May 7, 2008— -- 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.
During a recent appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Walters said she was "infatuated" with Brooke, despite warnings from a friend who told her to call off the affair, saying that this would "ruin" Brooke and her career, as well.
She kept her secret, until now.
"He had a bad marriage, but in those days, you didn't get divorced," Walters said. "He was one of the most fantastic, attractive, intelligent, difficult — fascinating! And I put him in the book ... perhaps because it was such a different time, and I wanted people to understand how different it was then."
Walters wrote to Brooke, who is now 88, to tell him that she had included him in her memoir. So far, he hasn't written back. He's kept mum in the press, too, saying that he doesn't wish to discuss his personal life.
Walters' relationship with another senator, John W. Warner, R-Va., also developed during the '70s.
"We went out a great deal, then he married Elizabeth Taylor, and I did an interview with both of them — that was bizarre," Walters said.
After Walters' third divorce, she and Warner saw each other again. "I watched John emerge into one of the most effective senators. We are still friends," she said. "It was not a platonic relationship then. It certainly is today."
Although Walters desperately wanted a biological child, she decided to adopt a little girl after having three miscarriages. She describes her daughter as "a blessing."
"You know, when you have an adopted child, people can't understand that it's yours. I mean, I've said, born in my heart. Maybe not in my uterus, but in my heart," Walters said. "And so, I can't think of not having Jackie."
Jackie Danforth's adoption by Barbara and her husband at the time, Lee Guber, happened 39 years ago.
As a child, Danforth didn't make it known that she was Barbara Walters' daughter, "because it changed people's perceptions of me."
Walters said, "She never knew whether somebody liked her because she was Barbara Walters' daughter. She found it very hard. She founded and runs a therapeutic wilderness camp in Maine, which treats adolescent girls in crisis. She was an adolescent girl in crisis."
Danforth jokes that she began acting out "right out of the womb."
At 13, she was drinking and popping Quaaludes, a type of sleeping pill, at Studio 54, the hip discothèque that reached a pinnacle of lush excess during the '70s and '80s.
"You are in fantasyland," Danforth said of the club. "You have no idea where you are. And all of your problems supposedly seem to have gone away."
Walters remembered her daughter's struggle with uppers, downers, marijuana, and "almost any pill she could swallow."
By the time Danforth was 14, Walters said it was "like a gong went off. It was more than rebellion. We struggled through schools, and then, finally, at one point, when she was 16, I guess, she ran away."
Danforth headed to New Mexico.
"I just wanted — I was just running," Danforth said. "At that point in my life, I really — really think, in my bones, that I did not care if I lived or died. It was — I'm just going to get to the next place."
After finding her daughter, Walters brought her only child to an "emotional growth school" where Danforth lived for three years.
"I was pissed!" Danforth said, but she acknowledged that the school saved her life. "I have such empathy for [my mother] and what she had to go through."
During Walters' visits to the school, she reflected on her busy schedule. Her job was one that many dream of but highly demanding of her time and energy.
"When I went up to her school, I saw parents who had stayed home with their children, and parents who didn't. I'm not sure, and maybe this is my defense, that it wouldn't have happened, anyway. But certainly, my job didn't, didn't help," Walters said. "Guilt is my middle name. My real middle name is Jill, but it should be Guilt."
Whoopi Goldberg, one of Walters' co-hosts on ABC's daytime talk show "The View," gives Walters credit for breaking down professional stereotypes. "You need big balls to be a famous woman who has ideas," Goldberg said. "Barbara has blazed a trail for herself."
Walters says simply that she "did what had to be done."
"I think I am more vulnerable, I think, I think from doing all of these years in front of the cameras asking the questions, my reputation was at best, pushy-cookie, and at worst, tough," Walters said.
Jackie said, "Being her daughter I know that vulnerability. I can see it when she reads something that hurts her or when she said something she felt she shouldn't have said and she feels vulnerable — exposed."
But despite this vulnerability, Walters adjusted to the challenges of fame and family. Today she says she's happy, and feels secure.
"I'm in a very good place. I feel finally financially secure. You know, that, that worried me all my life, with, with the family members that I had to take care of. And it's fun. It's fun. I mean, for the most part, I like being Barbara Walters."