“All my life I have always known I was born to greatness.” Oprah Winfrey
One of the new pop culture icons according to a survey, Oprah Winfrey embraced
her audience with the worldwide talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (began airing
in 1986). Aside from her reputation as the talk show queen, Winfrey also earned
an Oscar nomination for her turn as Sofia in the drama The Color Purple (1985,
also a Golden Globe nomination) and received an Acapulco Black Film Festival
nomination for her role as Sethe in Beloved (1998, also produced). Under her
production company, Harpo Production, she supported such acclaimed projects as
the TV drama Tuesdays with Morrie (1999, won an Emmy Award and a PGA Golden
Laurel Award) and the Broadway revival “Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color
Purple” (2005, received 11 Tony nominations). During her career, Winfrey was
handed a Golden Apple Female Star of the Year (1987), an Image’s Special Award
(1991), an Emmy’s Bob Hope Humanitarian Award (2002), an International Emmy’s
Founders Award (2005) and many other awards.
In addition to Harpo Production, the savvy businesswoman owns the women’s
magazine “O, The Oprah Magazine” and a new XM Satellite Radio channel called
Oprah & Friends (signed the deal in 2006). She recently also signed an agreement
with Simon & Schuster to pen a book about weight control.
Winfrey is also known as a philanthropist, establishing Angel Network (a
non-profit organization built in 1998) and the Use Your Life Award, in 2000,
which she gives to everyday heroes. She is planning to open a South African
school called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, near Johannesburg.
On the downside, the first Afro-American woman to make Forbes magazine’s
Billionaire’s list is rumored to have had a dispute with director Steven
Spielberg and is in the constant firing range of gossip and rumors.
In June 2006, Winfrey ended her longtime partnership with author/educator
Stedman Graham. Beginning their relationship in 1986, Winfrey and Stedman once
taught Dynamics of Leadership class at the Northwestern University’s Kellogg
Graduate School of Management, in the fall of 1999.
Childhood and Family:
On January 29, 1954, Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She
was first named “Orpah,” from the Bible’s Book of Ruth, but it was misspelled on
her birth certificate. Her parents, Vernon Winfrey (barber, businessman,
city-council member) and Vernita Lee, were never married.
After her parents’ separation, Oprah grew up with her grandmother, who gave her
a strict, but supportive, upbringing. From age six to thirteen, she moved to a
Milwaukee ghetto with her mother, during which time she was sexually abused by
her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. The environment soon led to her
experimenting with drug and sex, as well as her attempt to run away from home.
When she was 14, Oprah gave birth to a son, who then died of complications.
Despite her chaotic life, she still did well at school, was able to skip grades
and received a scholarship to an all-white high school.
Eventually, Oprah’s life was reorganized when she moved in with her father in
Nashville, Tennessee. Attending East Nashville High School, she became an honors
student, was named “Most Popular Girl,” joined the school’s speech team, and
earned second place in the Dramatic interpretation competition. After winning an
oratory contest, she accepted a full scholarship to the Tennessee State
University, where she studied Speech and Performing Arts.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
“I believe the choice to be excellent begins with aligning your thoughts and
words with the intention to require more from yourself.” Oprah Winfrey
At age 19, Oprah Winfrey won the 1971 Miss Black Tennessee title and the 1971
Miss Fire Prevention crown, which then led to her partaking in the Miss Black
America pageant the same year. After working as a radio reporter in high school,
Winfrey went to local TV channels and became the first black anchor for WVOL, in
1973, and the CBS affiliate WTFV-TV, in 1975.
A year later, she relocated to Baltimore and was employed at the WJZ-TV, where
she appeared as the TV feature reporter, co-anchor and later co-hosted the
morning talk show “People Are Talking” (1978). Several years later, she moved to
Chicago to host WLS-TV’s low-rated, half-hour morning talk show “AM Chicago”
(1984). Immediately, Winfrey levitated the show’s rating from last place to the
first place spot in the local market.
Making significant progress, the half-hour program was expanded to a full-hour
and renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which began airing nationally in 1986.
With her engaging style, Winfrey multiplied the show’s audience and made it the
No.1 American daytime talk show. She then launched the “Oprah’s Book Club”
regular segment for the program. In the course of the show, Winfrey assumed
ownership and production of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” through Harpo Production,
which she formed in 1986. Gaining massive success, she later brought home a
Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Talk/Service Show Host and the program
received a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Talk Show. One of the show’s
episodes, which had Michael Jackson as its guest, also received an Emmy
nomination for Outstanding Informational Special.
Winfrey made her acting debut with the supporting role of Sofia, a bossy and
abused housewife, in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The
Color Purple (1985). Her fine performance earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe
nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She then played Mrs. Thomas in the drama
Native Son (1986) before producing the TV film The Women of Brewster Place
(1989, also starred as Mattie Michael), which was produced by Harpo Production.
The next year, she reprised her role in the self-produced spin-off series
“Brewster Place” (1990) and took home an Emmy nomination for Outstanding
The recipient of the 1987 Golden Apple Female Star of the Year and the 1991
Image Special award for Entertainer of the Year, Winfrey portrayed LaJoe Rivers
in the TV drama There Are No Children Here (1993) and guest starred as a
therapist in the sitcom “Ellen” (1997). After playing Miss Zora in the
self-produced drama Before Women Had Wings (1997, TV), she carried out the
female lead role of Sethe in Beloved (1998, also produced) and was nominated for
Black Film’s Best Actress from the Acapulco Black Film Festival.
Winfrey, who previously won an Aftonbladet (Sweden) TV Prize, a Peabody and two
People’s Choice awards, teamed up with colleagues Geraldine Laybourne and Marcy
Carsey to create the Oxygen female cable channel in November 1998. As an
executive producer, she worked on David and Lisa (1998, TV) before scoring
success with Tuesdays with Morrie (1999, TV), which collected an Emmy for Best
TV Movie and a PGA Golden Laurel for Television Producer of the Year.
Next, Winfrey produced the TV drama Amy & Isabelle (2001), “Oprah After the
Show” (began in 2002), Halle Berry’s vehicle Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005,
TV), the Broadway musical adaptation “Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple”
(2005, received 11 Tony nominations) and the TV documentary Legends Ball (2006).
Still in 2006, Winfrey lent her voice for Gussy the goose in the family movie
Charlotte’s Web, starring Dakota Fanning. She is also set to voice a character
in the forthcoming animated movie Bee Movie (2007).
For her profitable and charitable efforts, Winfrey was handed the 2002 Emmy’s
Bob Hope Humanitarian award, the 2004 People’s Choice Favorite Talk Show Host,
the 2005 International Emmy’s Founders award and the 2005 Image Hall of Fame
award. Currently, she works on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and will extend her show
until the year of 2011. By that time, the show will have aired for 25 years.
Image: Hall of Fame, 2005
International Emmy: Founders Award, 2005
People’s Choice: Favorite Talk Show Host, 2004
Emmy: Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, 2002
Emmy: Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Tuesdays With Morrie, 2000
PGA Golden Laurel: Television Producer of the Year Award in Longform,
Tuesdays With Morrie, 2000
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Talk/Service Show Host, “The Oprah Winfrey
People’s Choice: Favorite Female Television Performer, 1998
People’s Choice: Favorite Female Television Performer, 1997
Peabody: Personal Award, 1996
Aftonbladet TV Prize (Sweden): Best Foreign TV Personality – Female,
Image: Special Award - Entertainer of the Year, 1991
Golden Apple: Female Star of the Year, 1987