Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oprah: The Biography

OK-- so Kitty Kelley's unauthorized biography on "The Big O" has been out for a week now. Apparently, there doesn't seem to be any bombshells on her much-gossiped-about relationship with Gayle King or any juicy details on why Oprah isn't married to Steadman Graham. Kelley openly admits to knowing the name of Oprah's father-- but has refused to divulge it to her readers. So to spare you the expense of shelling out bucks for the book, I've gathered a few of the most interesting tidbits I could find (assuming that we all want to believe a 68-year-old woman who still goes by the name "Kitty"):


"Mrs. Esters (Oprah's cousin) is adamant about setting straight the family history. Oprah wasn't raised on a pig farm. There was one pig. She didn't milk cows; there was only one cow . . . Yes, they were poor-- we all were-- but Aunt Hat owned her own house, plus two acres of land and a few chickens, which made her better off than most folks in the Buffalo community. Hattie Mae did not beat Oprah every day of her life, and Oprah most certainly did not go without dolls and dresses . . . Oh, I've talked to her about this over the years. I've confronted her and asked, 'Why do you tell such lies?' Oprah told me, 'That's what people want to hear. The truth is boring, Aunt Katherine. People don't want to be bored. They want stories with drama."

. . .

"Oprah maintained that because her dark skin she had to sleep on the porch in the back of the room house, while her light-skinned sister slept with her mother in Vernita's bedroom. She said that discrimination made her feel ugly. "White people never made me feel less," she said year later. "Black people made me feel less . . I felt like an outcast." Katharine Esters responded sternly to Oprah's poignant memory. "This bothers me more than her corncob doll lies and her cockroach lies, because it plays into the damaging discrimination practiced by our own people," she said. "Oprah slept on the porch only because Vernita had to take care of her baby and there was just one bedroom. That's it. Period. If Oprah was discriminated against because of her skin color, I'd tell you. [Katharine Esters is a civil rights activist who works for the Urban League in Milwaukee] "Oprah puts too much stock on color . . . I suppose that her wanting to be white makes her see things the way she does, but sleeping on the porch had nothing to do with her dark skin. The fact of the matter is that Oprah was no longer an only child when she came to live in Milwaukee. She was not the princess anymore or the center of everyone's attention. Her mother and the landlady fussed over the babies, not Oprah, and that was very hard for her."

. . .

"Oprah once dated a radio DJ named Tim Watts. Unlike [her relationship with] John Tesh, this relationship didn't end well. [Oprah paid Watts $50,000 for confidentiality after they split up]. I asked [Watts] what he could say [to the tabloids] that would make Oprah pay him $50,000 in hush money not to talk . . . I was wondering what he knew about her . . . He said she did not want him to talk about her brother being gay [Jeffrey Lee died of AIDS on December 22, 1989]. It's no big deal to have a brother who is homosexual, but apparently it was to Oprah . . . Tim also said he knew about some lesbian affairs or whatever . . . But that's all he said, and we never went into it."

. . .

"In addition to her 500 employees at Harpo, Oprah required everyone at O, The Oprah Magazine, to sign confidentiality agreements and swear never to reveal anything about her, something few other publications required of their employees. When Oprah was asked why she imposed such imperial restrictions on those who worked for her, she again said it was all about "trust,", but this time Chicago Tribune journalists Ellen Warren and Terry Armour called her on it. "Actually, that's precisely what it's not about," they wrote. "It's about mistrust"

. . .

"Oprah became so accustomed to rapturous audiences that she reacted negatively if she saw someone not standing to applaud her. "One time she spotted a young black man who just sat there [in the studio audience]," said a publishing executive. "She began heckling him. 'I see someone here who is very brave.' She began shuckin' an jivin': 'Oh no. I don't have to stand up and cheer for Oprah. No, sir. Not me. I'm the man. I won't bow to Oprah.' She did her whole ghetto shtick. It was ugly, very ugly for about four or five minutes while the poor guy just sat there as she mocked him. She wouldn't let up either . . . She was pissed that he was not giving her the adoring routine that the rest of the audience was . . . Turned out the young man was mentally challenged and severely disabled."

. . .

"You had to get your book up to Oprah's breasts to become a bestseller," said the writer Blair Sabol. "Our publicist's rule was if she holds [the book] is her lap, you'd make the list in two weeks. If she holds it at her waist, you'd be on in a week. If she clutches it to her bosom, you're headed for number one. So, naturally, we all aimed for Oprah's boobs."

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