Oprah Winfrey: A Legend
Compiled by: Sabrina Hasan Shoily
Through the power of media, Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As supervising producer and host of the top-rated, award-winning The Oprah Winfrey Show, she has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today.
Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to a Baptist family. She was originally named Orpah Gail Winfrey, after the Bible's Book of Ruth. There are conflicting reports as to how her name became “Oprah.” According to a 1991 interview with the Academy of Achievement, Oprah said that when she was born, people didn't know how to pronounce “Orpah,” so they put the “P” before the “R” in every place else other than the birth certificate. However, there is the account that the midwife transposed letters while filling out the newborn's birth certificate. Oprah's parents were unmarried teenagers. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a coal miner and later worked as a barber before becoming a city councilman. Winfrey's father was in the Armed Forces when she was born. After her birth, Winfrey's mother travelled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her Grandma Hattie Mae. Winfrey's grandmother taught her to read before the age of three 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 to an inner city ghetto in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother. Winfrey has stated that she was molested by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend, starting when she was nine years old.
Despite her dysfunctional home life, Winfrey skipped two of her earliest grades, became the teacher's pet, and by the time she was 13 received a scholarship to attend Nicolet High School in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, Wisconsin. Although Winfrey was very popular, she couldn't afford to go out on the town as frequently as her better-off classmates. Like many teenagers at the end of the 1960s, Winfrey rebelled, ran away from home and ran the streets. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but lost the baby shortly after birth. Also at that age, her frustrated mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict, but encouraging and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, joined her high school speech team, and placed second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communication. At age 18, Winfrey won the Miss Blank Tennessee Beauty Pageant.
Winfrey's grandmother had said that ever since Winfrey 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 17, when Winfrey worked at a local radio station while attending Tennessee State University. Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-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. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars there as well.
Career and success
In 1984, Oprah moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV's morning talk show, AM Chicago, which became the number one local talk showsurpassing ratings for Donahuejust one month after she began. In less than a year, the show expanded to one hour and was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. It entered national syndication in 1986, becoming the highest-rated talk show in television history. In 1988, she established Harpo Studios, a production facility in Chicago, making her the third woman in the American entertainment industry (after Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball) to own her own studio.
The Oprah Winfrey Show has remained the number one talk show for 20 consecutive seasons. Produced by her production company, Harpo Productions, Inc., the show is seen by an estimated 48 million viewers a week in the United States and is broadcast internationally in 132 countries.
Magazine Founder and Editorial Director:
In April 2000, Oprah and Hearst Magazines introduced O, The Oprah Magazine, a monthly magazine that has become one of today's leading women's lifestyle publications. It is credited as being the most successful magazine launch in recent history and currently has a circulation of 2.3 million readers each month. In April 2002, Oprah launched the first international edition of O, The Oprah Magazine in South Africa, extending her live your best life message to another broad audience. In 2004, O at Home, a newsstand-only quarterly shelter magazine designed to help readers create a home that reflects their personal style, made its debut.
Through her company's film division, Harpo Films, she has produced projects based on classic and contemporary literature that have garnered the highest industry honors for quality acting and production. Telefilms under the Oprah Winfrey Presents banner have included the award-winning Tuesdays With Morrie, based on the best-selling novel by Mitch Albom and starring Academy Award®-winner Jack Lemmon and Emmy Award®-winner Hank Azaria; David and Lisa, an updated version of a 1962 film, re-written for television by Lloyd Kramer and Theodore Isaac Rubin and starring Academy Award®-winner Sidney Poitier; and Their Eyes Were Watching God, based on the Zora Neale Hurston novel and starring Academy Award®-winner Halle Berry.
In 1998, Harpo Films produced the critically acclaimed Beloved, a Touchstone Pictures feature film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison, which co-starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover and was directed by Jonathan Demme.
Oprah made her acting debut in 1985 as "Sofia" in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, for which she received both Academy Award® and Golden Globe nominations. She also has been lauded for her performances in the made-for-television movies Before Women Had Wings (1997), There Are No Children Here (1993), and The Women of Brewster Place (1989).
Oprah.com is a premiere women's lifestyle website, offering advice on everything from the mind, body and spirit to food, home and relationships. It provides comprehensive resources related to The Oprah Winfrey Show, O, The Oprah Magazine and Oprah & Friends. In addition, the website has unique original content, including Oprah's Book Club, which offers free in-depth reading guides for each book selection, online discussion groups and Q&A sessions with literary experts. Within its first year, Oprah's Book Club quickly became the largest book club in the world, attracting approximately 1 million members. In 2003, Oprah.com also launched Live Your Best Life, an interactive multimedia workshop based on her sold-out national speaking tour that features Oprah's personal life stories and life lessons along with a workbook of thought-provoking exercises. Oprah.com averages 68 million page views and more than 4 million users per month and receives approximately 20,000 e-mails each week.
Oprah has long believed that education is the door to freedom, offering a chance at a brighter future. Through her private charity, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, she has awarded hundreds of grants to organizations that support the education and empowerment of women, children and families in the United States and around the world. Amongst her various philanthropic contributions, she has donated millions of dollars toward providing a better education for students who have merit but no means. She also has developed schools to educate thousands of underserved children internationally and created "The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program," which gives scholarships to students determined to use their education to give back to their communities in the United States and abroad.
In December 2002, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation expanded its global humanitarian efforts with her Christmas Kindness South Africa 2002 initiative that included visits to orphanages and rural schools in South Africa where 50,000 children received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys. Sixty-three rural schools received libraries and teacher education. During a December 2000 visit with Nelson Mandela, Oprah pledged $10 million to build a school in South Africa. As that commitment broadened, she established The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, to which she has contributed more than $40 million toward the creation of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for GirlsSouth Africa, which opens in January 2007. Located in a 28-building campus in Henley-on-Klip, the Leadership Academy is a state-of-the-art independent school that will engender high standards of academic achievement and service leadership for girls. Its first 152 accepted 7th and 8th grade students, who show outstanding promise despite their impoverished backgrounds and social circumstances, represent all nine South African provinces. By 2011, the Leadership Academy will accommodate approximately 75 learners per grade, for a total of approximately 450 learners, grades 7 through 12. Her vision is that the Leadership Academy will help develop the future women leaders of South Africa. In a 1997 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah encouraged viewers to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others, which led to the creation of the public charity Oprah's Angel Network in 1998. To date, Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $50 million, with 100% of audience donations going to non-profit organizations across the globe. Oprah's Angel Network has helped establish scholarships and schools, support women's shelters and build youth centers and homeschanging the future for people all over the world. Oprah's commitment to children also led her to initiate the National Child Protection Act in 1991, when she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to establish a national database of convicted child abusers. On December 20, 1993, President Clinton signed the national "Oprah Bill" into law.
Television Programming Creator:
In September 2002, Harpo Productions, Inc. created Dr. Phil, a syndicated daytime talk show produced by Paramount Domestic Television. Dr. Phil, which had the highest-rated talk show launch since The Oprah Winfrey Show, consistently ranks second among all U.S. talk shows. Dynamic television personality and best-selling author Rachael Ray announced a partnership with Harpo Productions, Inc., King World Productions, and Scripps Networks to host a daily, one-hour, talk show that began airing in September 2006.
Satellite Radio Programmer:
Through a recent joint venture, Oprah announced the launch of Oprah & Friends, a new channel on XM Satellite Radio, which launched in September 2006. Oprah & Friends will feature a broad range of original daily programming from Harpo Radio, Inc., including regular segments hosted by popular personalities from The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine and an exclusive 30-minute listener call-in weekly radio show, "Talk to Me" with Oprah Winfrey.
Twenty years after she made her movie debut as "Sofia" in The Color Purple, Oprah made her Broadway debut as a producer for the musical The Color Purple, which opened on December 1, 2005, at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.
In recognition of her extraordinary achievements and contributions, Oprah has received numerous honors, including the most prestigious awards and highest industry acknowledgments, like Time Magazine100 Most Influential People in the World- 2006, United Nations Association of the United States of America Global Humanitarian Action Award'2004. Oprah and The Oprah Winfrey Show received more than 40 Daytime Emmy Awards®: seven for Outstanding Host; nine for Outstanding Talk Show; more than 20 in the Creative Arts categories; and one for Oprah's work as supervising producer of the ABC After School Special Shades of Single Protein.
Winfrey currently lives on “The Promised Land”, her 42-acre (170,000 m²) ocean and Mountain View estate in Montecito, California, outside of Santa Barbara. Rumors state that Winfrey was at a party the previous owners were throwing and fell so in love with the estate 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 Lavallette, New Jersey, an apartment in Chicago, an estate on Fisher Island off the coast of Miami, a ski house in Telluride, Colorado, and property on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
Winfrey and her partner Stedman Graham have been together for over 20 years.Winfrey believes that the reason she never had children was because her students at South Africa's Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls were meant to be her daughters.
Winfrey's show is based in Chicago, so she spends time there, specifically in the neighborhood of Streeterville, but otherwise resides in California. She purchased one property on Maui, Hawaii, which was featured on the cover of O at Home and on her TV show.
To celebrate two decades on national TV, and to thank her employees for their hard work, Winfrey took her staff and their families (1065 people in total) on vacation to Hawaii in the summer of 2006.
Oprah Winfrey is the epitome of strength and confidence for women all over the world. She fights against injustice and tries to make this world a better place for everyone especially the coming generation. She is an ideal human being, an icon, a legend and we all are proud of her!
(Information collected from www.oprah.com and www.wikipedia.com)
(R) thedailystar.net 2007