Sunday, August 30, 2009

Open Letter to Barbara Walters

I've just finished reading your autobiography, Audition. I know, it's been out there a couple of years, but now I've gotten around to it and can only tell you I admire the book and its author more than you can know.It's hard to imagine what it's like to have become an institution in one's own lifetime, but with your adventures and your ability to distill them for us, there's really almost no other way I can look at you.

I am of an age which placed me in a position to watch your early days first hand ("Live!") on the Today show, when you may have been green but I was way greener. I observed the world as it changed around us while you were in the middle. Through you I got to hear a lot of people say things they probably wished they could take back a minute later, and they said those things to you. Then you went forward to others who jumped through hoops for you and may have regretted it. Your relentless questions revealed the reality of many a bogus blowhard and yet you never intruded your own opinions even when you might have wanted to. In Audition, you take us backstage a little, to some of the history you witnessed and even made just by being on the scene--always keeping it chatty, personal, and interesting.

It must be hard for young people to comprehend how difficult it was to do what you did because you were a woman. Men owned the power jobs; and they fought like hell to keep it that way even when you were closing in on them. Some of that atmosphere comes through in your honest telling of the stories you covered, although you never whine. Indeed, your rise coincided with the Women's Movement though you didn't overtly align yourself with it. You simply achieved, in spite of all the odds against you, and the Movement itself benefited from the need for network news to have at least one token female in the high echelons. You were superb at what you did, and your book is a fascinating retelling of many tales along the way.

Dear Ms. Walters, you candidly tell of what it is like to be Barbara Walters, of the forces that helped create you and the childhood insecurities that still push you to keep ahead of the game. With a fabled entrepreneurial father who was mostly absent and always less than available to you--engaged as he was on the up-and-down rollercoaster of nightclub show business--you grew up resilient but always fearful that the splendid job you had might not be there tomorrow. Your mother spent her life preoccupied with your learning-disabled sister.

So you chose television, and the very insecurity of the field may have been the spur you needed. You got the big interviews, bigger as your career moved forward, and nobody knew how hard some of the men in the business made it or how complicated your personal life was. Now, with Audition, we have some idea. Reading it is like getting an aisle seat to history and getting to know a classy woman who knows what to tell and how to tell it.

I'm inspired by your life and pleased with your book. I hope you continue to prosper (I hate to mention you've got a milestone birthday coming up), and that you'll continue to share your experiences so openly both in print and on the broadcast media!

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