself — and I do say so myself.”) But many of her anecdotes about her early years in broadcasting are revealing, particularly when they suggest how much pyrite the networks served up in what some critics call “the golden age of television.” Walters reports that when she left Today to coanchor the news at ABC, the Alpo dog food company gave her a red ice bucket shaped like a fire hydrant — a reminder that the hosts of the show once had to do commercials for the sponsor’s products. And even her clunkiest lines at times have a weird fascination. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” she writes, “but let me say once again, Castro and I were definitely not lovers.”
Best line: Walters quotes a joke that the comedian Joy Behar told after Salman Rushdie received death threats and went into hiding: “I’ll tell you the difference between men and women. Rushdie has been in solitary confinement for five years with no visitors at all allowed … and in that time he’s been married twice.”
Worst line: No. 1: “But just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again.” No. 2: “And so, in June 1955, my father walked me down the aisle. … My heart had never felt so heavy, but then again, my heart would feel just as heavy every time I married (I’ve been married three times), which is why, as I write this, please know that I will never get married again!” No. 3: Early in her career, Walters worked at a PR agency with William Safire, the future New York Times columnist, who noticed that she “rarely relaxed”: “That is why at an office Christmas party, his gift to me was a sheer, black, shorty nightgown with matching lace panties. I was somewhat embarrassed but also delighted. Today when we are so concerned with sexual harassment such a gift might not be well received.”
Sample chapter titles: “Monica.” “Finally, Fidel.” “Garland, Capote, Rose Kennedy, and Princess Grace.” “Presidents and First Ladies: Forty Years Inside the White House.” “Dean Rusk, Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, and Prince Philip.”
Editor: Peter Gethers
Published: May 2008 (hardcover), paperback due out in May 2009.
Furthermore: Walters was the first female coanchor at an American television news network. She co-hosts ABC’s The View.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.