Image: Pauley Walters Danforth
Jane Pauley talks with Barbara Walters and her daughter Jackie Danforth about Jackie's troubled childhood and her efforts to help troubled teens today.
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updated 12/8/2003 2:33:39 PM ET 2003-12-08T19:33:39

A Barbara Walters interview — four words that generally mean something special is about to happen. We feel privileged that we have something very special to bring you — an interview with Barbara Walters as you’ve never seen her before as a proud mother. And you’ll see why. But first, together with her daughter, Jackie, they talk about their struggle through her teenage years — when Barbara had reason to fear for her child’s life. Dateline NBC’s Jane Pauley reports.

Jane Pauley: “Does your mother know everything that you did?”

Jackie Danforth: “Yes.”

Jane Pauley: “As a child?”

Jackie Danforth: “Every little single thing — everything.”

Barbara Walters: “When I first found out all the things that she had done, I was so shocked. And Jackie is so open. Sometimes I think I wish I didn’t know. You know, don’t tell me. I don’t have to know that, right? And I do, I do think, ‘Oh my God. I mean she could have been raped, she could have been killed.’”

In the summer of 1984, Barbara Walters did not report a very big story — her 15-year-old daughter Jackie, was missing.

“I was a runaway,” says Jackie. “I loved to run. I thought running would solve all my problems.”

For an entire month Barbara didn’t know where she was or what to do about it.

Barbara Walters: “Another parent would call the police. I didn’t want the headlines. It’s not that I didn’t want the headlines for myself. I didn’t want the headlines for her. I thought, ‘I don’t know what she’ll do.’”

Jane Pauley: “What do you mean, you didn’t know what she would do?”

Barbara Walters: “Well, if suddenly she’s reading, ‘Everybody’s looking for Barbara Walters’ daughter,’ it might have made things worse. I didn’t know where she’d run to.”

Today Jackie Danforth has come full circle. Now she runs a wilderness program called “New Horizons” in northern Maine, devoted to rescuing other people’s daughters — troubled teenagers like she used to be. And Barbara Walters is openly talking about one of the most painful episodes of her life.

“I’m doing an interview like this because Jackie said to me, ‘Tell other parents,’” says Walters. “I get calls all the time from people who say, ‘How did this happen? We have a very good marriage. We have given our daughter everything. How did it happen?’ Tell them, Mommy, if it can happen to you, it can happen in any family.”

Their story begins 34 years ago. As co-host of NBC’s “Today” Show in the mid-1960s, Barbara Walters was America’s preeminent news woman. But she wanted something more.

“I had had several miscarriages,” she says. “And when I did, they were never reported. And I would take a couple of days off then, and go back to work.”

After five years of marriage, Barbara and her second husband, Lee Guber, decided to adopt. Their baby girl was born in June 1968 and named Jacqueline, after Barbara’s sister. There was no press release, no announcement of any kind.

“In part because I really didn’t want the biological mother to know that Jackie had been adopted by us,” says Walters. “I just kept right on working.”

It was a different time for adopted children. People kept it secret.

Jane Pauley: “So you didn’t take maternity leave?”

Barbara Walters: “No.”

To put that in perspective, in the1950s, “Today” Show regular Florence Henderson was pregnant, but viewers were not to know. “I was hidden behind umbrellas, behind Dave, I had to sing from behind his shoulder, bushes,” Henderson has said.

Twenty years later, as Barbara Walter’s successor, I could crack jokes about my own pregnancy.

But 1968 was still the dark ages for working mothers — particularly career women like Barbara Walters.

“There was no having it all,” says Walters. “And there was not really a career for women. I never thought about it. I didn’t think, ‘Can I juggle both?’ I probably should have.

“Also, unlike today, you couldn’t bring your child into the studio, and maybe have a dressing room where the nanny could sit there with the child while you did — ‘Oh, by the way, I’m on the air.’ It would be like bringing in a puppy that wasn’t housebroken.

“And when people found out that I had a baby, I began to get mail that said, ‘We knew you were pregnant. We could see it on the air.’ You know, and I would write back and just say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we have this blessed event.’”

But Barbara never tried to keep the secret from Jackie, telling her she was adopted as soon as she could understand.

Barbara Walters: “When she was a little girl, I said, ‘Well, there are two ways that a Mommy can have a baby.’”

Jackie Danforth: “She used to say that some mothers have babies from their tummies, and some have it from their heart. And you came from my heart.”

FEELING OUT OF PLACE

But while her feelings didn’t show, Jackie sensed that something was wrong with the picture.

“I think that somewhere inside you think, ‘Why did people give me up?’” says Jackie. “I think that played a big, big part of it. I think that my mother being who she is played a huge part of it.”

Jackie’s father, Lee Guber, was well known, too — a theatrical producer who brought some of the biggest hits to the Broadway stage, and the best of Broadway to the best of the country. And Jackie always had the best seats in the house.

“I saw ‘The King and I’ backstage, like 392 times or something,” she says.

And she often had a front seat to history. Jackie remembers her mother’s historic interview with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat because she was there.

Jane Pauley: “I’ll never forget she called him Anwar. Anwar!”

Jackie Danforth: “And he called her Barbara.”

Some kids might have thrived on experiences like that, but not Jackie.

Jackie Danforth: “I never felt like I fit into her world. Because everybody else around me at that time when I was growing up wanted to get ahead and achieve and get ahead.”

Jane Pauley: “Your mother’s nature, just as you have your own nature, your mother’s was very driven. I mean, she loved her work — loves her work,

Jackie Danforth: “Yes.”

Jane Pauley (laughing): “I wish she didn’t love her work so much.”

Jackie Danforth: “She loves her work.”

But it’s not love alone that fuels Barbara Walters’ ambition. Though Jackie didn’t know it as a child, her mother’s legendary drive was born out of necessity decades ago when she was “the daughter.”

Barbara Walters: “Everything went very bad for my family when I was still in my early twenties. So it was always going to be over tomorrow.”

Jane Pauley: “Over tomorrow. What do you mean?”

Barbara Walters: “There was going to be no money.”

As a child, there was a lot of it. Her father owned the famous Latin Quarter nightclubs in Miami and New York. Everyone in show business knew Lou Walters.

Barbara Walters: “I mean we lived in enormous luxury — penthouses, trips to Europe, everything. And then my father lost it all. I mean all. So I really — it wasn’t in my head that I had to support my family. I had to support my family. As a matter of fact, when things were so difficult for me, in my early years at ABC, coming home was my salvation.”

At the time of Barbara’s brief partnership with Harry Reasoner in the late 1970s, Barbara’s marriage was breaking up and Jackie was on the edge of adolescence. No wonder she felt like she didn’t fit in. She towered over her classmates. At 12, she was six feet tall.

Jackie Danforth: “It was hard. I mean I went to school with all these cute, small little, you know, adorable girls, that were four-foot-two. And you know here I was this big, gangly girl.”

Barbara Walters: “When they played ‘Spin the Bottle,’ and the bottle came to her, all these little boys who were too short would go — ‘Uhhh.’ That’s very painful. And no matter how many times I told her she was wonderful, no matter how many times I told her I loved her, she felt big and gawky. And I think that was the beginning of her trying to find herself. It was the beginning of the rebellious period.”

SLIPPING AWAY

At 13, Jackie was sneaking out in fishnet stockings and miniskirts to party at Manhattan’s infamous Studio 54 — where even adults misbehaved.

Jackie Danforth: “And then I’d go home at four o’clock in the morning.”

Jane Pauley: “And go to school?”

Jackie Danforth: “And then I’d — nope. Then I wouldn’t go to school. I’d call in sick or I’d pretend I was going to school and I really wasn’t. I just... I didn’t want to be there. I felt like such an outcast that I just didn’t, I didn’t want to be there. I always felt, you know, if we had, I don’t know, a housekeeper, that I could relate more to the housekeeper than I could the girls in my elite private school. And I think that that’s why I felt different.”

Barbara didn’t notice her daughter was slipping away.

Barbara Walters: “I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have known. I should have known. But I was much more innocent. This was my little girl. She seemed happy. ‘How’s everything?’ ‘Fine, Mommy.’”

Jane Pauley: “You are the most probing questioner in the Western world, and maybe the Eastern World, too.”

Barbara Walters: “You don’t do that.”

Jane Pauley: “And you didn’t know?”

Barbara Walters: “You don’t, no. You don’t do that with your own child. I can sit down and do an interview with somebody, and of course I asked her questions. But I’m not going to ask a 13-year-old the kinds of questions that you ask me. You just don’t. This is your child. I would say to her, ‘How do you feel? Why are you sleeping? Do you feel sick?’ I took her to a doctor. I was afraid she had a brain tumor. I didn’t think drugs.”

Jane Pauley: “How much trouble were you really, potentially in?”

Jackie Danforth: “I would have been dead.”

Jane Pauley: “The summer of 84 must have been hell for you.”

Barbara Walters: “Had I been wiser I would have seen things coming. Look, she’s adopted. I don’t want to make too much of that but she is. She’s too tall at 12, she feels. Her father and mother are divorced. And her mother is some kind of celebrity. That’s tough for a child to live with.”

Jackie had been running headlong toward trouble for years before she actually ran away.

“I did marijuana,” she says. “It was called crank then, but it’s now methamphetamines. Quaaludes were all over the place. Valium. And the drugs numbed all the other feelings. But it didn’t take away the issues that I had. They got bigger and bigger. I was more and more isolated from my mom’s world. And I thought running would solve all my problems.”

“Running away” doesn’t quite do justice to the 800 miles Jackie hitchhiked across the Southwest.

“I never thought she was going to run away,” says Walters. “She was going to a summer school nearby. I was engaged then, to be married. I was in California.”

Barbara was engaged to Hollywood film executive Merv Adelson. Her career was back on track. Her daughter was in summer school, but one day she was just gone.

“And when I realized that something had happened, I went to somebody who I trusted and who had a drug rehab program,” says Walters. “And I said, ‘What do I do? I want to call the police.’ He said, ‘Don’t. You’ll hear from her. Wait. Wait a little bit.’ It was a terrible decision to have to make, to wait, to wait for that phone to ring.”

After an agonizing month, it did.

Jackie Danforth: “I ended up hitchhiking with some guy that I, you know, met on the street. And he went through my wallet and found a phone number.”

Barbara Walters: “And he called me. And then I knew where she was. Thank God.”

Jackie Danforth: “She called me, and said that ‘I know where you are. And I’m going to send a plane ticket for you to come home.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to come home. You know, I’m not going to come home.’ But it was basically like, ‘That plane ticket will be there in a day.’”

Jane Pauley: “You weren’t really intending to send her the ticket?”

Barbara Walters: “No. I was not intending to send her the ticket.”

A sadder, but much savvier mother, Barbara sent a 6’ 7” ex-Green Beret. He was giving the orders.

Jackie says, “It’s 3:00 in the morning, I’m sleeping. He walks in and he said, ‘You’re going out west.’ I mean, what was I going to do? He was huge.”

And, no, he wasn’t there to take her home. Barbara had been visiting “alternative schools” and had chosen an intervention program in Idaho — one of the first of its kind.

Barbara Walters: “Even though she, you know, probably kicked and screamed, she knew that things were getting so desperate, she had to go. But to send a child away is heartbreaking. My baby? My baby’s no longer with me? I have to put her in someone else’s hands? And I did. And also, it was enormously important to me that this not be in the papers.

“I did not want to read about Jackie in a tabloid. I did not want — I just knew that for this child, who was struggling enough to be her own person and not be Barbara Walter’s daughter, to have this be headlines. I could have lived with it, OK. You know? But it would have been terrible for her.”

Jane Pauley: “You must have felt like a failure for the first time.”

Barbara Walters: “I’ve felt like a failure for other reasons. It doesn’t just take that. I don’t do this to myself anymore. I don’t now say, ‘If I’d only done this, if I’d only done that.’ Because, Jane, there are mothers who don’t work and fathers who are home all the time. And they still have children who have problems finding themselves.”

A NEW DIRECTION

Suddenly Jackie found herself in the mountains. She was angry and depressed, but relieved. Barbara was right, Jackie was ready.

Jackie Danforth: “At that point in my life, for some reason I looked around. And I thought, you know what? This is not a bad thing. If my mom hadn’t called that transport company, I’d have been dead.”

Jane Pauley: “Do you remember how your first reunion went?”

Jackie Danforth: “Oh, I started bawling. I think I started bawling. And she was bawling and it was this big cry-fest.”

Jackie stayed for three years and credits the program with saving her life. Shortly after she got her diploma, her father, Lee Guber, died of cancer. Jackie was only 18, but set out to meet the world as Jackie Guber, not “Barbara Walter’s daughter.”

“I knew that I couldn’t go back to New York City,” she says. “New York would have been the death of me.”

Instead she went to Oregon where nobody knew whose daughter she was, and she didn’t tell them. Barbara was hurt, she says, but understood. And despite speculation to the contrary says they have never been estranged.

“There is no question of our love for each other. None,” says Walters. “And it’s one of the reasons that she’s never particularly wanted to find her biological mother. It’s not, ‘Who’s my mother?’ I’m her mother.

“But whatever there is in her genes, she feels that she would have been happier living as she is living now — a fairly simple life. But my life is a life of telephones ringing, and traveling, and you know, to some degree, a celebrity life. The exterior part of it — that’s what she’s not comfortable with.”

Three years ago, Jackie wanted to be a little closer. She moved to northern Maine. There she met Mark Danforth, a licensed wilderness guide. She was married in knee-high hiking boots.

“In her invitation it said, ‘In lieu of gifts please send a check to —’ and then there were four different environmental organizations,” says Walters. “I mean I still have a friend who’s getting information from the Ducks Unlimited. That’s Jackie.”

Their differences are so obvious. If Barbara is couture, Jackie is fleece. But when it comes to their work ethic, it’s “like mother, like daughter.” Jackie says she’s a workaholic. And two years ago, she had a brainstorm.

“I always have thought that if everybody else can do it, I can, too,” she says. “I sat back, and I thought what would be the best business that I could run?”

Jackie had never run a business, but she did know how it was to be a mixed up teenager. It would be a wilderness camp.

“I think I said, ‘You’re crazy,’” says Walters. “You know, a bear is going to eat these children! Well, you know, whatever terrible thing. There were no bears. And we both wanted to be very certain that I wasn’t involved. First of all, she has to do it herself.”

Meaning — none of mother’s money, or her mother’s lawyers or accountants.

Jane Pauley: “Where did the money come from?”

Jackie Danforth: “Private investors. I actually saved a bunch of money myself not knowing where I was going in life.”

Jane Pauley: “You have a very wealthy mother, did you let her help?”

Jackie Danforth: “Like any good daughter, no.”

Jane Pauley: “What do you mean?”

Jackie Danforth: “I just, you know she respected that I needed to do this on my own.”

Jane Pauley: “You will accept free advice from your mother?”

Jackie Danforth: “Yes tons of it.”

And Jackie not only did it, but had New Horizons up and running in barely a year.

HELP FOR TROUBLED GIRLS

Jane Pauley: “You didn’t have any experience running an organization, much less creating one from scratch. What in the world made you think that you had any expertise to make this happen?”

Jackie Danforth: “It’s one of those things where I jump in with two feet. And I ask a lot of questions. I am not a therapist. I don’t have any credentials, didn’t graduate college. But I hire people that are very qualified and that know what they’re doing.”

The heart of the operation is a modest field house. Jackie helped build it. The meadow in front is mowed once a year for hay. It’s very rural.

Jackie Danforth: “When they come to Maine, they think they’re in Siberia. We’ve had girls that just have run out of the building and into the field, like a scared deer. And they’re not going anywhere.”

Jane Pauley: “Is that important that it is so far from anywhere?”

Jackie Danforth: “Yes. And I think it’s because it’s so quiet out here that it allows girls to finally hear themselves, hear the voice within themselves.”

Just like Jackie, half a lifetime ago, the girls come with nothing but their troubles and the clothes they are wearing. There is no makeup, no razors, no jewelry, no cell phones. And no contact with home.

“Dateline” had permission to meet a few of the girls. We drove an hour deeper in the forest, and arrived at a campsite by boat, where seven girls were living here in tents.

They’re well-supervised, but have learned to fend for themselves — pitching their own tents, sawing wood for the fire, cooking meals and drawing water from the lake to wash the dishes and their clothes. Their days are filled with hiking and boating, and journal writing. There will be tears, squabbling, bonding, and daily therapy.

Jackie Danforth: “Most of them are very depressed. They’re just angry, depressed, crying.”

Jane Pauley: “Do they turn any of that anger and that hate on you, the substitute?”

Jackie Danforth: “Oh, yes, oh yes. All of us. We get that a lot. But when we have a girl that’s screaming and crying and I say, ‘Listen, I’ve been there, done that,’ they get it. They understand that I’m coming from a real person.”

The point is not lost on Jackie that as Director of New Horizons, she also appears in the role of the mother.

Jackie Danforth: “Little did I realize that God works in funny ways. These girls obviously are doing the same things that I did. So I have a better understanding of what my mom went through.”

Jane Pauley: “What’s it feel like?”

Jackie Danforth: “Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. You are scared for them, You are scared with them. You are scared for yourself.”

Jane Pauley: “Are you looking forward to being a mother yourself?”

Jackie Danforth: “No.”

Jackie has learned a lot about being a parent, but mostly that she never wants to be one.

Jane Pauley: “That’s a firm decision?”

Jackie Danforth: “That’s a firm decision. I run a business. I don’t have a lot of time and it would be selfish of me to have a child. I couldn’t give a lot of time to that child.”

Jane Pauley: “Does your mother know about this?”

Jackie Danforth: “Yes. And it’s a very sore subject with us.”

Jane Pauley: “She wanted grandchildren.”

Jackie Danforth: “She wants grandchildren bad. She loves kids. My mom is the most nurturing person in the world.”

Jane Pauley: “What if she never gives you grandchildren?”

Barbara Walters: “I don’t think she will give me grandchildren.The children that she is helping now are her life.”

Jane Pauley: “How do you know if it’s working?”

Jackie Danforth: “You see it in the girls’ faces. And you hear when parents e-mail you and tell you that this was the best thing that they’ve ever done.”

Jane Pauley: “Well things worked out for you, didn’t they?”

Jackie Danforth: “Yes, things worked out for me, and the girls just love it. And, you’re going to make me cry.”

Jane Pauley: “Why are you nearly crying?”

Jackie Danforth: “Because I love this program.”

Jane Pauley: “And you can’t believe it had a happy ending?”

Jackie Danforth: “Sorry. I get so emotional. The people are so wonderful and the staff is so wonderful that I work with. And the girls are beautiful.”

To have made something of herself — by herself — to have turned the hardest part of her life into the best is the happy ending for mother and daughter.

Barbara Walters: “To be Jacqueline Danforth, is a very special person. She is doing something that she loves. In that way, perhaps it’s like me, her mother. And she says, ‘You see, I take after you.’ Whenever she says that, I’m so touched.”

Jane Pauley: “How proud are you of your mother?”

Jackie Danforth: “Very proud. She’s a great Mom.”

Barbara Walters: “Oh, this is why it’s so nice to do interviews. Your child says things to you, you don’t hear all the time, ‘Oh, gee thanks.’”

“And so here is the ending — to have a child who is at risk who grows up to be like this. I mean not just that I love her and not just that I’m so lucky and this is a part of my life that I think most people don’t know. But it allows me to forgive myself for maybe some of the things I think I should have done better. And to say this to other parents, I mean, ‘Look, at this kid.’”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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