Barbara Walters' upbringing was unusual, to say the least. One of her closest friends from youth, psychoanalyst Joyce Ashley, said Walters grew up with "tension in the air."
Walters' memoir, "Audition," which arrived in bookstores this week, explores the difficult childhood that shaped a precocious girl into a woman known around the world, revealing never-before-told secrets from her past.
"She always had the specter of having to take care of this family," Ashley said. Walters' parents, "were unlike any other parents that I knew. Her father was rather mysterious. Her mother was under a great deal of tension because her sister probably had a birth injury of some kind."
Walters' older sister, Jackie, was thought to be "slow."
"My sister was three and a half years older, but from the time she was born, they knew there was something wrong," Walters said. "Today, they will talk about it as a disability, they don't use the word retarded anymore."
Jackie may have been autistic, but at the time, Walters' family didn't know it. What Walters did know early on was a sense of responsibility.
"This is why I always felt that I had to work from an early age. I knew that my sister was going to be my responsibility. My nightmare was that my father was going to lose it all," she said. "I didn't really think he would. And he did."
According to Ashley, success was Walters' only option. At times, it seemed unfair.
Walters said, "I'm not sure that I resented Jackie because everything revolved around her, but I resented the fact that I didn't have a normal life with her. I couldn't have birthday parties because she didn't and I couldn't join the Girl Scouts because she didn't. My life was not normal to begin with because of my father and the whole show business. I mean, he ran these glamorous, wonderful, nightclubs, but you know, he came home at 3 a.m. and slept until one in the afternoon — it was a show business life."
Walters' father, nightclub pioneer Lou Walters, notorious for being a risk taker, fell on hard times in the '50s after opening several new nightclubs that bombed.
"He owed taxes and I think he probably thought there was a life insurance policy, which there wasn't. And he took an overdose of sleeping pills. And my mother called me, and I went down and took him to the hospital," Walters said. "And my mother was a rock."
Walters says she was always closer to her mother than her father, who she didn't see very much.
"I didn't know him until I really was in my 20s, and then he lost it all," she said. "But I am more like my father, probably."
Ashley said, "I think it took Barbara a long time to know who she was ... and I think that she, perhaps, would not have made the marriages she did, some of the choices she did, had she to do it all over again."
Walters admits in "Audition" that she was "no good at marriage," but writes very little about the men in her life, her partners for three failed marriages.
"There was a lot more to each story, and I didn't think it was really fair to do it," she said. "I will not marry again. I'm going to live to be a hundred, and I will not marry again."
Then there were the men that she didn't marry, such as former U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass., the first African-American popularly elected to the Senate. Walters said her affair with Brooke lasted for several years during the '70s. He was married at the time, she was twice divorced.