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Barbara Walters opens up to King

  • Story Highlights
  • Walters on Star Jones: "Star is a great talent. I think that she's suffering now"
  • On Rosie O'Donnell: "I love Rosie. ... She had her own very strong opinions"
  • On Gilda Radner's SNL skits: Eventually, "she made me laugh. I will miss her"
  • Says presidential contest, with its youth and Internet focus, is "an entirely new race"
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(CNN) -- Barbara Walters joined "Larry King Live" on Monday night, where she talked about her climb to the top of TV and her opinion of former "View" co-stars Star Jones and Rosie O'Donnell.


On "Larry King Live," Barbara Walters talks about her career, lovers, friends and family.

Her new autobiography, "Audition," also takes a look at off-camera topics, including her childhood, family life and love affairs.

Larry King: Barbara Walters, the legendary broadcast journalist, ABC News correspondent, host of "The Barbara Walters Special," creator and co-host and co-executive producer of "The View." Her memoir "Audition" is out, and it's an instant best-seller. I'll tell you how instant. See this cover? It has sold an unprecedented 250,000 copies in less than a week. Does that surprise you?

Barbara Walters: It delights me. I don't know very much about publishing, but I hear that that is unprecedented, and it makes me very happy.

King: Of course the press was unprecedented too. I mean, you got so much. ... So it must make you feel good.

Walters: It does make me feel good. The fact that people are buying the book, I mean, I'm not trying to do plug, plug, plug, but that young people have been coming up to me and old ones. Especially the young people, especially the young women who say, you know, you helped us. I mean, that gives me enormous satisfaction.

King: Well, you did. You cut a path.

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Walters: Well, I don't think that I was waving the flag for it, but -- and then I had terrible failures, which I write about. When I first came to ABC from NBC to be the first female co-anchor of a network news --

King: At a million dollars a year.

Walters: Well a million dollars, $500,000 for the news, which is what my partner Harry Reasoner was getting, $500,000 for specials, which are still going strong after 30 years. But I was a total failure. And I was supporting my mother and my father and my sister and my child. And I think of people today, you know, who are going through it. And I hope that this -- you know, losing jobs. And I can't exactly compare. But I hope that my survival gives them, what, some hope, you know?

King: You said you couldn't have written this earlier. Because?

Walters: I could not have written it while my mother or father or sister were alive. I talk about my sister, who you knew, Larry. And you knew my father. Because my sister, who was older than I, was considered mentally retarded. And I loved her and I felt resentment about her.

I think a lot of people can relate to that. My father, who was this giant in show business, Lou Walters, Latin Quarter, and then lost everything.

It was a fascinating childhood because it was all these glamorous show people. So I grew up knowing the show people, and I write about celebrities also have their problems. But it was also very lonely. I used to sit in the lighting booth of the Latin Quarter in Florida when I was 7, 8 years old. I could do everybody's act. ... I ask you, is this a childhood?

King: This is television history here. All right, let's discuss some areas of the book that are getting a lot of attention. ... One of the things that's getting a lot of attention is the Star Jones question. ...

Walters: She did a lot of shows after she left "The View."

King: But she did us first. She flew here and did us. You were in England when it happened. What happened?

Walters: Star was wonderful. And you know, Star is going through a very hard time now. She lost her show. She's getting a divorce. She went into that marriage, you know, so in love. And I really want to remember the happy days and the good days because Star was a wonderful talent. What happened was that she had a gastric bypass which she has talked about recently, but didn't then. The audience knew she'd had it. And we were --

King: She said it was a diet, right?

Walters: She said it was portion control and Pilates. It used to drive ["View" co-host] Joy Behar crazy. She was our colleague. And we had to lie for her because she didn't want to be exposed. But audiences are very smart. And the ratings started to go down. And then there was the whole thing with this most lavish wedding, without going into great detail on how she was promoting some of the things.

I would never have let Star go. I was very fond of Star. But I don't control -- this is a network program. And the network wanted us to let her go. The ratings were going way down. The focus groups showed it. They wanted us to let her go before Christmas. I wouldn't do it. And finally, they said it has to happen.

And again, we lied for Star. We said "you can say anything you want to say." And she came out, did an article in "People" magazine and said she's telling the truth, we're liars. It took her a long time to get a job. Star is a very special person, and I have -- it may sound funny. But you know, we had wonderful times together --

King: You were hurt.

Walters: -- on that show. I was very hurt. And you know what, this is not the time -- Star is -- as I said, Star is going through a very difficult --

King: You wrote this before she got divorced and everything, right?

Walters: Yeah. Well, just when it came out I knew -- and I was very sad because she went into that, you know, so lovingly.

King: The night after she left "The View," she was on this program, and said this. I want you to watch, get your reaction.

(Begin video clip)

Star Jones: I'm sad that I learned everything I could about one of the greatest broadcasters in the history of the world over nine years and she didn't learn anything about me because obviously it is -- to leave with dignity is to tell the truth. And I wanted to put all that baggage aside in every aspect of my life.

(End video clip)

King: ... Just one other quote from her. "It's a sad day when an icon like Barbara Walters in the sunset of her life is reduced to publicly branding herself as an adulterer, humiliating an innocent family with accounts of her illicit affairs and speaking negatively against me all for the sake of selling a book. It speaks of her true character." Video Watch an analysis of the criticism »

So she's still pretty ticked. You're not ticked?

Walters: You know, poor woman. You know, she's gone through so much. And you know, to write that, I mean, what she's talking about is very tiny -- you and I can talk about it. Such a small part of what is a very good and honest book.

We made a mistake. We should have told the truth about Star from day one. She didn't want us to. She said, "I don't want to be a poster child for gastric bypass."

And now she's talking about the fact that she's being so truthful. I wish her well. I think Star is a great talent. I think that she's suffering now. And that's why she's lashing out. And I'm not going to be a part of that.

King: ... So we'll move to another area, Rosie O'Donnell.

Walters: Oh, I love Rosie. And Rosie and I e-mail each other all the time.

King: What happened there, though?

Walters: Well, what happened with Rosie at the end, Rosie decided not to come back. It was her decision not to come back. I was sorry. I thought that Rosie -- I mean, she -- she had some feuds. She had the Donald Trump feud, which I got in the middle of. Didn't want to be but was. She had her own very strong opinions.

But Rosie and the network could not come to agreement. She only had a one-year contract. And she decided not to come back.

King: Were you ticked over what Donald said about you?

Walters: Well, I didn't know how I got in the middle of it. You know, and suddenly there I was. Donald had been my friend. I went to Donald and Melania's wedding. So suddenly I was in the middle of this mess. I mean, when Rosie started to pick on Donald, I was off on a friend's boat. So suddenly, I'm in the middle of --

King: Have you heard from Rosie since the book?

Walters: All the time. I just e-mailed Rosie yesterday because she's in the revival of "No, No, Nanette." And Rosie sent me flowers. And Rosie, if you're listening, there was no one home. Thank you, darling, but they're dead by now. ...

King: One more thing on Rosie. She talked about you the other day on "The Today Show," your old TV stomping ground where you were the co-host. Let's take a look.

(Begin video clip)

Rosie O'Donnell: She's a forerunner, a legend. She really did pave the way. You have to realize, when she was the weather girl here on "The Today Show," women weren't allowed to dream of speaking to foreign dignitaries and world leaders. This woman defied the odds. She did it when women were told they couldn't. And you know, that's pretty amazing.

Unidentified: So you're friends today, you and Barbara?

O'Donnell: Yes. We e-mail. You know, I forced her to sort of be more emotional than she's comfortable with. When the whole thing happened with Trump and then we -- you know, I was upset that she didn't, like, call me and defend me. And so I told her. And I told her in crying hysterics -- you know, Barbara, you never -- and she was like, what are you doing?

(End video clip)

King: Everything true, but you weren't the weather girl.

Walters: I was never a weather girl. I was a writer on "The Today Show" before I started. They put me on for 13 weeks, and I stayed for 13 years. And I write about those years. They were wonderful. Most of it was wonderfully happy. Some of it was not.

King: You've been romantically involved with two United States senators. Sen. John Warner, great guy.

Walters: Wonderful man. Wonderful senator.

King: Married to Elizabeth Taylor.

Walters: Married to Elizabeth Taylor.

King: Your affair wasn't when he was married to Elizabeth Taylor. ...

Walters: My friendship was before he married her. I interviewed both of them when he was married, and then after they divorced we saw each other for a long time. We are very good friends. He's happily married. And we still talk to each other. ...

King: Was it difficult to write about things like relationships?

Walters: Well, I wrote about very few. I mean, you read the book.

King: There have been many more, is that what you're saying?

Walters: No, no. Would that there were. You know my favorite story about -- then we'll get back to it -- about my maternal grandmother, who when she was -- my paternal grandmother, when she was on her deathbed, she said -- because I write about the background of my family. OK. She said, you know, I'm a virgin. And the grandchildren said, well, Grandma, how could you be a virgin. You had seven children. At least that means you must have been with Grandpa seven times. She said, but I never participated. So I would like to say that now.

King: You never participated.

Walters: But I wrote about Alan Greenspan and John Warner and Sen. [Edward] Brooke because they were meaningful relations in my life. But in particular about Sen. Brooke because this book in many ways is history. And I was trying to show the difference between the way a relationship with an African-American was 31 years ago when this happened and the way it would be today.

King: You could never be public?

Walters: No. And that is why it -- we knew that it had to break up.

King: People don't know. If you're too young you don't remember. I've interviewed Sen. Brooke. He was a charming, bright, funny. And he was a liberal Republican and the first African-American in the Senate since reconstruction.

Walters: Yes. And I met him during Watergate. I mean, I wasn't interviewing him, but we were introduced. And he was a fascinating man. It was a relationship at the time that was important. As I said, 31 years.

King: Did you feel guilt knowing he was married?

Walters: Yes. And that's why we broke it up, because he was married and it was -- you know, there are people in life who have had relationships that had difficulties, maybe even with married people. We knew it was wrong. We broke it up. And I put it in because of the way I put other things in the book, because I was going to tell the truth about my life. I was not going to be this wonderful perfect --

King: It's a great book in that regard. Was there any hesitancy -- And this is of courses because at the time of when it was in that decade -- about being with a black person?

Walters: But that's one of the reasons that I did it. Because today, I mean, look, Larry, we have an African-American who may be the next president of the United States. First of all, if he and I were together today, it would have been kept secret for about 30 seconds, with YouTube and everything. And second, there are a great many interracial relationships. At that time, there were very few.

I think because my father was in show business, because I grew up seeing all these different acts, I probably was colorblind. ...

I wrote to Sen. Brooke to tell him that I was writing about him, and I got a very nice letter back, which I don't -- I won't say what I said and what he said, but it was very nice. ... He remarried. He has a grown son. I hope it's a very happy, happy marriage. ...

King: Tell me about Jackie.

Walters: My daughter Jackie, who has terrible stage fright. She's on "The View" tomorrow. We taped it earlier. She had to do that for Mommy. This was the most difficult --

King: You have two Jackies, your sister and your daughter.

Walters: I assumed you were talking about my daughter.

King: Either way.

Walters: Let me start with my daughter because the book is dedicated to my sister and I daughter. My sister was 3 and a half years older than I. And she was in those days called mentally retarded. Today, they would call it developmentally disabled. And she stuttered terribly. And they made fun of her, the kids. And they made fun of me. And look how pretty she was. And I resented her. I loved her --

King: Why?

Walters: She isolated me. People made fun of her. They made fun of me. I didn't bring friends home because they didn't understand about Jackie.

King: You were not close?

Walters: Yes. But anyone who has somebody, who has a sibling can understand the guilt that I felt, because I didn't take her everywhere with me, and I always knew that she would be my responsibility. ...

My sister might have been autistic. We didn't know about autism. There were not workshops where people with special needs could go. Nobody hired her. It was a very different time. ...

Now, my daughter --

King: How's she doing?

Walters: She's wonderful. She runs an adult -- a therapeutic wilderness program called New Horizons in Maine for adolescent girls in crisis. The ironic thing about this, the amazing thing about this, is that she was an adolescent girl in crisis. And we had a terrible time. And this was the chapter that I did not know whether I -- I said to my publishers, I can't put this in. And Jackie, my daughter, said, Mom, people have to know what we went through, because there are so many mothers and fathers going through this today with their children. We have to tell them how we made it and why we made it. You put that chapter in.

King: That may be the most poignant.

Walters: It's the hardest for me.

King: It is.

Walters: I'm not having such an easy time talking about it. ...

My sister died of ovarian cancer. ... My mother died at 91, and my father died before. You know, when my sister died, my mother was already going through some dementia. And I never told her that my sister died. ...

King: You were speaking when you learned your sister died?

Walters: My sister had an operation for ovarian cancer, and I was supposed to speak in Milwaukee for ABC. And I left her, and I said, darling, you know, I'll be back, Jackie. And I went to make the speech, and just before I went on stage they told me that my sister had had an aneurysm.

King: Did you speak?

Walters: She was gone. Did I speak? I didn't -- I just didn't know what to -- I went out. I don't remember what I said. I thought I could go out and say my sister just died. But you know, you don't do that when there are 2,000 people listening to you. ...

King: Gilda Radner, the late Gilda Radner -- what a great lady she was -- playing you on "Saturday Night Live" is still one of everyone's favorite skits. Let's look.

(Begin video clip)

Gilda Radner, "Saturday Night Live:" I'm Barbara Wa-wa. And tonight we'll be talking to an actual living legend, the incredible Mawina Deutschland.

Unidentified: Thank you. It is great to be here.

Radner: Mawina, what is it like to be a living legend?

Unidentified: It has been a really rich experience.

(End video clip)

King: Did you like that or not?

Walters: I didn't at the time. But you see I laugh today. Yes, because you know, I thought she's making fun of me. And I said -- my daughter said to me, oh, Mummy, for heaven's sakes, where's your sense of humor? And I met Gilda. She and I had the same makeup person, it seems. She knew how I sat. She knew how I talked. And when she died, I --

King: Of the same disease your sister --

Walters: Of ovarian cancer. I wrote to [her husband,] Gene Wilder, and I said, she made me laugh. I will miss her. And I signed it Barbara Wa-wa. One of the things I love about doing "The View" is that people know I have a sense of humor. I wish I had more of it then when she was calling me Barbara Wa-wa to realize there are a lot of people who didn't realize who Barbara Walters was, and she was making me famous. ...

King: What's your opinion of the way the [presidential] race has gone?

Walters: It's one of the most fascinating races that we -- I mean, I've covered campaign after -- I've interviewed every president since Richard Nixon. I have never seen a campaign like this. Have you?


King: No. I've interviewed every president since Richard Nixon. We're tied. ... Do you think it's going to be a tremendous turnout in the fall?

Walters: I think the wonderful thing, if it continues, and I think it will, is the young people who are involved, and what the Internet has meant. It's changed history. It's changed all our ways of not just how you raise money but how you reach out to people. It's an entirely new race. ...

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