Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi)
is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the United States.
She is currently involved in many business ventures, but is most
identified with her massively popular and eponymous talk show.
She is currently ranked as the most powerful celebrity by Forbes
magazine, as well as the ninth most powerful woman in the world.
Youth and early career
Winfrey was born in rural Mississippi to a poor Baptist family — her
unmarried teenage parents were a housemaid, Vernita Lee, and apparently
a soldier, Vernon Winfrey; there is serious doubt on all sides that
he is her biological father. Her birth certificate has Orpah after
the Moabite woman in the Book of Ruth in the Bible, but family and
neighbors transposed the R and the P when pronouncing and writing her
name. Eventually, Oprah became the accepted name.
Winfrey began her career in broadcasting at age 19, by which time
she had been living in a better quality of life in Tennessee with Vernon
for a number of years. She was both the youngest news anchor and the
first black female news anchor at Nashville's WTVF-TV. She moved to
Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. She was
then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk
show, People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. For a
time she resided in Columbia, Maryland.
Winfrey is a graduate of Tennessee State University, a historically
Success in television and movies
In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago, Illinois to take over as host
of WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago, which
premiered on January 2, 1984. The show was so successful with Winfrey
as host that it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to an
hour, and debuted nationally on September 8, 1986. Originally, the
show followed traditional talk show formats. By the mid 1990s, however,
the format became more serious, addressing issues that Winfrey thought
were of direct importance and of crucial consequence to women. Winfrey
began to do a lot of charity work, and her show featured people suffering
from poverty or the victims of unfortunate accidents.
In 1985, Winfrey co-starred in Steven Spielberg's epic adaptation
of Alice Walker's award-winning novel The Color Purple. She earned
immediate acclaim as Sofia, the distraught housewife. The following
year Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting
Actress, but she lost to Anjelica Huston. Many think this was due in
part to the AMPAS's "Anti-Spielberg" bias, thinking the film
would've been better if directed by an African-American director.
Winfrey has often discussed openly various aspects of her life, including
those more unpleasant ones, with the media, including a sexually abusive
childhood and a problem with drugs as an adult. In 1990, while filming
the series Brewster Place (a spin-off of her TV movie The Women of
Brewster Place), her half-sister Patricia Lee-Lloyd revealed that Winfrey
had become pregnant at age 14 and delivered a stillborn boy. Winfrey's
weight fluctuations have caused her to be considered a weight-loss
guru. In the late 1990s, Winfrey introduced her book club on television.
Whenever Winfrey introduced a new book as her book-club selection,
the book instantly became a best-seller, a powerful demonstration of
Winfrey's influence. For example, when she selected the classic John
Steinbeck novel East of Eden, it soared to the top of the book charts.
During a show about Mad Cow disease with Howard Lyman aired on April
16, 1996, Winfrey exclaimed, "It has just stopped me cold from
eating another burger!" Texas cattlemen sued her and Lyman in
early 1998 for "false defamation of perishable food" and "business
disparagement," claiming that Winfrey's remarks subsequently sent
cattle prices tumbling, costing beef producers some $12 million. After
a trial spanning over two months in a court in the thick of Texas cattle
country, the jury found on February 26 that Winfrey was not guilty,
did not act with malice, and was not liable for damages.
After the trial, she received a postcard from Rosie O'Donnell reading, "Congratulations,
you beat the meat!" It was during this trial that Winfrey hired
Dr. Phil McGraw's company (Courtroom Sciences, Inc.) to help her analyze
and read the jury. Dr. Phil made such an impression on Winfrey that
she invited him to be on her show. He accepted the invitation and the
rest is history. Winfrey's production company, Harpo Productions, produces
Dr. Phil's show. In 2004, despite her celebrity status, the billionaire
Winfrey was chosen to serve on a murder trial jury in Chicago, Illinois.
The trial ended with the jury voting to convict a man of murder in
a case involving an argument over a counterfeit $50 bill.
Winfrey has started The Angel Network, an organization that collects
millions of dollars a year for charities. She publishes her own magazines,
O, The Oprah Magazine and O at Home, and cofounded the women's cable
television network Oxygen. She is the president of Harpo Productions
(Oprah spelled backwards). Winfrey is also a published author, and
was the recipient of the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002
Emmy Awards. Winfrey is based in Chicago, Illinois; she is reported
to have recently been buying property on Maui, Hawaii.
Winfrey recently made a deal to extend her show until the 2010 – 2011
season, by which time it will have been on the air twenty-five years.
She also plans to host 140 episodes per season, until her final season,
when it will return to its current number, 130.
In October 1998, Oprah produced and starred in Toni Morrison's adaptation
of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved (novel). To prepare for
her role as Sethe, the protagonist and former slave, Oprah experienced
a 24-hour simulation of the experience of slavery, which included being
tied up and blindfolded and left alone in the woods. Critics said this
would not even come close to the experience. Despite major advertising,
including two episodes of her talk show being dedicated solely to the
film, it opened to sour critical reviews and poor box-office results,
losing approximately $30,000,000.
To begin the 19th season of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Pontiac as a publicity
stunt donated 276 G6 sedans, one for every audience member of that
episode. The audience was said to have been selected after a nationwide
search for people who expressed a need for a new automobile.
Winfrey's latest project will be developing and producing a new talk
show for popular Food Network celebrity, Rachael Ray, that will begin
airing sometime in 2006.
Oprah Winfrey is believed to be worth over $1.3 billion according to
the 2005 Forbes Magazine Issue. She currently lives on "The Promised
Land", her 42 acre (170,000 m²) ocean view estate in Montecito,
California, outside of Santa Barbara. Winfrey was at a party the previous
owners were throwing and fell in love with the estate such that she
was reported to have purchased it by writing a check for $50,000,000
USD, although it was not for sale. Winfrey also owns a house in Lavalette,
Winfrey has never married, but has lived with her partner Stedman
Graham for nearly 20 years. She recently told audiences that she was
going to reveal a deep dark secret — that she and Stedman have
a daughter. She even used this as the tease for an upcoming episode.
It turns out that this "daughter" is her cocker spaniel.
In June 2005, Winfrey was allegedly denied access to the Hermès
company's flagship store in Paris, France, based on the store's "having
problems with North Africa lately." Which turned out to be a far-fetched
lie. Winfrey arrived 15 minutes after the store's closing time, although
other shoppers had not yet left the store. In response to a call of
apology and a request to have Winfrey shop at the store from Hermès'
CEO, Robert Chavez, Winfrey stated she would no longer shop at the
store. In September 2005, Chavez was a guest on Winfrey's talk show
and apologized on behalf of the store.
Oprah Winfrey has been scrutinized by conservative critics for allegedly
championing liberal causes. One conservative critic, Myrna Blyth, editor-in-chief
of Ladies' Home Journal magazine from 1981 to 2002, charges in her
book Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness— and
Liberalism—to the Women of America, that the "elite women
of the media" allegedly sell unhappiness to women and tout false
Additionally, some believe there to be a feministic gender bias in
many of her shows, and a double standard about certain behavior. Shows
about infidelity, for example, often focus either on the cheating men,
or on the cheated-on wives. Critics believe Winfrey pays inadequate
attention to cheating women, or only makes note of them in a throwaway,
dismissive manner. Winfrey's Book Club has also come under fire, first
for promoting books that were deemed of little literary value, and
then even by one of its selectees, author Jonathan Franzen, who objected
to his book The Corrections being chosen, believing that its selection
would limit its potential male readership.