Barbara Howar Unleashes a New Book and Snappish Opinions, Mostly About Herself

The imminent publication of Barbara Howar’s first novel has created a peculiar suspense. Since Howar has so far shown no signs of eclipsing Lillian Hellman or Erica Jong, the suspense has little to do with the expectation of a literary masterwork. Rather it is the anticipation—in some places, fear—that the Washington socialite may reveal intimate details of her much-talked-about private life.

To a degree, Barbara has. She of course denies that the novel, Making Ends Meet, is autobiographical. “My editor told me from the beginning,” Howar says, “if you write a book about a Chinese quarter horse dealer in Toledo, they’re still going to think it’s your story.” Maybe. The novel’s main character, Lilly Shawcross, however, is a lusted-after 40-year-old divorcee (Howar is 41), a movie critic on TV (Barbara is more a permanent floating talk show guest), who lives in Georgetown with a son and daughter and grieves over her late mother (all of that checks).

The book is also sure to touch off guessing games about who the other characters really are. During her years in Washington, if Howar hasn’t learned where all the bodies are buried, she at least has a good idea where they spent the night. While she discourages speculation about herself, she admits, “When the Tonight show sends for me 11 times in one year, it’s not because I live in Cleveland. I always know what’s going on.”

Howar’s first book was an autobiography, Laughing All the Way. It was billed as “a real insider’s look at Washington” and most of it was devoted to Howar’s transition from an affluent Raleigh, N.C. family to Washington society. There, as the aggressive wife of a wealthy real estate man, Ed Howar, she gave mod parties, wore revealing outfits and became the hostess with the mostest publicity.

She was on the fringes of the Johnson administration, becoming Lady Bird’s hairdresser while working as a volunteer in the 1964 campaign. Barbara served as fashion adviser and chaperone to the Johnson daughters. Later, after divorcing Howar, she was a sometime companion of Henry Kissinger.

Her book contained a minimum of titillating examples of high-level misbehavior. She did recount, in considerable unembarrassed detail, her own affair with a White House adviser, while she was still married. That came to an abrupt end when Howar and four private detectives made an unannounced middle-of-the-night call on Barbara and her lover in a resort in Jamaica.

She and her husband reconciled briefly, then divorced in 1967. Barbara was granted custody of daughter Bader, named for a paternal grandmother, and son Edmond. She went to work as a TV interviewer on a local talk show.

Barbara was a quiet hit there, which led to a syndicated interview show on which she teamed with Joyce Susskind. It bombed, and Barbara fell upon hard times until Laughing All the Way appeared. Friendly reviews, like the New York Times’s “delightful, gossipy, hilarious,” coupled with Howar’s tireless promotion, made it a best-seller, number one for 26 weeks.

Before and after the book Howar had a “very volatile relationship” lasting three years with editor-writer Willie Morris. Since Morris, the one particular man in her life has been TV writer Herb Sargent.

The success of Laughing All the Way revived her image and her finances and established Howar as a literary super-saleswoman. Even before the publication of Making Ends Meet in hard cover, paperback rights have been sold for $800,000. (Of which she complains she’ll keep only $30,000—”my father said I’d be much less of a radical once I had something to lose, and I hate to agree with him, but it’s true. I’d like to know what they’re spending it on.”)

Howar’s present plans call for trying another national TV show and perhaps writing a screenplay. Meanwhile, she reigns as one of the most uninhibited, outspoken women in Washington.

“Sometimes,” she says, “I wake up at three in the morning and think, ‘Oh, God. Why did you have to tell somebody exactly what you thought? I mean, who asked for your opinion?’ ” PEOPLE Washington correspondent Clare Crawford did, on a number of subjects. Here are Howar’s replies:

On men

Men are a necessary evil. I don’t trust them as much as women. I don’t like them as much. I don’t respect them as much.

I never really wanted to be a man. And I’m not terribly competitive with them unless they’re doing something I’m doing and I see I’m doing it as well or better.

I was having dinner the other night with this terribly attractive man. And yet he was not in politics, writing, journalism, television or the theater. He’s a manufacturer of luggage. And I was talking about Patty Hearst. He said, “Well, she should spend 20 years in jail.” My dear, it was as if somebody had pulled the plug. I could not be civil to him after that. All my life I could never fool around with a Republican.

But I’m crazy about men. Always have been. If there’s somebody out there who’s terrific and supportive and has a grand sense of humor, who’s not threatened by me or what kind of life-style I want to have with my children while I still have them, I would love that. I think it would be marvelous.

If there’s not, it’s not going to be the end of the world. I would prefer it, but I’m not going to lie down and die if it’s not there. Anyway you never get marriage proposals from somebody unless you’ve had a relationship. People just don’t say, “Hey, you with the yellow hair, I’d like to marry you.”

On her own love life

I am highly monogamous. The only time I have not been monogamous is when I was married, and that was only toward the latter part when I was so unhappy. I was looking for somebody else to make me over. But when I have an emotional involvement, it lasts for years. I have no interest in testing other waters. When I’m okay, I’m okay.

The last five years of my life there’ve been very few men. It looks like I have a very low sex drive. I don’t think so. I don’t attach myself to that many people, and I have never been good at grudge-screwing or all those things people do because I have this idea that affection is not to be spent so lightly. I don’t have that much of a sexual need that it overcomes my sense of self. I’m not about to fall into bed with somebody just for the sexual satisfaction. Somehow I make do. I must cross my legs a lot.

On women

Any woman who tells you that she can hold down a career—not a job, but a career—and raise children and keep up with a man and a home and social life and a sex life and not suffer for it is lying. It is not possible.

Any woman who tells you having your own career or own identity is enough, she no longer needs a man, either knows something I don’t know or has taken up with women.

I think women’s lib is terrific, though. I think that those ladies have done a great deal of good in changing the law and making people aware. If I come in to a party now and there are good women there, I go straight to them. We have so much in common, so much to compare. I’d rather sit down with Sally [Quinn] and Nora [Ephron]. Barbara Walters and I have lunch, and we just have the best old time, just going at it.

I think women are more honest, more trustworthy, straighter, play fewer games. Games invariably crop up between men and women. But lesbianism is just not on my list at all. Somebody else wants to be one—terrific. They can be a Methodist or a lesbian, or whatever they like. If somebody happens to be a lesbian, I think it would be enormously convenient. It’s just not what I’m going to be.

On sex

Everything in the world is based on sex. Just because I haven’t found a man I’m going to settle down with the rest of my life doesn’t mean I’m going to swear off. I will be looking till I die. I walk down the street. I think, mmm, that’s not bad. Wonder what that would be like? If I don’t feel that way, I hate to mess my hair up.

I never have been any good at sleeping around to get what I wanted. If I’d had the ability to do that, you wouldn’t have seen me for my dust. I have never been able to take a favor from anybody, and it would never cross my mind to get in bed to further myself.

On money

I still worry about money.

I’m going to try another television show, but once you get over 40 they begin to think people can’t relate to you. I’m at an age where I can’t sell soap and toilet paper much longer. I figure I have maybe a year or two more and I’ll just take the money and run.

I’ve never bought cheap liquor. We’ve never eaten beans. I have never not changed the sheets once a week. And if I’m only going to buy one sweater I’ll buy cashmere and convince myself that it is the best sweater in the world.

On style

I went through a period of about four years when I didn’t care what I put on my back. Clothes still don’t interest me very much. I have five or six pairs of blue jeans that are soft and comfortable, and I protect those the way some people take care of the family jewels. I have two or three man-tailored suits. And I like boots. I never wear skirts because I don’t like the shoes that go with skirts. At night I’ve got five or six things. Long skirts with tops that go over them, or a caftan, or something that’s a little bit dressier than jeans and a sweater.

I have no jewelry whatsoever. I have one good gold bracelet that I usually wear all the time. Everything else I sold when I needed the money. If anybody walked into my house, all they could find to steal are four broken television sets.

On her beauty regimen

When my hair looks ratty and stringy and awful, I feel ratty and stringy and awful. I have it done every 10 days.

I hate to get too heavy because I feel miserable and I am in a foul humor. Outside of that, very little worries me. I’ve never had a facial in my life. I don’t wear a great deal of makeup, and I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. But I do like to feel that my hair is clean when I can reach up there and scratch and nothing comes out onto my clothing.

On religion

I’m a practicing nothing. I have strong rapport with the Lord. When I run out of money, when I am scared, when a plane is landing or when something is wrong with the children, then I make great bargains. “Get me out of this one, sweet Jesus, and I’ll never pull it again.”

On her disposition

I have learned a lot about myself. We’re all born lonely, but a really lonely woman is one of the most pathetic things in the world. I’m alone a great deal of the time, but my loneliness is mostly alleviated by my children, my family, and I have got very good friends. I love my children, I adore my two sisters and my father and I have come to a point where we tolerate each other. Of course, I have self-doubts, everybody has self-doubts. I couldn’t do what I’ve done if I weren’t motivated by some sense of self-doubt. I’ve never known anybody who doesn’t have insecurities. You harness them and make them work for you.

I have been accused of many things. Being overly confident is not one. I mean I have no arrogance for that reason. I am positive that I could fall on my ass tomorrow. I’ve been up and down too many times.

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