Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from U-Z

Winfrey, Oprah - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Oprah Winfrey, Social and Economic Impact

television told college award

Harpo Inc.


Oprah Winfrey revolutionized the talk show market with her unique and natural style and rose to become the host of the most watched daytime show on television. She is the first African-American to own her own TV studio. This multi-talented Winfrey is also a millionaire businesswoman, owner of a movie production company, and a talented actress.

Personal Life

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born January 29, 1954, on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She was supposed to be Orpah, from the Bible, but for some unknown reason, she has been known as Oprah almost from birth. Her unmarried parents, Vernon Winfrey and Vernita Lee, separated soon after she was born, leaving her to be raised by a maternal grandmother. “She certainly wasn’t an educated woman, but she taught me the shape of letters, and she taught me my Bible stories,” Winfrey recalled in Life magazine. By the time she was six, she had moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother. Her childhood was most difficult, as she was sexually abused by a teenage cousin and then by other male relatives and friends.

“I was, and am, severely damaged by the experience [of abuse]. All the years that I convinced myself I was healed, I wasn’t,” she told Redbook. “I still carried the shame, and I unconsciously blamed myself for those men’s acts.”

She had a contentious relationship with her mother, with little understanding between the two. She was a delinquent teenager often acting out and crying out for attention. Once she faked a robbery in her house, smashed glasses, feigned amnesia, and stole her mother’s purse, all because she wanted newer, more stylish glasses. It seemed Winfrey was heading down a road of destruction until her mother sent Winfrey to live with her father in Nashville at age 14. Winfrey said her father saved her life. He was very strict and provided her with guidance, structure, rules, and books. He required his daughter to complete weekly book reports, and she went without dinner until she learned five new vocabulary words each day. She joined the school’s drama club and became a prizewinning orator, winning a $1,000 college scholarship after delivering a short speech entitled “The Negro, the Constitution, and the United States” to 10,000 Elks Club members in Philadelphia. She was the first black woman to win Nashville’s Miss Fire Prevention title. In 1971 she was named Miss Black Tennessee. In 1976 she graduated from Tennessee State University.

In 1986 she received a special award from the Chicago Academy for the Arts for unique contributions to the city’s artistic community and was named Woman of Achievement by the National Organization of Women. The Oprah Winfrey Show won several Emmys for Best Talk Show, and Winfrey was honored as Best Talk Show Host.

Winfrey has made generous contributions to charitable organizations and institutions such as Morehouse College, the Harold Washington Library, the United Negro College Fund, and Tennessee State University.

In addition to her numerous daytime Emmys, Winfrey has received other awards. In 1993 Winfrey won the Horatio Alger award “given to those who overcome adversity to become leaders in their fields,” according to Jet magazine. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1994 and received the George Foster Peabody Individual Achievement Award, one of broadcasting’s most coveted awards, following the 1995-96 season. Further, she received the IRTS Gold Medal Award, was named one of America’s 25 Most Influential People of 1996 by Time magazine, and was included on Marjabelle Young Stewart’s 1996 list of most polite celebrities. In 1997 Winfrey received TV Guide’s Television performer of the Year Award and was named favorite Female Television Performer at the 1997 People’s Choice Awards.

Winfrey is very political as well. In 1991 the tragic story of a four-year-old Chicago girl’s molestation and murder prompted Winfrey, a former abuse victim, to propose federal child protection legislation designed to keep nationwide records on convicted abusers. She did this with the help of former Illinois Governor James Thompson. In addition, Winfrey pursued a ruling that would guarantee strict sentencing of individuals convicted of child abuse. The result was a bill signed by President Clinton that allows child care providers to check the background of prospective employees.

Winfrey resides in a condominium on Chicago’s Gold Coast and owns a 162-acre farm in Indiana. She volunteers time with a variety of nonprofit organizations, churches, shelters and youth programs.

Career Details

While in college, Winfrey already knew what she would do—pursue a career in broadcasting. As a freshman in college, she was twice offered a job by the Nashville CBS affiliate. Initially, Winfrey refused both overtures, but on the advice of a speech teacher, who reminded her that job offers from CBS were “the reason people go to college,” she decided to give the station a try. Because of that first step, she became the African American female co-anchor of the evening news. She was only 19 years old and still a sophomore in college. With that early experience, Winfrey would have no problem landing a job upon graduation. When she left Tennessee State, she headed to Baltimore to become a reporter and co-anchor of ABC affiliate WJZ-TV. The station sent her to New York for a beauty makeover, which Winfrey believes was her assistant news director’s attempt to “make her Puerto Rican.” She also attributes the make-over to an incident when she was told her “hair’s too thick, nose is too wide, and chin’s too big.” Nonetheless, Winfrey continued to excel. Around 1977, she became a co-host on the Baltimore Is Talking show, and after seven years on the show, the general manager of WLS-TV, ABC’s Chicago affiliate, saw Winfrey in an audition tape sent in by her producer. At the time her ratings in Baltimore were better than Phil Donahue’s, who for years dominated the talk show circuit. Winfrey and her crew were hired.

Winfrey seemed to have some magical touch, with the ability to turn humdrum programs into interesting shows with solid ratings. In January 1984, she became anchor of the ailing A.M. Chicago , a morning talk show, which was consistently last in the ratings. She did a complete overhaul of the show and changed the focus to current and controversial topics. The effect was immediate: one month later the show was even with Donahue’s program. Three months later it had inched ahead. In September 1985, it was renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show , and was expanded to one hour. In a matter of months, Winfrey’s show was syndicated to television stations in more than 120 American cities. Subsequently, Donahue moved to New York.

“When I first got the job, I was just happy to be on TV.,” Winfrey told Jet magazine. “But as the years evolved, I grew and wanted to say something without the show, not just be a television announcer or a television performer, but I wanted to say something meaningful to the American public and culture.”

Just a year after the show was renamed, it made its national debut, and within five months it was rated the third most popular show in syndication—after the game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy . Moreover, it was the number one talk show, reaching upwards of 10 million people daily in 192 cities.

The popular television show was a starting point for Winfrey, a spring board into broader areas of communication. It also became a means for Winfrey to get noticed and, once seen, unveil her many talents. In 1985 Quincy Jones saw Winfrey on her show, doing what she does very well, and immediately thought that she would make a good actress in a movie he was co-producing with the legendary Stephen Spielberg. The Color Purple , based on Alice Walker’s novel and starring Whoopi Goldberg, featured Winfrey as Sofia, a proud, assertive woman. Critics praised her performance, and she was nominated for an Academy Award. Interestingly, Winfrey had never had any formal acting lessons and little exposure to the theatre. But this seemed to be the beginning of another career, and she continued on to perform in other movies.

Chronology: Oprah Winfrey

1954: Born.

1971: Became part-time radio newscaster on Nashville’s WVOL.

1984: Became anchor of A.M. Chicago.

1985: Made acting debut in The Color Purple.

1986: Debuted Oprah Winfrey Show nationally.

1986: Formed Harpo Inc. production company.

1988: Took over ownership of her show.

1989: Co-produced and starred in the Harpo production of The Women of Brewster Place.

1990: Ranked third on Forbes list of richest entertainers.

1992: Named highest-paid entertainer in the United States.

This exposure piqued Winfrey’s interest in television and cinematic productions, prompting her to form her own production company, Harpo Inc., in August 1986. Harpo has produced several television productions based on stories written by black authors. She once told Ms. magazine that “I’m starting a minority training program specifically to bring more people of color into the film and television industry as producers.”

In 1997 Winfrey told her TV viewers, “The opportunity to have a voice and speak to the world everyday is a gift. And I thank you for allowing me this gift.”

So far, Winfrey has committed to stay with the show through the 1999-2000 season. No syndicated talk show in television history has compared with the performance of her No. 1 rated, multiple Emmy Award winning show. But certainly Oprah has other ventures that she continues to pursue, and she has the financial means to do so. In 1996 and 1997, she was No. 3 on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid entertainers, after grossing a combined total of $201 million. She has purchased the rights to several books in hopes of turning them into television or movie productions. And her charitable pursuits continue to expand, extending to thousands across the country.

Social and Economic Impact

Winfrey cultivated a reputation for championing in her programs and ventures causes that other leading media and entertainment companies ignore. She is most interested in productions that no one else will do because the topics are not sensational enough to capture the attention of the big production houses. Jeffrey Jacobs, Winfrey’s lawyer-manager and chief adviser, told Ms. : “Because of our economic status, and because of Oprah’s other talents, we’re going to bring things to the screen that no one else will be able to do She can develop or buy something that no one else will think is commercially viable because she thinks the message is important and people should see it if we can make money, great. And if we don’t, well, there are other reasons to do projects besides making money.”

Winfrey’s love of books has made her the most powerful book marketer in the United States. In September 1996, Winfrey started an on-air reading club, “Oprah’s Club,” influencing more people to purchase her book of the month than can any other communication medium. Featuring a book on her show has more than once catapulted it to the top of the best-sellers list. “Doing this book club has given me the courage to pursue the things I care about,” Winfrey told Life magazine.

That courage has led to many philanthropic endeavors. She established Oprah’s Angel Network and has entered a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which has 10,000 volunteers helping to build houses for impoverished Americans throughout the country. She is helping minority students get a better education through her involvement with A Better Chance, a Boston-based privately funded program that provides bright inner-city youth with the opportunity to attend college preparatory schools. She gives proceeds from her inspirational video “Oprah: Make the Connection” to A Better Chance.

“My prayer to God every morning on my knees is that the power that is in the universe should use my life as a vessel, or a vehicle, for its work,” she told Redbook . “Prayer. That is the central thing for me.”

“I feel positive about the future, but I do believe that we are in a time where there are forces of good and evil in TV making themselves known,” Winfrey told Good Housekeeping, “I’m always trying to figure out how to take the power I have and use it.”

Winfrey, Oprah (1954–) [next] [back] Winfield, Paul (1941–2004)

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

about 8 years ago

I have found this article to be most insightful. I am writing a case study on Oprah for a Purpose and Leadership class I am involved in and the information in this article will be of much help.

Thank you for putting it together and God bless.

Vote down Vote up

almost 8 years ago

i was wondering what do you do for a career I'm a 6th grader i love you and how did it feel to get raped why didn't to back of and run and tell your parents

Vote down Vote up

about 8 years ago

oprah winfrey is the riches women in americca can u belive it

Vote down Vote up

over 5 years ago

I really enjoyed the quality information you offer to your visitors for this blog. I will bookmark your blog and have my friends check up here often. ituPoker.Com Agen Poker Online Indonesia Terpercaya