Oprah Gail Winfrey 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 Black institution.
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
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, 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 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. 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. 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 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, New Jersey.
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.