I have a bad habit of reading books a couple of years after everybody else. For example: I picked up The Corrections (2002) sometime in 2007 (overrated); finally got around to reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa (2005) earlier this year (fascinating, funny, and unfairly panned), and just read the first few chapters of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001) a couple of weeks ago (too male).
So anyway, I'm just now getting around to reading Barbara Walters' autobiography, Audition. Baba Wawa has held a soft spot in my heart ever since I started watching 20/20, around 1985. And—make fun of her if you like, she's used to it—Audition is just great: funny, juicy, dishy, and filled with delicious details about world leaders, TV personalities, and celebrities. Reading it will give you a new respect for this tenacious, fearless woman—known in TV circles as a "pushy cookie"—who entered the old boys' club of TV newscasting at a time when women in the business were considered "glorified tea pourers" and the official title of the lone woman on the Today Show was the "Today Girl." Walters sailed the Bay of Pigs with Fidel Castro; sat down in Mu'ammar Qaddafi's tent at a time when the US considered Libya a terrorist nation (and when Qaddafi was widely believed to be insane); went to China with Nixon; had an affair with a black senator in the '70s; dated Alan Greenspan and Roy Cohn; suffered three miscarriages; and all the while took care of her developmentally disabled sister, her depressive mother, her financially ruined father, and her troubled adopted daughter.
In short, an amazing woman. Some excerpts:
On doing an undercover piece as a Playboy bunny:
I can still do the "bunny dip" from an insider report I did as a bunny at the Playboy Club in New York. ... The other bunnies and I wore the same uncomfortable but flattering costume—a tight-in-the-waist sort of corselet (that pushed up the almost-exposed bosom), black stockings, and very high black heels. The sexy effect, depending on how you looked at it, was either enhanced or diminished by the bunny ears and bunny tails we also had to wear. But the trick was to master the "bunny dip" while serving drinks without dipping your boobs into the wineglasses. Here's how you do it: keeping your legs together, slightly bend your knees and shift a bit to the right while leaning slightly backward. The squared-off position protected your cleavage but it was murder on the thighs. I didn't really enjoy doing that story, which took two days of filming. But I can still to the "bunny dip." Hugh Downs said it was the first time he knew I had legs.
On her inability to ski:
By the way, since my decision to give up skiing, I've always had a wonderful time at ski resorts. Apres ski is my favorite sport.
On her adopted daughter, Jackie:
I keep reading about children who, as adults, want to find their biological mothers. Jackie has never expressed a desire to learn her birth mother is. I thought she might be afraid of hurting my feelings, so one day I asked her if she would like to find out. If so, I told her, I'd try to help her.
"Why should I try to find my biological mother?" Jackie said with a grin. "Haven't I had enough trouble with you?"
Yes, darling. Likewise.
On an early interview:
One of my first interviews on Today was with Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy's glamorous sister, who attended Sarah Lawrence College at the same time I did back when she was Lee Bouvier. We lived in different dormitories, and she didn't stay long at Sarah Lawrence, but still, I thought she might remember me, if not from college, then perhaps as one of the few female reporters tagging along on the India trip with her and her sister. But she didn't remember me at all. By now she was married to an exiled Polish prince named Stanislas Radziwill. When I asked Lee what I should call her in the interview, she replied, with a bored look, "Just call me Princess." Okay, Princess.
On being a "pushy cookie":
[Today cohost] Frank [McGee] went right to the top, to the president of NBC, Julian Goodman. He asked me to attend the meeting also so that there could be no confusion about the decision. To my face he complained to Goodman that my participation in these interviews reduced their importance. He felt my role on the show should be restricted to, as he put it, the "girlie" interviews.
I could continue to sit at the desk, he said,but I was not to join in on the important and newsmaking interviews. Even as I write this, it is hard to believe that such an opinion would be expressed. But Juilan Goodman did not seem to be shocked or disturbed. He listened to McGee present his case, and as if I were not in the room, he agreed.
Though I remained superficially loyal and cheerful each day on the program, my new role was so unacceptable to me that I looked for a loophole in the McGee edict. ... No one had said I couldn't go after my own important interviews and do them outside the studio.
Therefore that's what I did.
And that's when I got the reputation of being ambitious and aggressive in pursuit of interviews, the "pushy cookie."