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January 2002
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"Good film is one of the best ways to raise consciousness."

Oprah Winfrey

Real Name: Orpah Gail Winfrey (on her birth certificate, but changed to Oprah)
Born: 29 January,1954
Birthplace: Kosciusko, Mississippi
Spouse/Dating: Relationship with Stedman Graham (1986 - present )
Family: Mother - Vernita Lee Winfrey; Father - Vernon Winfrey; Grandmother - Hattie Mae Lee; Son - deceased (gave birth at age 14 but baby died 2 weeks later)
Education: East Nashville High School in Nashville, TN; Tennessee State University, speech communications and performing arts Nickname: Deepak Oprah (sendup of Deepak Chopra, a self-help guru)
Height: 5' 7"
Sign: Aquarius

Film/Acting Credits Include:
2001: Use Your Life (TV)
1999: Our Friend, Martin (voice) ... Coretta Scott King
1998: Beloved... Sethe
1997: About Us: The Dignity of Children (TV) ... Host
1997: Before Women Had Wings (TV) ... Miss Zora
1995: 67th Annual Academy Awards, The (1995) (TV)
1993: Michael Jackson Talks... to Oprah: 90 Primetime Minutes with the King of Pop (TV) ... Herself
1993: There Are No Children Here (TV) ... LaJoe Rivers
1992: Lincoln (TV) (voice) ... Elizabeth Keckley
1992: Scared Silent (TV) ... Host
1990: Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones... Herself
1990: Brewster Place (TV) ... Mattie Michael
1989: Women of Brewster Place, The (TV) ... Mattie Michael
1988: Christmas Special (TV) ... Herself
1987: Throw Momma from the Train ... Herself
1986: Native Son ... Mrs. Thomas
1986: Oprah Winfrey Show, The (TV) ... Host
1985: Color Purple, The ... Sofia

Producer - Filmography
2001: Amy & Isabelle (TV)
1999: Tuesdays with Morrie (TV)
1998: David and Lisa (TV)
1998: Beloved
1998: Wedding, The" (TV)
1997: Before Women Had Wings (TV)
1993: Michael Jackson Talks... to Oprah: 90 Primetime Minutes with the King of Pop (TV)
1992: Overexposed (TV)
1990: Overexposed
1989: Women of Brewster Place, The (TV)
1986: Oprah Winfrey Show, The (TV)

Oprah Winfrey overcame an early life of poverty, abuse and deliquency to become one of the richest and most recognizable names in entertainment.

Her father was a soldier on leave from a nearby army base when he met her 18-year-old mother. The two never married. Oprah was born as a result of the relationship and soon after her birth her mother left Mississippi for Milwaukee to find work. She left without baby Oprah. Abandoned by her mother, Oprah was raised in poverty on her grandmother, Hattie Mae's, rural Mississippi pig farm.

When chores were done, Hattie Mae used the time to teach her grandaughter letters and numbers. Hattie Mae was such a good teacher that by the time she was three, Oprah could read and write. When it was time for her to start kindergarten, she wrote a note to her teacher, insisting she belonged in the first grade. The teacher agreed.

Grandmother and grandaughter worked the farm all week and on Sundays they attended the Buffalo United Methodist Church. Those Sundays were long and always revolved around the church.

"You did Sunday school," Oprah remembers, "then you did the morning services which started at 11:00 and didn’t end until 2:30. You had dinner on the grounds in front of the church. Then you’d go back in for the 4:00 service."

Oprah loved to memorize and recite poems and Bible passages and she was often asked to recite at church functions. By the time she was four years old, her grandmother knew her left-handed grandaughter was going to be special, and even the women of the church called her "the little speaker" because of her outgoing and precocious nature.

About those early days, Oprah says, "My mother moved to the North. It actually saved my life. My grandmother gave me a strong foundation for success that I allowed to continue."

When Oprah was six, her mother had her come live with her in Milwaukee. But Vernita worked long hours and Oprah was often left home alone or in the care of a neighbor. Her mother paid little attention to her and it bothered young Oprah deeply. Without parental supervision, she began to get into trouble. At nine, she was raped by a cousin who was supposed to be her baby-sitter.Later, she was repeatedly sexually abused by an uncle. But Oprah kept all this abuse to herself and grew more and more angry, getting into more and more trouble all the while. It finally got to the point that not even Vernita could make her behave. By the time she was 14, Oprah was a wild child, even by today's standards. That same year, she gave birth to a premature baby, who died just two weeks later from complications of being born premature.

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Oprah Winfrey (cont.)

Without a hope of getting her daughter under control, Vernita finally decided to send Oprah to a juvenile detention home, but even this didn't work out as there was no space available at the time in the home. Not knowing what else to do, Vernita sent Oprah to Nashville to live with her father Vernon and his wife Zelma. Over the years, Vernon had left the military, married, now owned a barbershop, and was even serving on the Nashville city council. Life was about to get a whole lot different for young Oprah.

Vernon Winfrey was a man with rules. And he let his daughter know it. He gave her a strict curfew and stressed the value of education; under his rule, Oprah began turning her life around. And the rules he set for her were, indeed, strict. But with those rules also came an understanding that his daughter possessed certain gifts. Vernon knew she could succeed. It would just take a little work. As part of the new routine in her life, her father made her choose and learn five words from the dictionary every day. He would then quiz her about them at dinner. She was also told she had to read one book a week and then write a report that her father would review. With a love of reading already gained from her grandmother, this last rule was not a problem for Oprah.

Eventually, Oprah began getting her life together and by the time she began classes at East Nashville High School she did have her life under better control and over the next few years also proved to be a good student. Among her other subjects, Oprah took classes in public speaking and also found enjoyment in the high school drama club. She would eventually be voted most popular student by her classmates. But then one year she heard about a speech contest being held by the local Elks Club. The prize was tempting and though she knew the competition would be stiff, she entered anyway. She won! Her prize? A scholarship to African-American Tennessee State University.

"If I hadn't been sent to my father," Oprah recalls about those times, "I would have gone in another direction. I could have made a good criminal. I would have used these same instincts differently."

At age nineteen, the summer before starting college, Oprah landed her first job reading the news and weather on radio station WVOL in Nashville. She continued working there while attending college as a speech and drama major. During her freshman year in college, Oprah won several pageants, including Nashville's "Miss Fire Prevention" in 1971 and "Miss Black Nashville" and "Miss Tennessee" in 1972. In 1973, Nashville's WTVF-TV offered her an anchor desk job. She quit at the radio station and became the first African-American television newscaster/anchorwoman in Nashville at just 19 years of age. She was earning $15,000 a year while still in college.

In 1976, just two months before she was to graduate, she was offered a full-time job as a reporter for WJZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, Maryland. She left college and took the job. But instead of just reporting the news, Oprah couldn't help letting her emotions seep into the stories and the lives she was reporting on. It irked her boss, and it didn't take long. He fired her! But he also knew a talent when he saw one and instead of letting her leave, he offered her another job at the station as cohost of a morning talk show called "People Are Talking." Oprah loved it. She was finally able to talk with people on the air without keeping her emotions in check. She could say what she thought, learn what the audience thought and let people interact. Oprah was to co-host the show for the next seven years.

Over the years, Oprah began to want more. She had also always wanted to live in Chicago, so, in 1984, after hearing about a faltering talk show, "A.M. Chicago," at Chicago's WLS-TV, she sent tapes of her current show asking for a chance to host theirs. She was hired. Within a short time "A.M. Chicago" went from faltering to a Chicago television fixture. The show was eventually, albeit tentatively, expanded to an hour-long format. To everyone's relief, the show not only kept its audience, it even gained in popularity. In 1985, the very next year after hiring her, the station renamed their now hugely successful "A.M. Chicago" to "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

By 1986, the network and Oprah arranged to take the show nationally through King World Syndicate, and with that move, Oprah became the first African-American woman to host a national talk show. With her aim at an audience of all races, her ability to make guests feel at ease and her willingness to ask the kind of questions her audiences were thinking, the show soon had twice as many viewers as any other daytime talk show.

In 1987 the show won three daytime Emmy awards. In 1988 Oprah bought the rights to her show from the network and became the first woman to own and produce her own talk show. The deal was made by HARPO Productions, Inc., the production company she formed in 1986. (Read the word HARPO backwards!) "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is now seen by approximately 26 million viewers a week in the United States, broadcast in over 110 countries and is the highest-rated talk show in television history.

Oprah had finally become a household word in America. But despite her fame, she was always nagged by the fact that she had never finished her college degree. Eleven years after leaving college, she returned to college. She was asked to be the featured speaker at her commencement ceremony and it was then she announced that she would fund 10 scholarships a year at Tennessee State University in the name of her father, Vernon Winfrey.

She said, "Education is important because it is a way out. You get to read about, if not see, a sort of place where life can be better. Your belief combined with your willingness to fulfill your dreams is what makes success possible."

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Oprah Winfrey (cont.)

In 1985, Oprah entered the world of film when she was cast by director Steven Spielberg to play the character Sophia in his film "The Color Purple." She was nominated for and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Not bad, for a first time screen role. Her second movie role was as Mrs. Thomas in "Native Son." A film based on Richard Wright’s book.

Since then she has starred in and produced several films for both the big screen and television and has won numerous awards that include 20 national Daytime Emmy awards, the Lifetime Achievement Emmy award in 1998 (she has since withdrawn her name from Emmy consideration), six NAACP Image awards, five CEBA awards, chosen by "People" magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1997, and has even received the Best in Television award from the American Legion Auxiliary.

Regardless of the source material, Oprah's films have always seemed to educate as well as entertain. "Good film is one of the best ways to raise consciousness," she says.

In 1993, HARPO made a movie called "There Are No Children Here,"a story of two boys growing up in a housing project. The movie was shot on location where the factual story actually took place. After filming had wrapped, Oprah set up a tutoring and scholarship program for the children living there.

Oprah's involvement with charity work is well known. She gave $l million to Morehouse College, in Atlanta, regularly contributes to the Chicago Academy of the Performing Arts, donates to help battered women and victims of AIDS, and her own Family for Better Lives foundation. She is actively involved in lobbying for children's rights and in 1994, was present when President Clinton signed her proposed bill to create a national database of convicted child abusers.

In 1997, Oprah increased the content of her coffer by a whopping $130 million by agreeing to host her show for another two years. As part of the agreement, she also gave the nod to making six television movies for ABC. The deal made "The Oprah Winfrey Show" the longest running syndicated talk show on television.

Oprah's other business interests include a partnership in three network affiliated television stations, an interest in "The Eccentric," a Chicago restaurant and she has also managed to published six books. In 1999, the publishing community honored her with the 50th anniversary gold medal for outstanding literary achievement at the National Book Awards celebration, citing her dedication to reading with her Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. She is also chairman of Harpo, Inc., Harpo Productions, Inc., Harpo Films, Inc., Harpo Video, Inc. and Harpo Studios, Inc.

But Oprah's career has not been without tribulation. She has been sued over using a taped phone recording on her show (which she won), by cattlemen for defamation over an episode on mad cow disease (which she won), for copyright infringement for photographs used in one of her books (which she settled out of court the day after the suit was filed), and even for the name of her magazine "O" by a German publisher of a similarly titled but erotic adult entertainment publication. But in each and every case she has either fought or settled, according to what she has felt was the right thing to do. She has always tried to find where justice lies in each situation.

Her life has also not been without companionship. She and friend Stedman Graham have been a couple since 1986. Graham is a former pro basketball player and Public Relations Executive. The two shared a position at Northwestern University in 1999 teaching a Leadership course. They developed the curriculum jointly and have plans to return.

TV talk show guru Larry King once asked Oprah why she thinks her fans are so obsessed with the thought of a marriage in the couple's future. Oprah replied that people do not care if she is happily married or not, they just want a wedding.

"They want to see doves fly," she said. "They want to know what you wore, how much you spend on the cake, who came."

Oprah also once told audiences she regretted ever bringing up Graham's name on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"The only thing I ever regret is bringing up Stedman's name so much. Some people think that's some kind of longing I have to be married, but I just mention him because he's in my life, like Gayle [her best friend] is in my life, like my dogs are in my life."

In spite of tabloid efforts, lawsuits and all manor of public adversity, Oprah's empire continues to grow. She has signed contracts to continue producing the Oprah Winfrey show through the 2004 television season. She is still producing films. Her Cable television station and magazine viewership grow steadily and she is well on her way to becoming the first female and first African American Billionaire.

With respect to the lucky turn of events that have shaped her life, Oprah says, "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."

But in the end, Oprah's idea of the good life revolves around good and true friends. "Lots of people want to ride with you in the Limo," she says. "But what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the Limo breaks down." She has also said, "My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with."

Now that's some great advice!