Audition: Barbara Walters' Journey

Walters' rocky path to success, and the risks she's taken along the way.

ByABC News
May 5, 2008, 1:45 PM

May 6, 2008 — -- Success doesn't come without a cost. And nobody knows that better than Barbara Walters. She says her life has been a series of attempts "to be accepted."

"I've been auditioning all my life," Walters said. "Almost every aspect of my professional life was an audition."

Today, she released her revealing autobiography, "Audition," an intimate look at her personal life and her career, which has forever altered the workplace for women.

Walters, who admits to being "in my 70s," wasn't born with makeup in place and cameras jockeying for position. She had a relatively quiet childhood near Boston and her family later moved to Manhattan.

Show business was part of her life practically from the cradle: Walters' father, nightclub pioneer Lou Walters, founded the famed Latin Quarter, a cabaret on 48th Street and Broadway in New York City that later expanded to several other cities.

"It was for me the most glamorous place. This is where I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and prom nights," Walters said. "Some people had a, I don't know, a doctor for a father. I had a producer."

The Latin Quarter was a precursor to Las Vegas, presenting the kind of nightclub glitter that's been perfected in the the blinding metropolis that Las Vegas is today.

"You could dance. Big, live orchestra and for about $8.50 you got a full-course dinner. And then came this huge show, all these girls with the costumes," Walters said.

Lou Walters was an impresario, but he was also a gambler and a risk taker who made several fortunes and lost several fortunes, taking the family from penthouse to penny-pinching. It had a profound effect on his younger daughter.

"I don't gamble," she said. "I've taken a lot of risks, I've realized when I look back, but they were very hard-made decisions" connected with her career, Walters added.

Walters has had her professional pratfalls. Her most publicized failure was as a co-anchor, with Harry Reasoner, of the "ABC Evening News" in the late 1970s. When ABC pulled the plug on the duo, Reasoner went back to CBS and Walters hit the road as a roving correspondent for ABC.

"The most important thing, almost, I think, is to fail at some point, so when you work your way back," she said, "you can say, "Hey, it wasn't all luck.'"

Some of it was looks. Walters maintains that her first job came about because of her legs.

"When I graduated from college, I went to an employment agency, and there was a man following me up the stairs and he hired me. I thought because I could do speed writing. He said he'd liked my legs," Walters said. "I think he ogled."

If someone made a pass, Walters said that was "par for the course." It was a time when women served as decorative objects within the media and little else.

She eventually landed a gig as a writer on "The Today Show," where she did occasional on-air appearances. She also met Hugh Downs, who would eventually become her co-anchor on "20/20."

Walters became an on-air regular, and later, a co-host of "The Today Show." But she wasn't always co-equal.