' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why I won't miss Barbara Walters

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why I won't miss Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters--as everyone with a television set know--retired the other day with a great deal of fanfare on the tube acknowledging her role as someone who pioneered women in broadcasting. I watched The View wondering if there would be a mention of her adopted daughter because Walters rarely if ever mentioned her. Nada.

But earlier that day on Good Morning America Walters read a message from her daughter, Jackie, that made her eyes mist, as I learned later from a clip: "I just wanted to say I was thinking of you tonight. Tomorrow is a special day. You have impacted this world as very few can. This is a transition towards a new journey. I love you and wanted you to know how proud I am of you." 

Walters read the message off her phone and admitted, "This is the only time I cry. This is from my daughter Jackie, who never wants people to know she's my daughter because she wants to live anonymously and she does."

Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Barbara Walters, Amy Robach and Lara Spencer appear on Good Morning America on May 16, 2014. - Provided courtesy of ABC/Ida Mae Astute
Walters' send-off on Good Morning America
I was curious about this because basically her daughter all but disappeared from Walter's television commentary years ago. But for decades she used the pulpit of television to be an advocate of sealed birth records--it drove all of us in the reform movement nuts! She would be first on the scene to do a clip about a battle between adoptive parents and natural mother/father, and since the adoptive parents were good, upstanding citizens with a stable life, and with more money than the beleaguered biological parents, she always came down on the side of the adopters. Made Florence Fisher and me crazy! She never bothered to add that she was an adoptive mother, having adopted a daughter, Jacqueline Dena Guber, in 1968. Since that was two years after I relinquished, I followed this part of her story with interest. Walters was married to Lee Guber, a theater producer and owner, at the time of the adoption. It's unknown if he stayed involved in the girl's life.

Sometime in the Seventies Walters had an afternoon talk show that was a precursor to The View, and adoption was going to be discussed. Florence, as the spearhead of the adoption reform movement and head of ALMA, and I and other first mothers were asked to be in the audience. Both of us spoke--and I believe Mary Anne Cohen did too--but with Walters arguing for no reunion between first mothers and their children, the overall impact was less than satisfying.  Florence was furious after the show, but at least we had been able to speak.

Decades later, long after I reunited with my daughter, Walters' daughter found her natural mother and to her credit, Walters did a special, or a segment, on it, and showed the daughter meeting her mother at some place in the country, where the mother apparently lived. Wow, did they look alike. They both had long straight hair, both were dressed in country-hippie garb--both were tall and thin, long, flowing skirts, dangling earrings. You couldn't miss the similarity--and the disparity between them and Walters. Jackie is six feet tall; Walters is quite short. After that Walters stopped doing anti-open records segments. I could find no more about Jackie's first mother, or their reunion.

Much later, Walters interviewed the singer Faith Hill, who recently had reunited with her birth mother. Hill told Walters something to the effect that she needed to find her mother to find peace. Walters gave Hill a puzzled look and asked, Why would you need to do that?

Hill answered,  I had to know where all that music inside me came from.  

Point made. Previously at FMF when we wrote about this incident, we commented that the question indicated Walters was a dunderhead. But on reflection, I see that she was using the obvious way of getting Hill to say more. If Walters had not asked the question, Hill would not have had the opening to say why she had to find her mother! As a journalist you have to ask the obvious questions, even if the answers seem obvious. The words have to come from the person being interviewed! Not you.

As for the daughter, her life has been troubled, even with all the advantages of being Barbara Walters' daughter--she attended one of the best private schools in Manhattan, Dalton, where she had plenty of opportunity to acquire drugs if that was her aim. Walters writes in her biography that the young girl frequently sneaked out of the house to go to the infamous Studio 54 where drugs were passed around like a salt shaker on a lunch counter. Eventually, according to USA Today, Walters hired an ex-Green Beret to "escort" Jackie to a wilderness tough love school in Idaho (!), where she stayed three years. 

According to a profile in New York magazine, Walters once mused to another magazine that the little girl was possibly was “not competitive enough” (to be a daughter of hers, we muse). The piece continues that in Parents magazine she revealed how she relayed to Jackie she was not her biological child:
“We were in the bathtub and she asked me about parts of my body. I said that breasts were used by mommies to feed their babies. And she asked about her vagina. I said, ‘This is where a baby comes from. There are two ways that mommies who want babies have them—through this way and through adoption.’” 
Interviewing Walters at that point, you would want to say: And what do you think that means to a little girl? What does "adoption" mean to a child? But apparently the writer was not so bold--perhaps as Walters would have been interviewing herself. 

Apparently Jackie turned her life around and eventually opened a wilderness program for troubled girls in northern Maine herself, but it was shuttered in 2008. However, last year, she was arrested for drunk driving in Florida. There's nothing else until we get the text message above. 
Unauthorized bio of Walters

My own reaction to Walters has been mixed. I hated that she subtly--and sometimes overtly--spoke out against reunions, but recognized that she did change as her daughter grew up and wanted to reconnect with her own mother. I acknowledge that Walters broke barriers for women in broadcasting, but was always aware she started out with a lot of advantages, coming from a family where celebrities were the dinner guests, and connections came easy. Although the family's money ran out at some point ran out, her father was a Broadway producer and opened a popular night club in New York. She did have doors opened for her, and with hard work and tenacity, she went through them. For that, good for her! I was in journalism in the Sixties myself, and I know how difficult it was for women to be taken seriously, and get good assignments that weren't fluff. 

But as a viewer, I always found her cold and distant, and never thought her interviews were earth-shaking. I met her once at a small private party, but didn't really talk to her--I didn't try to. I knew she was an adoptive mother, and I was a natural mother not yet in reunion. So what I did not say was--Oh, remember me, I was one of the women in the audience that day....--lorraine 
In her own words


Barbara Walters

Barbara Falters

Barbara Walters reads daughter's heartwarming text before final 'The View' show

Celebrity's daughter runs wilderness school for at-risk girls

Barbara Walters’ Daughter Arrested: Jacqueline Walters Danforth Had To Be 'Taken To The Ground'

Barbara Walters: An Unauthorized Biography 
The Amazon reviews are up and down--if you are a friend of hers, you probably wouldn't like it. But some people who have no known connection to her liked it.

For her side of her story, read her own memoir:

Audition: A Memoir 
Lots and lots of laudatory reviews, and some likes this: "I am glad I picked up this book at a garage sale for 25 cents instead of paying full price for it."



  1. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with and insight on Barbara Walters, Lorraine.

    I was just thinking about Babs and Jackie recently as I wrote an essay on my own adoption experience (for 'SecretSonsandDaughters.org'). As I recalled the awkwardness of being a very tall girl/woman in a very short family, Jackie and L'Wren Scott came to mind, and I knew they likely felt that way, too. Also like Jackie, my a-mother was basically absent as I grew up, although it was mental and emotional vacancy rather than physical. I hope Jackie's relationship with her first mother is strong. Wish her well. As for Barbara? Meh. Happy Retirement.

  2. This is a very interesting article. I feel bad for Jacqueline Guber (not Gruber); I hope she has found peace in her own life. Sorry that Lorraine was not able to be fully heard on that tv show with Barbara Walters.

    1. Opps! (Gruber=Guber)That is what comes from trying to do a post quickly! Thanks for being a copy editor before it's up too long!

  3. I seem to remember reading something that referred to Jackie as a replacement child......that the Gubers had actually gotten a baby boy first and ( I think this was how it went...) that he 'didn't work out'----wasn't "happy enough"? sick? . He was returned. It went on to say that her husband claimed that she was out of her mind after that baby left and that he (her husband) basically said to their "broker" -----Get this woman another child RIGHT NOW ! and suddenly Jackie appeared. Anyone else ever hear this story? I'm so certain that it was BW story and one reason I really never cared for the woman.

    1. I don't know what you read but Barbara's husband wanted to adopt a boy and they decided that's what they wanted to do. Then they visited friends with a little girl who happened to gush over the joys of having a daughter and after that Barbara and Lee notified the agency that they wanted to adopt whichever baby became available regardless of sex.

  4. Intriguing as always, Lorraine.... I didn't know about her daughter before this.... But Ms. Walters, as with many who put celebrity on such a high pedestal, always irritated me just a bit.... perhaps the adoptee in me was getting a vibe:)......the dehumanizing of humans seems par for the course of celeb.... housed with a cold last week I was more than tired of the event and was left with the feeling that despite Ms. Walters breakthroughs.... in the end.....there wasn't much substance to go home with.... it was sad.... I wish all involved healing.....

  5. Never been a fan of Barbara Walters...

    Trying to give Ms Hill the benefit of the doubt...that what she said was taken out of context.

  6. I've never been a fan of Barbara Walters, either. She always seemed like a bit of a snob to me.

  7. As soon as I learned that Barbara Walters had adopted a child, I was RIVETED (Dalton School--lucky! was all I could think as a job 'n scholarship-grubber). But the more that leaked out, at approximately the same time frame, as the adoption proceeding rockily in my own extended family, I had to wonder: Why was it so all-fired important to BW to be nominally a "mother," while her demanding and extremely public career required outsourcing the shoe-tying and lunch-packing and night-night-I-SAID-NIGHT-NIGHT!?! to nannies, before the (ouch) wilderness school.

    Really, by the time I busted into journalism world in the late '70s, I looked at Walters with very different eyes. After reading Jerry Oppenheimer's biography, which I found tough but fair, I was even more attuned to the lack of Jacqueline-sightings. A sad business.

  8. BW not only opposed open records but promoted adoption. There was at least one ABC adoption special with BW along with most of the ABC news crew, all of whom had adopted children.

    I recall an episode of 20/20 when she was talking to the conservative co-host John Stossel. He was complaining about single women having babies and mentioned some celebrity -- perhaps Sandra Bullock. Barbara said "Oh, John, that's totally different. She adopted the baby." Apparently BW believes that unwed motherhood is okay if you adopt but not if you give birth to the "illegitimate" child.

  9. I do not know much about Barbara Walters. Nor do I wish to. As I have mentioned previously, I am not into TV or movies. I am not in awe of celebrities. The little bit that I have seen of her gives me the impression that she is a bit of a snob, but I really don't know much about her.

    My A-mother, on the other hand, has been talking about nothing else for days. She is totally star-struck. Loves all these people like Barbara Walters, Dr, Phil, Oprah. Big fan of The View. So I have been hearing for the past week how wonderful it was that BW adopted this girl. Isn't that girl lucky? Imagine being Barbara Walters daughter! Money, good schools, nice things...the girl had/has everything. Wasn't that a wonderful thing that BW did?

    Which kind of shows you what I am up against. There is no mention of any of the trouble between BW and Jackie. No mention of Jackie's struggles and problems. No mention of the dis-connect between the, I don't watch TV, and I am aware of all of this....but A-mom chooses only to see the happy part.

    Which has always been the case. Appearances are very important. What is going on underneath....not so much. This Jackie is a lucky girl to have BW as her mother. No matter that there are problems there. Problems that obviously all the money and nice things in the world can't solve. What a pretty picture. This is the world A-mom lives in.

    On a side note....my petition to open my adoption file was denied. I had a feeling it would go that way. But I am slowly getting info together, so I'll just keep moving on....

  10. Wow, Jane....did she really say that? Unbelievable!

  11. Oh, I don't know.....not a big fan of BW but I do like that she respected her daughter's wish for privacy. In this day and age when so many celebs tote their children around ( adopted or bio.) like accessories and or use them for extra media coverage, I find it refreshing she didn't.

    I'm sure the temptation was there; she chose not to exploit and even though I don't care for her, I do care for that discretion.

  12. Mmmmm. I don't think Walters had that choice--to exploit or not. The daughter made it clear she was not a poster child type. You can hardly exploit a daughter you have sent off to a wilderness school in Idaho for 3 years, and who never wants to come back....

    Like the children of other certain writers etc who I am familiar with.

    1. Of course Walters had a choice. Jackie was a child for many years before she "made it clear" that she didn't like celebrity. And Jackie was not at "wilderness school", she was in rehab at the age of 16

  13. I disagree. I think there were plenty of opportunities and plenty of formative years she could have exploited her role as the "Mother". Even Wilderness School, spun just so, could be seen as dedicated and desperate parents, willing to stop at nothing to see their child healed....etc...

    There have been many a Hollywood offspring treated in just the same way: tragedy turned into a test of parental love, etc.

    I think had BW wished to do so, she could have found an angle and we all know she had the forum and vehicle to do so.

    Nor do I believe that 3 years away encompassed her entire childhood.

  14. Most people I know who send their kids to one of those grueling tough love places because of drug use, acting up, drinking...(which is the case for Walters) really do not want to advertise it. And I do know one couple who son said--I'm the oddball here because everyone else is either adopted or whose parents are divorced.

    1. Mommy Dearest Joan Crawford sent Christina AWAY too.

  15. It was well known where I grew up that the majority of kids sent to those types of camps (or juvenile hall or were simply the "burners" in school) were just as you described, Lorraine. Adopted or from 'broken' homes. This was in the '70s and '80s.

  16. Current Hollywood trends have been to exploit the children they adopt.... but in the 60s and 70s this was not so. Even "Mommy Dearest" was written after that time frame. Most celeb children that were involved in the "scene" such as Desi Jr, were in the business as well. The current theme is to tote your celeb child around, especially if the child is an adopted minority, to show how secure you are and how you are giving. BW did not do this, I am betting because of several reasons - a) her cultural base was upper class white, NY - which would have made that a horror to the entire family; b) her child was a "bad" child - drugs, alcohol and sex - enough to be an embarrasment; and c) because she was touted as a "woman for women" - which was in direct conflict with her behaviors with her child and her personal life.

    Just my thoughts.

  17. I've always been a Diane Sawyer fan, myself, as well as Christiane Amanpour, although I know both of those, especially Amanpour, are in a different generation. Walters always came across as insincere to me, and I'm generally very good at reading people.

    I didn't know she had an adopted daughter. In all fairness, her quietness on that front might have been actual respect for her daughter's wish for privacy. Really, only she can possibly know that one and speculation is mere guesswork. It is disappointing that she used to speak out against open records, then when her daughter had a reunion, she simply stopped speaking out against them instead of speaking out FOR them. She has a powerful platform and could have used it to try to fix what she contributed to.

    As for The View, I have less than no interest in that show. I sincerely wish it would go away. It's embarrassing and frustrating to me that a powerful platform for women that could really tackle important problems and social issues is reduced to a catty gossip fest where the women have a history of attacking each other when the same viewpoint is not universally shared. And then they brought on Jenny McCarthy, just when I was quite certain the depths of my disrespect had been fully reached, and I found I could dig further.

  18. Google celebs from any time and you'll find many placed their adopted children front and center in front of the cameras when they were little and cute. Joan Crawford had the press come to Christina's and Christopher's birthday parties. When there cuteness faded, she adopted two girls from the Tennessee Children's Home and passed them off to the media as twins. The older children were sent to boarding schools.

    Ditto Michael Reagan when he passed the photogenic stage.

    I can't recall BW placing her daughter in front of the camera but if she didn't it may have had more to do with the child's inability to sit still or lack of attractiveness.

    Celeb usually stop placing their kids in front of cameras before they're old enough to go to treatment programs. The pictures stop when the kids are about 12, not cute and often irritable. I suspect we'll see less of Madox in AJ's pictures in the next few years.

    1. True. Look at poor Connor & Isabella Cruise. Backburnered for the bio kiddos.

  19. Tiffany said: 'just when I was quite certain the depths of my disrespect had been fully reached, and I found I could dig further.'

    That made me chuckle!

  20. Jane:
    We having to agree to disagree on Angelina Jolie--I haven't seen any pictures of the kids that weren't taken by paparazzi when the family was simply going about their business. They are all unposed and simply on the street. I don't call that exploration. It is just another day in the life of being famous. For some reason Jolie and Pitt and their kids do not bother me, and I admit I like her and him in the movies.

    1. Lorraine...not sure how I feel about the adoptions of Jolie-Pitt. There has been questions specifically about Pax and keeping his first mother apart now that she is drug free. But any international adoption is suspect considering the brokers facilitating the adoptions and the talk of cash donations... I think Jolie does a lot of good with her fame, but would like to see her come forward for adoptees now that she has personal experience knowing how important medical histories can be in prevention and diagnosis of inheritable diseases.

    2. Renee, I understand, and I do remember something about Pax--forgot that it was his mother who was still alive and well. Of course we would all like to see some of these famous celebs who are adoptive parents come out big time for opening sealed records. But many of them, I suspect, today know who the parents are, and don't feel any connection to the plight of those whose histories are shackled by sealed records.

  21. As for Walters, she was never a "star" that commanded covers of magazines, paparazzi following her hoping for a "get." I mean, she managed to have a secret affair for a married senator, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, and he was African-American--and no one knew until she wrote it. So whether or not she did or did not exploit the daughter, to me, is not non starter. She didn't really have the wow power of the movie stars.

  22. I dimly remember that Baba Wawa show with us in the audience, and how infuriating she was. Needless to say I never liked her and did not follow her career or watch her shows. Nice that her daughter did search and it was a decent reunion.

  23. Lorraine,
    I beg to differ. Yes, Angelina's photos are taken by paparazzi but what Mom goes shopping with six kids and hubby in tow? And how do the paparazzi know where she is going to be? Just going about their business? Strolling down Fifth Avenue, the Champs-'Elysees, etc in the middle of the day. There's a picture of Jolie, Brad, and kids in every edition of People that I see.

    If they didn't want to show off the kids, they'd be in a limousine. Jackie Kennedy kept her kids away from photographers for decades and no one was more hunted by the paparazzi that the Kennedy's.

    Let's see whether Maddox continues to be in the pictures now that he is 12. I notice that they changed his hair style from a pseudo-Cambodian style to an American one.

    I like Brad, or used to anyway. I find Jolie repulsive. Puffy lips, plastic smile,

  24. Jane: The paparazzi hound Angelina and Brad. Wait outside the door. Follow them. Hound them. They do not need to call anyone to get those pictures.

    If Maddox is 12, I doubt they can control his hair style. It's almost certainly his choice as to how he wants to wear his hair.
    I know how famous people are hounded. When I was at the NYTimes myself, I was assigned to stand outside the door of Jackie's apartment building the day the news of he plans to marry Ari was made known. She came out tightly holding John-John's and Caroline's hands and disappeared into a car. But pictures were taken, though not by me; I was supposed to get a quote. Jackie did what she could but papprazzi are even worse today. For a single pictures of of certain celebs, photographers get thousands.

    Photographers sit in cars outside the homes of famous people waiting for them to emerge. Shoot through fences. Shots of Angelina and Brad are very very sale-able.

    1. Brangelina and all six of their kids go months and months without getting "papped" -- I'm inclined to believe them when they say they try (and mostly succeed) in keeping their kids out of the press.

      Photos of any of the Jolie-Pitts sell for big bucks, so *occasiobally* getting papped is likely unavoidable.

  25. Maddox is most likely choosing his own hair style after being forced to wear his hair in the faux Asian style, lacquered so it stands up straight. It reminds me of Mickey Rooney playing an Asian in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

    The PP's are not photographing A, B, and kids as they come out a door; the Pitts' are walking down the street. The People caption usually says something like Angelina, Brad, and kids on a outing. A very public outing. Brad is usually carrying a couple of kids. How far do you think he can do that? People with six kids don't usually take them all out at once.

    Angelina is clearly a publicity hound. I recall her saying she wanted to adopt a child from each continent.For what purpose other than publicity. Every time she gathered up one of the children from abroad, she had oodles of publicity.

  26. While we're on the subject of famous adoptees and APs, I came across this in People magazine. It's somewhat off topic but I found it illuminating. People Magazine, November 25, 2013, page 56 under the caption "WHO SAID IT?". This is a quote by Chrisann Brennan from her book "The Bite in the Apple" about Steve Jobs. "His smile had the glint of a pirate with treasure in his hull. There was a PROFOUND SADNESS {emphasis added} about him that drew me in." Primal wound, perhaps?

  27. That is absolutely true. I thought it was glaringly obvious how much more media interest there was in Suri Cruise since she is a bio-kid. For all that this culture pays lip service to adoptees being just the same as bios, I thought it was clear that Suri is treated like she is the couple's REAL child.

  28. And as they get older there will also be the same focus on the biological children of Pitt and Jolie, at least some of whom will follow their parents into the acting profession.

  29. Does anybody know who Jacqueline's biological mother is? I was looking for the segment and stumbled upon this article.

  30. Do some digging on the internet and you will probably find her. She appeared in a television special with her daughter and it was striking how much they resembled one another--hair, dangling earrings, overall style. You would never not have thought they were mother and daughter when they were together. She was living in the country and far from the corporate world of Barbara Walters. That must have seemed all so foreign to her, even as she knew no different.

    1. PS: There are however a number of pictures on line that appear to show that Barbara and her daughter, Jacqueline, today have a good relationship. And in a few moments of looking I did not find her.

  31. I am a closed records adoptee with similar circumstances to Jackie, and I have to this day found no peace. I have worked hard in the wrong directions, I became an alcoholic late in life, I've been depressed all my life, I feel empty inside, I feel like half of me is an artificial tree (the adopted part of me - fake name, fake everything) and the other half of me is a dead tree (the natural part of me torn from my roots like a dead rootless tree - aborted inside). And I still feel suicidal to this day. And everybody just LAUGHS AND SNAPS AND TELLS ME TO BE GRATEFUL! Well, I didn't look into being adopted for 40 years and still worked hard in the wrong directions, did take the conservative approach and try to soldier on and that didn't work so try another one! Closed records adoptees' issues are the next civil rights issue. We need REAL help, not phony baloney advice from shallow people!

  32. Quite frankly, she sounds like another nasty Ellen



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