Barbara Walters's Audition is a massive, entertaining memoir that chronicles her troubled family life as she became one of television's most respected journalists.
My draw to the book was its focus on a television journalist who hob-knobs with celebrities, heads of state and American politicians while she juggles a career and a family life. Walters goes into great detail of growing up alongside her mentally disabled sister Jackie, her showman father Lou and later bringing up her adopted daughter Jackie (named after her sister).
Walters is candid in revealing her mistakes and especially her guilt. In no small measure she talks about how it's difficult - however otherwise it seems - for a woman to maintain a grasp on marriage (she's been married and divorced three times), to raise a well-adjusted daughter (who rebelled in her teen years) and to further her career (despite her huge success, she faced numerous challenges rising through the ranks of "Today" and later as co-anchor of the evening news with Harry Reasoner).
Walters talks about how she was ashamed of having a sister who was a drag on her social life. She talks about how it was hard to talk to her father late in his life, after his many successes and bitter failures. She talks about how she neglected her husbands and daughter. She not only expresses but is very aware of her guilt - but she hardly pities herself, is always grateful for her tremendous success and thankful to the many hands that helped her along the way.
Not surprising, Walters's book is at its best when she's being most honest: She never acts like she had it all, and she describes what she gave up to get where she is. Though at times she provides maybe too much detail about her own struggles, one can't help but sympathize with her as she describes her life being pulled in different directions. But eventually she decides she's talked enough about herself, and the book abruptly switches gears and she talks about the last 25 years of interviewing movie stars, presidents, first ladies, murderers, white-collar criminals, Monica Lewinsky and her tenure on 20/20 and The View.
The gossipy tidbits, while interesting, are also mildly empty after she stops intertwining her personal life with the struggles and triumphs of her career. While an alternate work that evenly mixed personal and professional may have been a staggering 900-page memoir, it would have been a complete work instead of one that feels like it may have become tiresome for its author as she neared completion (or maybe cut by a non-judicious editor).
But that's not to say the tidbits aren't anything but fascinating. Her chapter focusing on interviewing and getting to know presidents and first ladies is one of the best of the book. Most revealing is her story about interviewing Gerald and Betty Ford. Betty, who was apparently drunk and slurring words throughout the interview, was mercifully saved by Walters, who opted to narrate over parts featuring Betty instead of showing her in an inebriated state - a decision, she says, she would have never made today.
Sadly, no juicy tidbits for Walters's chapters on The View - which provide detail but no real insight on her very public spats with Star Jones, Rosie O'Donnell, Donald Trump, etc. (as my friend Debbie said, maybe she was afraid of lawsuit...). Nor does Walters get too descriptive of her highly-rated interview with Monica Lewinsky - which was seen by more than 50 million viewers less than a month after President Clinton was acquitted by the U.S. Senate.
Despite its late-book shortcomings, it is an exceptional book - a genuine work full of insight on women's careers, journalism and the highly competitive world of broadcast news.