The New York Socialite Living a Lie | The Oprah Winfrey Show | Oprah Winfrey Network

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WINFREY: I want you to meet Jeannette Walls. Jeannette was a glamorous entertainment reporter, socialite who says that she was one of those women living a big old lie. Take a look. WINFREY: Entertainment reporter Jeannette Walls was everywhere in magazines, on television and on the Internet, Ms. WALLS: I covered Oscar parties. I covered the Academy Awards. I covered the Golden Globes. I was interviewing the richest, most powerful people in the world. WINFREY: Jeannette wasn’t just covering high society; she was living it, too. Ms. WALLS: I was living on Park Avenue. I was married to a very well-to-do man. I was living in a neighborhood where, you know, Jerry Seinfeld lived. Catherine Zeta-Jones goes my gym. You know, I was–I live a life right out of Vanity Fair. I thought I had everything. I thought this is it. I am everything. But at the same time, I was a complete phony. I’m a liar. I don’t belong here. And I knew that. I lived in fear of being exposed for who I really was. WINFREY: It was just a matter of time before Jeannette’s long buried secret past would be uncovered. Ms. WALLS: I lived in West Virginia. We lived in a little tiny house without indoor plumbing and I would literally wash my face in snow because we didn’t have running water. We had a yellow bucket in the kitchen that we used instead of a toilet. It was disgusting and I had nightmares about for years afterwards. WINFREY: Jeannette’s alcoholic father and eccentric mother could not hold down jobs, so the family was penniless. Ms. WALLS: From a very early age, you just sort of knew this is the way it is, and you don’t turn to Mom and Dad and tell them you’re hungry. You know, we’d go for days sometimes without food. We’d sometimes just look in the garbage behind us for food. When I would go to school, the kids would all–they would just find me and they would beat me up. They would literally throw rocks at us. WINFREY: At 17 with only $100, Jeannette boarded a bus, determined never to look back. Ms. WALLS: I skedaddled out of West Virginia and came to New York. And I got myself a job. I got an apartment. And we had electricity. And we had heat.You could turn on and have a hot bath every single night. WINFREY: With sheer determination, she finished high school, graduated from Barnard, an Ivy League college, and became a rising star reporter. Ms. WALLS: Once I sort of achieved a certain level of success, I was living in constant fear that my secret would get out and that people would realize who I was and who my parents were. I wanted to create a new person. But my past followed me. WINFREY: Meanwhile, to Jeannette’s horror, her vagabond parents trailed her to New York. Ms. WALLS: My first reaction was stay away. Just get away from me. WINFREY: As she lived in the lap of luxury on Park Avenue, her parents slept on the streets. Ms. WALLS: I said, `Please don’t tell anybody that you’re my parents. It’s very hard for me to explain to people why you’re living like this.’ WINFREY: But one night, Jeannette realized she could no longer live the lie. Ms. WALLS: I was going to a party, and I was all decked out, and I glanced out the window. A woman was rooting in the garbage. She was about 15 feet away from me. And the woman was my mother. So to my eternal shame, I slid down in the back of the taxi and I hid. The emotion that seized me at that moment was a fear that she would spot me and that my secret would be out. WINFREY: What happened after you saw your mother in that Dumpster that night? Ms. WALLS: Well, I went home, Park Avenue, and I paced around the apartment and I looked in the mirror and I didn’t much like the person looking back at me. And I got in touch with my mother. We had an elaborate system for getting together. I had dinner with her, and I said, `Mom, what am I supposed to tell people when they ask me about you?’ And she said, `Tell them the truth,’ as though it was the simplest thing in the world, but I felt I couldn’t possibly explain to anybody why my parents were living like that and moreover, what kind of monster would let her parents live on the street while she was living on Park Avenue? WINFREY: Because had you tried to reach your parents? Ms. WALLS: Oh, I was in regular contact with them. They had come to NewYork. They followed. We sort of–they lived with my sister for a while. Things got crazy, then they went out on the street, and I’d seen them from time to time. They’re very articulate people. Well, my father’s dead now. But they were on TV a lot, being quoted about the rights of homeless people, and they were all over the place, and it was just–I was leading a completely fraudulent li… WINFREY: Had you offered to give them a home… Ms.WALLS: Oh, yeah. WINFREY: …or provide them with shelter? Ms. WALLS: Yes. Yes. Many times I’ve offered to help my mother, to have her move in with us. But my mother–and I love her dearly, but she chooses the life she leads. And it took me a really long time to understand and accept that. I’ve finally come to sort of appreciate and not be ashamed of whatever it is that she has to offer. WINFREY: And how did you get to that? Ms. WALLS: I did exactly what my mother told me to do: I told the truth. There was no doubt in my mind that once people knew who I really was, that I would lose all my friends, that I would lose my family or that I would lose my job, that I would lose everything I’d worked so hard for. I’d be a pariah. I hugely underestimated people’s capacity for compassion. So the eye-opener for me has been–you know, shame is a very isolating emotion. And you build up this shell around you. WINFREY: And what was your shame? Was your shame that you had not been able to convince your parents to take another lifestyle? Was your shame that you were in denial about your past life? What was your shame? Ms. WALLS: It was a dual shame. One was that I was living this life while my parents were living another. So it was–guilt was part of it. The other was who I was. It was my past. You know, I had eaten out of garbage cans when I was hungry. I had led a life that I was definitely ashamed of. And I thought if people knew that I wasn’t this glamorous person, that they would reject me.

78 comments

  1. Sad that she valued shallowness. I am sure she was projecting onto people what she would if she found out her friends had the same upbringing. Glad she had a moment of self awareness. We all can change but that takes brutal honesty with one self, and that's the hardest thing to do. Because you realize that you were projecting your poor moral core.

  2. There is a lot of shame carried by responsible children of unhealthy people. For example the line from t swift about falling in love with a careless man's careful daughter… I think every generation tries to escape the adversity of the last.

  3. I dont understand why she is ashamed of who she is and where she came from. Isnt it more impressive? I dont live a fancy life though

  4. Isn’t this the lady that wrote the book about the glass house or something that was made into a movie?

  5. Her book "Glass Castle" was made into a movie with same name staring Woody Harelson. What a crazy upbringing she had..

  6. She shouldn't be ashamed they failed her, why should she be ashamed she worked hard for what she has now. Don't get it 😕

  7. The circles she ran in were most likely old money types – Ivy League grads like herself, Andover grads with trust funds, etc. These people are indeed very snobby and DO look down on new money, even if the person was raised solidly upper middle class, so I can imagine how they would talk about the daughter of Appalachian homeless junkies. I mean she used the toilet in a bucket!

    Of course she carried a lot of shame. And you can tell she is new money by how often she name drops her “PARK AVE” apartment. Cringeworthy but I understand why she felt the way she did.

  8. One of the rules of healthy boundaries is that you have the right to do better than others, be healthier, be happier than others. My own parents made a mess of my childhood and I couldn't stand being around them unless it was on my terms. If I ever felt uncomfortable I politely left. You can't fix others. Worrying about what others think about someone you had no control over being around is frivolous.

  9. I just want to be somebody who can care for my basic feminine hygiene health @the.jeannette.walls not even my basic feminine hygiene health I can't care for R #buy my basic feminine #items esp my #PAD please can u 👂 my 💗heart😭 help #me #too

    IG @joanmorris7050

  10. There's no shame in starting out poor. In fact, it's very inspirational to go from rags to riches, and it's the typical american story. I dont understand why she decided to hide this, not that people would shame her for being poor? I dont get it

  11. I don’t understand her reason for being ashamed! A lot of us came from the “ghetto” …from sort of poverty but we came up and became successful and now living good! She should be proud of the woman she is today! You should never forget your past. Matter of fact she should go back to where she grew up and help those that want help. She’s a sad case…smh!

  12. I can totally see her reason for being ashamed. Her parents failed her. Her mother is weird for choosing to be homeless when she doesn't have to be. The whole situation is embarrassing for her. I'd hide my past too if they were part of it. I can't believe people are actually asking why is she embarrassed and why she hid it! It's obvious to me.

  13. Well she should get them a place to live then. I think her mother just doesn't want to live with her sister. I don't believe they refused her help. That's why she feels guilty

  14. I just don't understand why she would be embarrassed? She is living the American dream because she made a brave decision and worked hard and made a nice life for herself! She should be proud! She didn't make those decisions for her parents… And once she was old enough she made her own way.

  15. how was she living a lie? she left poverty made something of herself and was a success…. i thought this was gonna be a case of an imposter or somethjng actually fraudulent

  16. This is so superficial. People love a good glow up story. Most of us don’t come from money. Hell most of Hollywood is new money. She was valuing the wrong thing it seems.

  17. I dont like her. I like the fact that she managed to raise herself up from poverty and make it big but i reallu hate her attitude. Whatever het parents did, or didnt do in this case, i cannot fathom how she just hide while her mother, the woman who gave birth to her was without food and digging in the garbage. Why be ashamed of where you came from, and why couldnt she with all the money she has take care of her parents, give them a hot meal and try to get close to them. Some people dont have their parents anymore of never knew them, she should think of that instead of Park avenue.

  18. there’s literally no problem with being poor. i think the experience however traumatized her instead of just being humbling and that’s where her shame about life comes from, understandably. the thing is, no one cares about her past but her because she acts like she’s physically moved on but mentally she’s clearly still upset lol. her own mom tells her to just tell the truth but she’s disassociated so much that she says “double life” instead of “my own past” and doesn’t realize she’s finally in control to do it herself even if she’s obsessively thinking about it. she hates her parents for making her live like that, but then also won’t help them get out either because she likely hates them for the fact they forced her to find a way out, when she really came into power to actually help them and not destroy them. overall i think she really hasn’t forgiven herself for her circumstances.

  19. If you haven't read the glass castle I don't think you can fully comment on this story. Her parents were extremely toxic. Dont judge her.

  20. Sorry, but I'd LEAVE my parents on the street if they were that selfish and rotten to have raised me in squalor!!! They got exactly what was coming to them and good for her for getting herself out of it!!

  21. the title of this video made me think that she was living a lie as in she wasnt even rich at all. lol wtf @own channel. change the title.

  22. Girrrrrrrl 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 you started from the bottom now you are here. People that don’t accept the things that made you aren’t your friends.

  23. Damn she could have put them in a little house like she was a horrible daughter . Ashamed but yet not willing to help them. Ugj

  24. Who she was and who she is and who she always been with your poor she’ll always be the girl from West Virginia there’s no running away from your past I don’t care how much money you have unless somebody stand the dogs do you and put his tail in his mouth he will never be able to Catch up to it.

  25. What kind of parents would subject their child to a life of poverty because they couldn't hold down jobs. Then follow her to Park Ave. where she had escaped, harassing her with their presence and threatening her reputation and success. Such awful people. I feel so sorry for this woman. It looks like she had to surrender to the fact that they were never going to stop haunting her and is trying to put a positive spin on it. There is nothing good about toxic family members.

  26. This is an amazing story. I am so proud of this girl who took life in her hands and became whole. Her parents make me so sad. There is something wrong with them to allow this destitution to happen to their children: eating out of garbage cans! She tried to help her parents and I give her credit for that too. What can we do for the homeless in America? We are the land of opportunity and yet our people suffer. Then we help less fortunate countries when our own people live on streets. Sad. 😢

  27. she brought herself out of extreme poverty, went to one of the finest universities, is now wealthy and well known, why is she ashamed???????

  28. I think this is a very inspiring story! She started from the bottom and she worked her way up to park Avenue!

  29. What lie was she living? She literally is a rags to riches story! She should just feel shameful that she didn't hook up her parents after she became rich!

  30. I think it’s brave of her to come out now. Also it’s important to tell your truth even if it’s not “pretty.” It shows other people who may be struggling just as you did that it’s not impossible, you can change your future. Your future does not determine you!

  31. So this dirt poor woman went to an elite university on her own, and made something of herself, and other college kids wants free college, and complains about the cost of living. Learn from this woman, and stop blaming your past for your failures in life.

  32. My only problem is how she had her parents on the street. Other than, that, this is an inspiring story, especially for women. It's not like 'Pretty Woman' lmaooooo

  33. No need to be ashamed, we are not our past, we are not our money or our achievements, we are more than that. We are great souls.

  34. Her past is something to be proud of. She’s a self made woman. Not many women on the upper east side can say that.

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