Stuff You Should Know: Oprah Winfrey

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Let’s be honest, a lot of you reading this probably don’t watch Oprah much. It’s cool, we don’t either. But we figured with this being the final season of her long running show, and in light of her impressive display of power that managed to get game one of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals moved because she already had the United Center reserved (something tough guy Vince McMahon failed to do), it was high time we learned a little something about the most dominant daytime talk show host of all-time.

Here are ten things you should know about Oprah Winfrey.

Her Name Isn’t Really Oprah

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You’re probably not surprised that her real name isn’t Oprah. That’s just too great of a stage name, right? Right. Her real name is Orpah. Look at it closely, we didn’t mess that up. Orpah, not Oprah.

She’s named after a character in The Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. Unfortunately, she was surrounded by a bunch of family and friends who had no idea how to pronounce “Orpah,” so they started pronouncing it as “Oprah.” According to Winfrey, it was “…great because Oprah spells Harpo backwards. I don’t know what Orpah spells.”

We consulted TSJ’s resident linguistics expert and he confirms that it spells “Hapro.” Mystery solved!

She Was a Wild Teen

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You don’t normally associate the name Oprah with reckless debauchery, but there’s more to Gayle King’s bestie than you may realize. She had a tumultuous upbringing, shuffling between living with her grandmother, mother and father in completely different parts of the country. At age 13, she ran away from home after years of abuse at the hands of pervy family members (yes, that kind of abuse, unfortunately) and quickly became pregnant. At 14, she delivered her first and only child, a boy, who died shortly after birth.

Later, she moved back in with her mother and began stealing money from her in an effort to keep pace with her wealthy schoolmates. This behavior got her shipped back to live with her father in Tennessee, where she finally began to get her act together.

She joined the debate team and was good enough at it to earn a scholarship to Tennessee State University. And then, she did something you likely won’t believe…

She’s a Beauty Queen!

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In 1971, Oprah Winfrey won Nashville’s prestigious Miss Fire Prevention contest. And she wasn’t done! In 1972, she was crowned Miss Black Tennessee and went on to compete in the Miss Black America contest. But her interest in a news career brought her pageant days to an end soon thereafter.

At just 19-years-old, she left Tennessee State University to become the first female African-American news anchor in Nashville. This led to several other opportunities which eventually landed her in Chicago in 1983, where she took her most high profile job up to that point.

She Was Immediately Awesome

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Oprah took over the low-rated Chicago morning talk show AM Chicago in 1984. In a matter of months, the ratings skyrocketed. The show overtook Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. That was no small feat, Phil was the shit back then.

At this point, she got some sound advice from an unlikely source. Film critic Roger Ebert suggested that Oprah should step her game up to the national level.

And Then They Dated!

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That’s right, Oprah Winfrey and Roger Ebert briefly dated back in the mid-80s. Nothing really came of the union, unless you count the fact that he persuaded Winfrey to sign a syndication deal with King World. They took the hour long Oprah Winfrey Show national beginning in 1986.

A rivalry with talk show legend Phil Donahue ensued, and Oprah dominated. Soon, she was bringing in twice as many viewers as Phil, knocking him off the throne he had long sat upon as the number one rated daytime talk show host in America.

It hasn’t even been close ever since.

People Call Her Soft

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Oprah Winfrey doesn’t get nearly the amount of criticism you’d expect for someone who’s risen to the level of fame that she has. That’s quite possibly a side effect of tossing cars and vacations to her audience members whenever the mood strikes. You just never know when she’s going to come your way bearing gifts, so you keep your mouth shut on the off chance that it happens.

But she’s not completely free of detractors. She’s often accused of being too soft on celebrities when interviewing them, especially if the subject is someone she appears to like. With that said…

James Frey Might Disagree

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You remember James Frey, right? He’s the guy who wrote a “memoir” called A Million Little Pieces. It eventually topped the New York Times Best Sellers list for fifteen straight weeks.

And then, shit got ugly. Turns out the “memoir” was highly fabricated, a fact that was researched and revealed by several media outlets. James Frey denied this at first, but eventually conceded that he had made up several of the tales in his best selling book. But not before Oprah had called in to Larry King Live to defend Frey against the “unfounded” allegations. Ruh-roh!

Oprah didn’t take the embarrassment well. She invited Frey to appear on her show and proceeded to rip him apart in what will likely go down as one of the most brutal interviews of all-time.

Coincidentally enough, Frey returned to the Oprah show just this week. His two part interview concludes today. That shit should be interesting.

And speaking of James Frey’s book…

Oprah Has an Effect on People

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It’s not just that she an effect on people, she literally has her own effect. It’s called “The Oprah Effect,” fittingly enough. Basically, if you have a product you need endorsed, be it a made up memoir, a gadget or a run for office, if you can get Oprah to speak on its behalf, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a hit.

Take the case of little known cake company We Take the Cake. In 2004, they turned a modest $19 profit and were on the brink of extinction. And then, they were featured on one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” episodes. Now, it’s a million dollar company. We shit you not…

By the way, Oprah, The Smoking Jacket loves you. Wouldn’t you like to tell the world how much you love us back? Please?

We doubt that’s going to work. But if it does, we expect an influx of traffic from the Middle East, because…

Oprah is Huge in Saudi Arabia

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Surprising but true, Oprah Winfrey has a huge following in Saudi Arabia. In 2007, MBC 4, an Arab channel, focused its entire programming around reruns of Oprah because the show was a huge ratings draw. Oprah’s modest dress combined with her triumphs over adversity has led many Saudi women to idealize her.

But even if that entire Saudi audience, along with the even larger stateside following, went away tomorrow, Oprah would still be alright, because…

She’s Hella Paid

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According to Forbes, Oprah was worth over $2.7 billion in 2010. She was the world’s only black billionaire (no matter what the rappers may claim) from 2004-2006, not to mention the world’s very first black billionaire. It’s been a good 25 years, to say the least.

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