Guest: Barbara Walters
TIM RUSSERT, HOST: She has been in our living rooms for 35 years. She has interviewed practically everyone in the world. And she‘s lived an extraordinary life.
It‘s now in her new book, a memoir, Barbara Walters, “Audition.” And the author is with us.
BARBARA WALTERS, AUTHOR, “AUDITION”: Thanks, Mr. Russert, from author to author.
RUSSERT: Why did you write “Audition”?
WALTERS: Well, if I could rewrite it now, I would take out every personal thing and just leave in the chapters about heads of state and presidents, which is what most people knew. I was at a point in my life where I thought, if I‘m going to write a book—and I thought I was going to have time. I had left “20/20,” this was four years ago, and I thought, I will now have lots of time.
I‘ll take language lessons. I‘ll learn Spanish. I‘ll go to museums. I‘ll write a book. Well, as it turned out, I was as busy as ever, but I was then committed.
But just in my own mind I was in a place where I thought it was time. And if I was going to tell it, I thought I‘ll do—as I said, I‘ll do the whole package, I‘ll tell it all.
RUSSERT: Why the title “Audition”?
WALTERS: Because I have felt that I have been auditioning my whole life. Not just professionally, not just when I was here at NBC and left to go to ABC to co-anchor the evening news, which was a disaster for me. So I was auditioning professionally.
But I was also auditioning personally. Because I had a sister who was what they would call today developmentally disabled, a lot of kids made fun of her, Tim, made fun of me. I felt very isolated. I felt I had to audition every time I went to a new school.
My father was very famous in show business, but again, because of his life we moved a lot. He owned very famous nightclubs called the Latin Quarter. And so I just—everywhere I went it seemed to me I was auditioning.
I have finally stopped auditioning, except for this book. And believe me, it‘s a great relief to stop auditioning.
RUSSERT: Lou Walters, what an interesting man.
RUSSERT: And you write about him in great detail.
RUSSERT: Tell us about your dad, your mom, the way you grew up.
WALTERS: Well, my father came here with his family from England. We always made tea. We never used a teabag, you know, because dad came here when he was 14.
He didn‘t know what to do. He was very young, got a job as an office boy in a booking agent, and booked acts all over the country. Vaudeville died, motion pictures came in. My father went bust.
And then he found an old church in Boston, got, you know, the wine bottles with the candles dripping stuff.
RUSSERT: Know them well.
WALTERS: OK. And thought this looks like what he imagined the Latin Quarter in Paris would be. He opened this up, gave away his last few cents, he says, to the nearby waiter, and said, we‘re going to take a chance. And the Latin Quarter was an enormous success—Boston, Florida, New York.
I used to sit in the lighting booth in Florida. I was very young. And I would watch all the acts. I could do all the acts. You don‘t want to hear it, but to this day, I could do all the acts.
RUSSERT: Surrounded by showbiz.
WALTERS: Surrounded by—but not loving it. I wanted my father to come home and be a dad, like your dad was. You know?
RUSSERT: He came home in the wee hours and slept...
WALTERS: He came home and then he slept during the day. I barely saw him.
And then he lost everything.
He sold the Latin Quarter in New York, opened another one. It went bust and he lost it all. And from then on my life changed.
I then had to support my mother, my father, my sister, my daughter. And I had to work. And that‘s maybe where the drive came from. Maybe that‘s where the fear came from. Maybe that‘s where the audition came from.
And it wasn‘t until much later when I really began to know my father. He was in great despair. Nobody knew this until this book, he attempted suicide.
So it was a very up and down life that I had. Glamorous on the surface. You could go to the Latin Quarter, I could bring my friends. But an isolated life, I felt.
RUSSERT: An outsider.
WALTERS: An outsider. I guess—oh, I‘m so bored with people who say I‘m an outsider, I‘m an introvert or I‘m shy. Nobody will believe that of me, somebody who‘s in front of the cameras all the time. But I felt that for a very long time.
RUSSERT: Your mom would ask you to sometimes intervene with your dad.
Interesting dynamic in their relationship.
WALTERS: I loved my mother very much. I could never have written this book if my mother and father and sister were still alive. It would pain them too much. It pained me too much until very recently.
And my mother adored my sister, who was older than I, who was very pretty.
WALTERS: Jackie, we called her. And I named my baby Jackie because I wanted my sister Jackie, who I didn‘t think would ever have a child—she didn‘t, she never married—to feel that she had a baby too.
And my mother would say to me sometimes, “Can‘t you take your sister?” when I was going out with a friend. And, you know, when you‘re young and, you know, you want to be part of the popular group. “Take your sister.” If I had a date, “Take your sister.”
So I had this feeling that I think so many people with siblings who are disabled have of love and resentment and compassion and anger. I hope that a lot of the things that I talk about here, that even though, you know, I have this life, the kind of life that I—the kind of life that you have, I hope that people can share it and maybe understand that they‘re not alone.
RUSSERT: There‘s something much different than the Barbara Walters people see on the television screen. There is a real life. There is a daughter, there is a mother, and when you write, a sister. When you write about your sister, it is so emotional.
WALTERS: I was going to call this book “Sister.” That‘s how I began. I was going to write—I thought people don‘t know me, not that they have to know me. So what? But if the see this image of someone of competence and authority and a little cold, except when I do “The View,” which is for me like dessert, and I thought the most important influence in my life was my sister. And that‘s what I was going to call it.
I was very influenced by your book on your father and the effect that he had on your life, and talking about your son. And I thought, I want to talk about my sister, my mother, my father, and my daughter. These are the biggest influences on my life.
My sister‘s condition taught me compassion, but it also filled me full of guilt—I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that. And I was often very, very resentful of her, and it wasn‘t her fault.
And she always loved me. She never—she had her own problems, and she stuttered terribly, so people made fun of her. And Tim, we didn‘t know about autism then. Maybe she was autistic and we didn‘t know it.
RUSSERT: Is that what you think now?
WALTERS: I don‘t really know. Maybe. We didn‘t have workshops. We didn‘t have people who understood.
People would say to me, “Is she crazy? Can she dress herself?” My sister was very intelligent. Not as intelligent as she might have been, but there was so much misunderstanding then.
We are in a different time today. And even today, you know, there‘s not all the understanding there should be.
RUSSERT: We‘re going to take a quick break.
We are talking to Barbara Walters. Her new book, “Audition.”
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back talking to Barbara Walters. Her new book, a memoir, is “Audition.” We were talking about her family.
Your daughter Jackie, adopted.
RUSSERT: Tell me about going about the adoption, raising her, her troubled youth. It‘s riveting.
WALTERS: Well, this was the hardest chapter in the book to write.
WALTERS: And it was the one chapter that I thought maybe I should not put in, because—because it was about my daughter. And that‘s her right to have it told and not told.
She wanted it told because she said, as when we were talking about people with someone disabled in their family, she said, “I want people to know, mom, that if we can make it through this, that anybody can.”
She was adopted when she was an infant. I just adore her. I mean, I even hate to say she was adopted. She‘s mine. She‘s mine. I always say she was born in my heart.
But she feels that every adopted child, almost every adopted child, as she says, grows up with a black hole in her heart. She was also very tall, so that she felt that she was awkward and the boys didn‘t like her. And she had a mother who was a celebrity. Now, we lived a very normal life at home, but I think that she felt that people liked her for that.
She had a terrible adolescence. I didn‘t know whether to kill her or kill myself. She was more than rebellious.
She was on drugs. At one point she ran away. I couldn‘t find her for four or five days.
And finally—and I‘m making this short. There‘s much more to the story. I sent her to what was called an emotional growth school. Toughest decision I had to make.
There are parents all over America today who are going through this with their own children. This wasn‘t a two-month rehab. This was three years.
There wasn‘t a time that I didn‘t go up and see her for every mother‘s visiting day, for every time there was. It changed her life.
And she always knew that I was there for her. And today—I mean, it‘s like a corny story—she runs in Maine—lives in Maine, because she loves the outdoors—she does not like my life. She comes to New York for two days, she says, “It‘s so noisy.”
She runs a camp, a six-to-nine-week camp for adolescent girls only in crisis, so that they are out in the woods and they‘re out—and they have therapy and they have quiet and the time to assess themselves. Everything that she learned now she has put into this camp. It‘s called New Horizons.
And she wanted people to know what it was like, and that there are ways of getting over it. We have found our way. We‘re very close. So I wrote the chapter, showed it to her. She said, “Put it in, mom.”
RUSSERT: Making that decision to, in effect, send her off to school, was she resentful for some time about that?
WALTERS: Oh, terribly. “I‘ll do anything, mom. I‘ll be wonderful.” But she needed this.
She needed to get the self-esteem that it gave her. She needed to get the time to find herself. And when a child says, “Take me out of this, I‘ll be wonderful,” and you have to say, “No, you have to stay,” and at the same time I have this smiley face and I‘m in front of the cameras and it‘s all wonderful.
WALTERS: Haunting. I mean, fortunately, it‘s such a success story. And she‘s very funny. And she‘s—and she‘s—I mean, she‘s wonderful.
And look what she‘s done with her life. But it might not have turned out that way.
RUSSERT: Does she now have appreciation? Does she realize that was the best thing for her?
WALTERS: Oh, yes. She says so. She says that she might have died had she kept on that life. Oh, she knows it.
And she also knows that I always loved her. There was never a time that she wasn‘t sure of that. I mean, she says now that everything that happened to her is exactly how it should have happened, and that being born to me and my having her was exactly the way it should be. She does feel that way. And so do I.
RUSSERT: How difficult is it with all this turmoil with your daughter, and yet you still have to perform on television?
WALTERS: Well, I also had to work. I mean, I had to earn a living. I could not go home to my mommy and say—you know, and—yes, you learn to divide your life, which is why I think people are very surprised in this book.
I didn‘t talk about Jackie at all at that time. I didn‘t talk about my parents. I didn‘t talk about my sister Jackie or my daughter Jackie.
And so, you know, we—how much do people know about you? How much do people know about any of us?
I may have had a more tumultuous life than some people, but, you know, I had to work and I had to divide my life. And for so many women, especially, it‘s a balancing act. It‘s the marriage and the career and the child, and how much do you give to each.
And we are going through it, most women, still today. Even more so because so many women are working.
RUSSERT: Three marriages.
WALTERS: Oh, yes, there was that. Yes.
RUSSERT: Difficult to juggle.
WALTERS: Well, difficult. My first marriage was when I thought I was very old. I was 23. But at that time—I mean, today it seems so young. And I got married because it was time. It was really time, and it was a very brief marriage.
It was hard to juggle. I can give you all the reasons. One, was a bicoastal marriage. I think that just works for a while.
The father of my child, Lee Guber, was a wonderful man. He was in show business. My next husband, Merv Adelson, was in show business.
With the ups and downs I did what I swore I wouldn‘t do. I married a man in the same business as my father with all of the vagaries of that life.
And I had a very strong career. And when I was married to Merv, who was wonderful to Jackie, died of brain cancer. Jackie really didn‘t know him that well, and she regrets it and I regret it. And Merv was wonderful to my daughter, but we were never together.
Did the career hurt it? Probably not. But it didn‘t help.
RUSSERT: All still friends?
WALTERS: All still friends. Yes, I—I mean, the men in my life are men
I mean, it sounds sometimes when I talk about it as if I had hundreds and hundreds of—I didn‘t. I was a little too busy. But, yes. Yes, very, very special people.
And I don‘t like enemies and I don‘t like confrontation. And I want to keep in my life the people that I like and loved.
RUSSERT: We‘re going to take a quick break and come back. How it all started right here at NBC.
WALTERS: Yes, it did.
RUSSERT: Barbara Walters is the author and our guest. Her new book, “Audition.”
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we are back. Barbara Walters of ABC has a new book. It‘s called “Audition.” It is a memoir.
NBC, 1974. How did it all start?
WALTERS: Well, sort of by accident. I was hired to—I was a writer for the show, and I would write for the people who came on.
I wrote—when Hugh Downs began to host the show, I wrote the introduction to Hugh Downs. I never thought I‘d be in front of the cameras.
The people—the women before me, there had been 50 “Today” girls. They were either models or actress, beautiful. They san, they acted, they did the weather. I did none of that.
But in Atlantic City, the nomination that nominated Lyndon Johnson, Maureen O‘Sullivan was an actress, and she was the “Today” person, the mother of Mia Farrow, who I‘m so much in touch with, that wonderful woman, today. And she just was terrible at it. She just didn‘t know what to do. Later on she said she was taking sleeping pills to sleep, to wake up.
Anyway, they had to say goodbye to her, but they had to pay her. So they had to put somebody on while they were looking for a big star. A, I worked cheap. You know? And I had done reports.
So they already knew me a little bit. So they put me on for 13 weeks. I stayed on for 13 years.
And then Hugh Downs was there, and he was wonderful to me. All was very good until Hugh left. And in came—John Chancellor did it, a great newsman, for a while.
The audience didn‘t want a newsman. But then they brought in at that time a very, very fine newsman named Frank McGee. He had been doing the evening news.
He hated “The Today Show.” He thought it was a comedown, and he sure didn‘t want me. And he did something that sounds so insane today. He insisted that when they were doing a Washington interview, a Tim Russert kind of interview, that I could not come in until the fourth question.
He gave me this tight smile on the air, but he was very unhappy about me. And we didn‘t know that he was very ill. He died of bone cancer. And my representative—by the way, in those days we didn‘t even have agents. Who had an agent? Said, well, if anything happens, Barbara will be co-host.
Well, he was a young man. Nothing was going to happen.
RUSSERT: This was written in the contract?
WALTERS: In the contract. And when he died, to our pain and amazement, NBC said, we‘re looking for another host. And we said co-host? And since then, every woman on every morning news show, deservedly, is a co-host.
It was only—that only happened two years before I left NBC. I had been there 11 years and done all kinds of interviews. And really some very good things.
It was the first time I ever interviewed Anwar Sadat for “The Today Show.” It was the first time Henry Kissinger did an interview. It was on “The Today Show.” Dean Rusk was “The Today Show,” not to mention lots of movie stars.
And Princess Grace. I still was not co-host.
RUSSERT: Who became—who succeeded McGee? Jim Hartz.
WALTERS: Jim Hartz.
RUSSERT: And you were equal in the interviews?
WALTERS: Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, it was the year of the bicentennial. So Jim Hartz was away traveling. He went to different states. So I would do most of the interviews in the studio. Nice man.
RUSSERT: It sounds so recent, 1974, ‘75, but in terms of the treatment of women, it‘s ancient history.
WALTERS: Ancient. I had sent a letter at one point to the president of NBC News saying we should do something on this women‘s movement. And I got back a little note scribbled on the top that said, “Not enough interest.”
And this—you know, this was—I had to go out and get my own interviews, because otherwise I would have come in the fourth interview. And so I did make a mark for myself. I did not—maybe unwittingly—break some of the barriers. But when you look back now, it‘s amazing to realize how strong those barriers were.
RUSSERT: How did you first start at NBC as a writer?
WALTERS: I was hired—well, I‘ll go back a little bit. I had really started at CBS as a writer. And the shows that I was on went off—I was working on the morning shows.
One had Will Rogers, Jr. One had—you know who wrote for Will Rogers, Jr.? A young guy named Andy Rooney.
RUSSERT: Whatever happened to him?
WALTERS: Well, I hear he‘s got a little job somewhere on another network.
But then I went to work in public relations, which I hated, where my boss of the television department was Bill Safire.
RUSSERT: Whatever happened to him?
WALTERS: Whatever happened to him? All these people we don‘t know.
And then I was hired by “The Today Show” because they knew me from doing public relations. I was always sending things over to the host then, Dave Garraway. So they knew me a little bit.
And they hired me to write for a woman who was doing a five-minute segment
news and fashion, so forth. There was only one female writer on “The Today Show” at the time. And when that female writer left they hired me full time, only to do the women‘s features. I could only write the women‘s features—the fashion shows, the celebrity.
The biggest breakthrough was when a new producer came in and said, “You know what? Let her write for the men, too.”
I mean, when I talk about it, Tim, doesn‘t it seem as if I‘m talking about, you know, 1842 or something?
RUSSERT: It is unbelievable.
And so is “Audition” by Barbara Walters.
We‘re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about Barbara Walters going to ABC, the first woman evening news anchor, right after this.
RUSSERT: Barbara Walters, you‘ve watched her for decades on ABC News. She now has a memoir. It‘s called “Audition,” and she is here to talk about it.
In 1976, you went to ABC News, co-anchor with Harry Reasoner of the ABC News Tonight—“World News Tonight.” You were paid a million dollars.
WALTERS: Well, not just for the news. That‘s a big misconception.
Well, can I go back a bit?
RUSSERT: Let‘s do it. Re-rack.
WALTERS: OK. I was very happy on “The Today Show.” I mean, I had gone to
they sent me to China. I was the only woman broadcaster to go to China with Richard Nixon, that big breakthrough. I went shortly after that when Jerry Ford went. I was very happy.
When I was offered the job at ABC, at first I said, no, no, I don‘t want this. Forget it. And there were various reasons why I began to shift. And part of it was I though, I can have a normal life. I don‘t have to get up at 4:30.
And Harry Reasoner was doing the news. It wasn‘t doing very well. And I thought, this is a wonderful opportunity.
And my agent then said, well, look what you can do for women. I mean, this could make history. And I thought, well, what an opportunity.
Well, I should never have gone. And NBC was very angry that I went.
I was their person. You know, “The Today Show” was making dents, still making a lot of money. And when I went to ABC, where I thought they were going to originally do a longer news, I could do interviews, which I was killed for—I did Anwar Sadat the first night and Golda Meir the second night—you know, now you do anything to have these kinds of people in the news.
I was a tremendous failure. The program was a tremendous failure. And Harry Reasoner did not want a partner. And it was the worst time of my professional life.
I‘d go home to my little girl and it was all sunshine. I would go to work in tears. And having to work my way back was when I did probably the best interviews or the most important interviews of my career.
Spent so much time in the Middle East—Moshe Dayan, Gold Mier, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, all of the legendary names—Fidel Castro and so forth. A lot of this happened because a genius came in and took over ABC News. A man named Roone Arledge, famous in our industry, had been the head of ABC Sports.
He sent Harry back to CBS, had faith in me. And I write about it in more detail than this because it‘s tough for people. And a lot of people lose their jobs and think, how do I work my way back, and what do I do, and what do I do in my head? And I thought it was important for people to know that my career has just not been, you know, up, up, up, that I went through this time when I was sure that they were going to—and by the way, the million dollars, half of it was for doing the news, and that‘s what Harry was making as well.
And half of it was paid by the then entertainment department for doing four one-hour specials. The news failed, the specials made it, and I‘m doing them now still 30 years later.
RUSSERT: The interesting thing for me was to gauge the response from NBC, the lack of sendoff, the cold shoulder, and compare that to Katie Couric when she left NBC.
WALTERS: Well, very different. Very different. Very different.
Well, first of all, I think that you couldn‘t do what they did to me then. It would be—you know, there‘s—everything that happens now is in the papers. And they were very resentful that I left, very angry that I left. And they showed it.
And it took me many years before I realized that I had done the right thing, that I had left the safety and taken this parachute jump into something that I really—I really didn‘t know and didn‘t understand.
RUSSERT: When you didn‘t succeed on the evening news, what did it do to you? What did you learn from it?
WALTERS: I had to work. I knew that I had to survive. I knew that I just had to work harder.
I knew that there was no point in going to a psychiatrist. I knew what was wrong with me. I was failing. You know, what are they going to tell me?
And when you do make it, you have a feeling—I mean, a lot of my success had been accidental. I was put on “The Today Show” accidentally. You have a different feeling about yourself.
And it‘s also—where I think the drive came from, the ambition, if there is something that makes ambition, came from, I had to work my way back. I had a family to support by then—my mother, my father, my sister. My father had lost it all. I had a 7-year-old child.
This was no fun time. And it‘s important to write about. For years it pained me. I couldn‘t talk about those years without—you know, I make people cry; that‘s what made me cry.
RUSSERT: Was the difficulty Harry Reasoner not accepting you as an equal?
Was the difficulty the resistance of an audience to a woman co-anchor?
What do you think it was?
WALTERS: Well, I think it was all of the above, and I think it was the fact that the news was going to be an hour, I was promised. It wasn‘t. It never will be.
That I was too seen doing interviews on the air. People wanted the straight news. It is why, when I‘ve talked to Katie—and we don‘t know what all the reasons are for her difficulties there, but I have great empathy. And I also know she‘s going to be OK, because she‘s a talent, and she will be, just as I turned out to be OK.
RUSSERT: What was Anwar Sadat like?
WALTERS: Oh my goodness. When people say to me, you know, out of all the interviews you‘ve done—and they show all of that whole thing in the inside of the...
RUSSERT: Yes, in the cover.
WALTERS: On the inside of the cover.
WALTERS: And some of them I don‘t even remember doing. Oh, did I do that?
RUSSERT: Barack Obama.
WALTERS: Should I tell that story? I met him this fall, and he was being interviewed at a forum. And I went up to him and said, “Oh, I‘m so happy to see you. I wish you would do ‘The View‘ one day.”
And he said, “I did.” And I said, “I‘m so sorry I wasn‘t on.” And he said, “You were.”
WALTERS: OK. Who knew he was going to be the—he has come on “The View” since, and we‘ve made it up to him.
Anwar Sadat—booming voice. That‘s what his wife said to me, she misses that booming voice. Enormous charisma.
Huge courage. I mean, this man was considered a traitor when he went from Egypt to Israel.
He changed the course of history. It‘s an uneasy peace, but there still is peace between Israel and Egypt. And his assassination, and then the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, both done internally by enemies within the country, are great tragedies.
I feel privileged that I had that time of viewing and being a teensy part of this history-making. And Menachem Begin also—I don‘t know how many people remember him—a feisty, passionate man. And the fact that these two men who worshipped different gods, and each one felt God was on their side, became allies and friends. It‘s a wondrous story.
RUSSERT: A front seat to Middle East peace, a front seat to history. It‘s all captured in “Audition.” Barbara Walters is the author and our guest.
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back. The book is “Audition.” The author, Barbara Walters.
She has interviewed every American president since Richard Nixon.
WALTERS: Well, now what can I tell you that others don‘t know? He would -
I‘ll give you little anecdotes, because I did a lot of interviews with him.
He was a man who was so uncomfortable that when you did an interview, he would try to do things to make you relax, and they were all wrong. He would talk about my clothes. He loved the boots I was wearing.
RUSSERT: Your knee-high boots.
WALTERS: My knee-high boots.
He would tell off-color jokes to the stagehands to try to be one of the guys. It never worked.
He was very helpful to me. He helped me get an interview with Prince Philip of Great Britain. He did a lot of interviews with me.
I did—after he had to leave, he did an interview with David Frost and was paid. I did the first interview with him, network interview—any kind of an interview in which he wasn‘t paid.
It was live. And I was asking all the foreign policy questions, and he was superb in it. And then I thought, I‘ll give him a chance to be human, and I said, “Mr. President, how did you get through all of this?” And he said, “Oh, come on. Be serious.”
And I said, “Well, I am serious.” You know, all the attention today on the personality of our candidates, I tried to give him a little bone—be serious. We won‘t talk about this.
Anything that had to do with him personally made him go...
RUSSERT: He said American people see you as stuffy, and he looked at you.
WALTERS: I know.
He also—this was the interview in which I said—I said to my producer, “Give me a one-minute signal at the end.” And I said, “Are you sorry you didn‘t burn the tapes?” And he then said for the first time, “Yes, I am.”
Look—you know, look what‘s been said about him. He was a tragic figure. And yet, he was a man who wanted—he—talk about outsider, he was a man who wanted to be understood and never could be.
His shining hour was China. I mean, look at the difference it made when, with the help of Henry Kissinger, he opened the doors to China. And had the—had the wisdom to go and to do that, when there could have been a great deal of criticism.
RUSSERT: Gerald Ford.
WALTERS: Likeable, smarter than most people think. My experience—what I write about more than Gerald Ford is Betty Ford, because Betty Ford has had such a profound effect in America. And when I did what was a farewell interview with Betty and Gerald Ford after he was—knew he wasn‘t going to be president—it was in January—she was obviously on something.
She showed me around the private rooms of the White House, and she was slurring her words. And Tim, I left it out. I didn‘t let the public see it. Today, I couldn‘t have left it out.
And I did the first interview with her after she came out of rehabilitation and then opened the Betty Ford Clinic, and changed people‘s lives, Betty Ford did. That‘s the legacy.
RUSSERT: Why the difference, Barbara? Why could you leave it out then and not now?
WALTERS: First of all, there‘s nothing that‘s private today. And I was in control of it, I could edit it. I felt compassion for her. I thought, I can‘t do this to this woman and this man.
We sat down to do the interview, she had something, a glass, next to her. And Jerry Ford said, “Must you drink that?” And I knew there was something terribly wrong. And I just was not going to be the one to destroy this woman.
RUSSERT: Jimmy Carter.
WALTERS: When I—I did almost the first interview with Jimmy Carter when
I was on “The Today Show,” and I knew there was something about him. There
was an intensity. And when I went to do the specials, Jimmy Carter was the
and Rosalynn Carter—were the first—he was the president-elect.
I had done Barbra Streisand and her boyfriend, John Peters, and President-Elect and Mrs. Jimmy Carter. So I—I had a special relationship with them from the beginning.
I went to see him with Roone Arledge when he was no longer president. I don‘t know why we did, but we did. And he was this little man then, and so bitter and so sad. And the hostages had been taken.
And I‘m not too crazy about what he‘s doing today, but we all know...
RUSSERT: In terms of the Middle East?
WALTERS: Yes. But we all—because I think that—well, I won‘t go into my opinions today. But I think that he just didn‘t understand really what was going on, and everything was turning against him. And then in came this genial, likeable Ronald Reagan. And here was this sad, miniscule Jimmy Carter.
RUSSERT: Ronald Reagan.
WALTERS: Ronald Reagan. I mean, you couldn‘t help but be charmed by Ronald Reagan.
The first time I interviewed him we were talking about the Middle East, and I thought he was woefully uninformed. But he understood the public.
And we look at him today as one of the great heroes. We appreciate him much more today than we did when he was in office. And we had the whole Iran-Contra thing that somehow got, you know, blurred over. But, yes, he was the great communicator.
I did so many interviews with him and so many interviews with Nancy Reagan, and went through the whole time when he was—when he was shot. And did the first interview with him maybe four months later at his ranch, where he was chopping trees. I mean, the emotional recovery and the physical recovery of this man was something to behold.
RUSSERT: George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush.
WALTERS: I had known them very well beforehand. These are the only president and first lady that I knew.
We didn‘t know Barbara Bush when she was in office, the real feisty, smart, tough...
RUSSERT: The Silver Fox they call her.
WALTERS: Yes, but we thought that she was a loveable grandmother after Nancy Reagan. And she‘s loveable, but she was not—you know, she was not the sweet little gray-haired, you know, picture of motherhood. She‘s very smart.
And I thought that his—that his not winning, I never understood it, because there was something wrong with him. I remember doing an interview, the last interview that he did, and asking him about “the vision.” We kept talking about “the vision,” “the vision” thing. And he almost didn‘t know what I was talking about.
I think that he was physically ill at the end. And I think he was a very -
and in many ways really a very good and almost a great president.
RUSSERT: Another quick break.
Barbara Walters is our guest. “Audition” is her memoir.
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back. Barbara Walters is the author. The book is “Audition.”
We‘re talking about presidents.
Bill and Hillary Clinton?
WALTERS: Well, let‘s see. I had said that somehow Bill Clinton never got through to me. I used to think maybe it was because I wasn‘t young enough and he didn‘t flirt with me. I don‘t know.
I mean, you know, we did some good interviews. OK. He got through to me more recently, I think, than then.
Hillary Clinton. When Hillary Clinton‘s book came out, her autobiography,
I was chosen by her wonderful lawyer, Bob Barnett, to do the interview,
which amazed me, because I thought after having interviewed Monica
Lewinsky, Hillary Clinton was never going to pick me. And she did, which I
you know, I give her great credit for, not just for picking me, but to putting that aside.
And we went back to her hometown and she talked about how much—how much she had loved Bill Clinton and what it was like when she met him. And I felt a bond. I understood her as I hadn‘t before.
We then had to talk about Monica. And we did. So I had a special feeling all these years about Hillary Clinton, because I saw the other side.
I did see the warm side. And I did have an understanding for this woman, who is not good looking—didn‘t look the way she looks today with the blonde hair and the contact lenses. You know, she had the big glasses—and what their relationship was, what it must have been like for her to have this dynamic, attractive, brilliant guy mad about her, even if she—even if he was going to take her away from her job in Washington to Arkansas.
I felt I understood her a little bit.
RUSSERT: The big news out of this book for a few days was an affair you wrote about with Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
WALTERS: It‘s about this much of this book, but...
RUSSERT: Do you regret writing it?
WALTERS: I wrote it because it was 30 years ago. And I wanted to show how things were so different then, then now. And I did tell him that I was going—I did write that I was going to do it.
I regret that it‘s become such a big deal. But I thought that if I was talking about my life, it was not just that it was an important relationship, but that it showed how times have changed in 30 years.
Look, he was married. That was wrong then, it would be wrong today, which is why I said I can‘t continue this, you‘ll have to get a divorce.
But in terms of our—in terms of it being an African-American and a white woman, yes, there‘s still prejudice, but, I mean, look how times have changed. I mean, look—you know, look who‘s running for president. And I thought that it was important to speak about the difference.
Throughout this book I‘ve tried to also not just make it about me, but to give some historical feeling of what went on in television, in news, and in my life.
RUSSERT: You have said that sometimes when you interview guests, you like to ask them, “What‘s the biggest misconception about you?”
What is it?
WALTERS: Well, now I think there‘s going to be no misconception about me, because it‘s all out there, Tim.
WALTERS: But I think it was that I was very authoritative and kind of priggish. You see a different side of me on “The View,” but a lot of people—you know, there are some people who don‘t see “The View.” And I have been in control and in command all of these years, as are you, and I think there was the feeling that I never bled, that my life was just one long...
RUSSERT: Success after success after success.
WALTERS: And I think people will I think know me much better now, maybe more than—can I rewrite the book?
But I said in the very beginning that young women come up to me very often and say, “Oh, I‘d like to be you. I‘d like to have your life.”
And I‘ve said, “Then you have to have the whole package. This is the whole package.”
RUSSERT: Is that what “The View” tries to do in talking to women across the country every day—shows the ups, the downs, the good, the bad?
WALTERS: Yes, but I think—I think we‘re all ourselves. And I think that there are a lot of women who are at home taking care of the children, working at home, whatever, who feel isolated. And it‘s like—really, you can argue back at it, you can have your cup of coffee. It‘s like having another cup of coffee and talking to women.
And it‘s not rehearsed. There are no holds barred. And now, with Whoopie Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd and Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, it‘s fun and it‘s exciting.
And you know what? A lot of people get their news from “The View.” Good, bad or indifferent, that‘s where they get the news.
RUSSERT: Of all the things that Barbara Walters has achieved, you can‘t drive.
WALTERS: But there are a lot of things I can‘t do. There‘s so many things.
I‘m afraid to drive. My daughter, I heard her one day when she was a little girl on the phone. And she said, “My mommy can‘t drive. My mommy burns the meatloaf. My mommy can‘t do anything but television.” And some days I feel that.
I‘m a terrible athlete. I mean, you have no idea of the things that I can‘t do. And I‘m not going to list them for you.
RUSSERT: But so far, you can‘t drive, you can‘t cook, and you can‘t play sports.
WALTERS: No. What can I do?
WALTERS: I don‘t know. I can do television and I guess I could write a book. That‘s it. And I can be a friend. I‘m a good friend.
RUSSERT: You know, it is such an important thing, because you have now said repeatedly that the thing you‘ve learned in life is, wake up, have something to love, and have something beyond yourself.
WALTERS: Yes. Yes. And if you can get through the day and have a couple of smiles, you‘re ahead.
This is a very good time for me, Tim. It really is.
RUSSERT: You‘re getting soft.
WALTERS: I‘m getting soft. I‘m going to be a lousy interviewer. I could never now do what you do, unless—unless—one reporter talking to me said—I said, “You know I‘m not auditioning anymore.” And he said, “And what if Osama bin Laden called?” “I‘d say, I‘ll pack my bags and I‘ll be on the next plane.”
RUSSERT: That‘s the Barbara Walters we know and love.
And it‘s all captured in this extraordinary memoir, “Audition,” Barbara Walters.
What a great life. What a great career. What a great book.
Thank you for joining us.
WALTERS: Thank you, Tim.
RUSSERT: See you.
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