Oprah Winfrey

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Template:Infobox Celebrity Oprah Winfrey (born Orpah Winfrey, January 29, 1954) is an American actress, talk-show host, journalist, and one of the most successful entrepreneurs and television personalities 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[1] as well as the ninth most powerful woman in the world.[2] She is the first African-American woman to become a billionaire.


Youth and early career

Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to a desperately poor Baptist family. The name on Winfrey's birth certificate is Orpah, after the Moabite woman in the Biblical Book of Ruth, but her family and neighbours would often transpose the R and the P when pronouncing and writing her name; as a result, Oprah eventually became her accepted name.

Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a soldier. Her parents were unmarried and still teenagers when Oprah was born. After Winfrey was born, her mother travelled north for better job opportunities, and Winfrey spent her first six years living with her grandmother. Winfrey's grandmother taught her to read and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses.

At age six, Winfrey moved in with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother. Her mother lived in dire poverty. Her mother made hessian overalls from potato sacks for Oprah to wear, which led other children to give her the nickname "Sack Girl". She had few toys; one was a doll made from a corncob. While living with her mother, Winfrey suffered repeated sexual abuse: first by a cousin, then by others. At age 14, she was impregnated and she gave birth to a premature, stillborn boy.

After this her mother sent her to live in better conditions with her father, Vernon, in Nashville. Vernon was strict but encouraging, and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an Honors Student and received a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically Black institution, where she studied speech and performing arts.

Winfrey's grandmother has said that ever since Oprah could talk, she was "on stage". In her youth she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family's property. But her true media career began at age seventeen, working at her high school radio show.

Working in local media, 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.

Career and success


Oprah on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.

In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago, Illinois to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. Her first episode aired on January 2, 1984. With Winfrey as the host, the show was so successful that it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to an hour, and broadcast nationally as of 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.

The Oprah Winfrey Show is massively successful, seen by 21 million viewers a week in 150 countries. She interviews celebrities as well as ordinary people and uses the show to promote charitable causes. As well as the hour-long regular show, she tapes informal discussions after the show, which are broadcast as Oprah After The Show.

During a lawsuit against Winfrey (see Influence), she 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 appear on her show. He accepted the invitation and was a resounding success. McGraw appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show for several years before launching his own show, Dr. Phil, in 2004, which is produced by Winfrey's production company, Harpo Productions.

Possibly Oprah's most famous recent act occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth season of The Oprah Winfrey Show in the fall of 2004. During the episode, each member of the audience received a new Pontiac G6 Sedan; the 276 cars were donated by Pontiac as part of a publicity stunt. Winfrey recently made a deal to extend her show until the 20102011 season, by which time it will have been on the air for twenty-five years. She plans to host 140 episodes per season, until her final season, when it will return to its current number, 130. [3]

As well as hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards).


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 believe this was due in part to the AMPAS's "Anti-Spielberg" bias, thinking the film would have been better directed by an African-American.

In October 1998, Oprah produced and starred in the film Beloved, based upon Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. 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 dedicated solely to the film, it opened to sour critical reviews and poor box-office results, losing approximately $30 million.

In 2005, Harpo Productions released another film adaptation of a famous American novel, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). The made-for-television film Their Eyes Were Watching God was based upon a teleplay by Suzan-Lori Parks.

Winfrey was the recipient of the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Emmy Awards for services to television and film. As for the money she has earned throughout her career, she is giving nearly half of it to a vast amount of different charities.

Books and magazines

Winfrey publishes her own magazines, O, The Oprah Magazine and O at Home. She is also a published author, authoring or co-authoring over twenty books.

Future projects

Winfrey's latest television project will be developing and producing a new talk show for popular Food Network celebrity chef, Rachael Ray, which will begin airing sometime in 2006.

Recently, Winfrey has been interviewed several times by Anderson Cooper, with whom she has completed several side projects. This has fuelled a rumour that Winfrey and Cooper are planning to make a movie together.

Personal life

Oprah Winfrey is believed to own a net worth over $1.3 billion USD 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 personal 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 it is widely believed that she has lived with her partner Stedman Graham for nearly twenty years. She recently told audiences that she was going to reveal a deep dark secret — that she and Stedman have an African American daughter. She used this as the tease for an upcoming episode - the "daughter" was her cocker spaniel.

Despite her celebrity status, the billionaire Winfrey was chosen to serve on a murder trial jury in 2004. The trial was held in Chicago, Illinois, and involved a man accused of murder after an argument over a counterfeit $50 bill. The jury voted to convict the man of murder.[4] [5]

In June 2005, Winfrey was allegedly denied access to the Hermès company's flagship store in Paris, France. Winfrey arrived fifteen minutes after the store's closing time, and the doors were locked while the last of the shoppers were being attended to. Winfrey, who had arrived without any make up or entourage, claimed she was mistaken for a poor black woman, and denied entrance because the store had been "having problems with North Africans lately." In September 2005, Hermès USA CEO Robert Chavez was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and sincerely apologized on behalf of the store. In a later show, Winfrey changed her account of the event and no longer claimed she was denied entrance on account of her race.

On December 1, 2005, Oprah appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, joining the host for the first time in sixteen years. The episode was hailed by some as the "television event of the decade", and helped Letterman attract his largest audience in more than 11 years: 13.45 million viewers.[6] Although a much-rumored feud was said to have been the cause of the rift, both Winfrey and Letterman balked at such talk. "I want you to know, it's really over, whatever you thought was happening," said Winfrey.

Winfrey has started The Angel Network, an organization that collects millions of dollars a year for charities.

She is based in Chicago, Illinois; reportedly, she has recently purchased several properties on Maui, Hawaii.


Winfrey's prominence as a media personality has led her to be highly influential, both intentionally and unwittingly.

In the late 1990s, Winfrey introduced a new segment on her television show: Oprah's Book Club. The segment focused on new books and classics, and often brought obscure novels to popular attention. The book club became such a powerful force that whenever Winfrey introduced a new book as her book-club selection, it instantly became a best-seller; for example, when she selected the classic John Steinbeck novel East of Eden, it soared to the top of the book charts. Being recognised by Oprah could guarantee up to a million more book sales for an author.

The sign in front of Oprah Winfrey's Chicago based Harpo Studios.

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 USD$12 million. After a trial spanning over two months in an Amarillo, Texas court in the thick of 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!"


Some believe there to be a gender bias in some of her shows. Shows about infidelity, for example, often focus either on cheating men, or on cheated-on wives. Some critics say Winfrey makes inadequate reference to women who cheat, or may only make cursory comments.

Oprah's Book Club has come under fire for its choice of books. Most notably, one of its attempted selectees, author Jonathan Franzen objected to his book The Corrections being chosen, believing that its selection as an Oprah's Book Club book would demean his literary reputation. "She's picked some good books, but she's picked enough schmaltzy, one dimensional ones that I cringe ..." he said in a Powells.com interview.

It has also been noted that the times various guest celebrities on her show 'reach out' and perform charitable acts (such as performing for sick children) seem to nearly always coincide with a release of a project in which they have a prominent role (Such as starring in a movie or releasing a Music Album). Some people have said that this trivializes and degrades the various causes they help by turning them into a vessel for marketing, and have even gone so far as to suggest that it verges on exploitation, especially when children are involved.

Filmography and bibliography


As executive producer/producer:



See also


External links

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