Reviewed By T. U. Dawood
Sunday, 26 Sep, 2010
THE life of Oprah Winfrey is simply fascinating. A spellbinding storyteller, an insightful interviewer and an Oscar-nominated actress, she is a true representation of the American dream. It is not surprising then that she is Kitty Kelley’s latest subject matter for a biography.
Oprah: A biography is chock-a-block with information on the queen of daytime television. Kelley interviewed the diva’s relatives, former lovers and coworkers. Remarkably, most of the people Kelley interviewed were not on the best of terms with Winfrey, including her cousin and father (who, it is alleged, might not be her biological father after all). Kelley had a clear thesis while writing this biography and she positions her work to fit that vision.
Regardless of what’s in the biography, we all know that Winfrey is quite the philanthropist. Kelley does mention her many achievements and her charitable work, but follows these positive statements with a ‘but’, all the while attempting to underscore, over and over again, that Winfrey’s generosity is often self-serving.
There are a lot of details present on Winfrey’s preferences. Kelley talks about how Winfrey does not enjoy taking the stairs, has a bathtub to fit her body and does not want to be photographed by the paparazzi in her bathing suit. Do all these revelations come as a real surprise? Not at all.
Kelley’s trademark that markets her books is incorporating one shocking revelation to tantalise readers. From Laura Bush selling dope in college to Nancy Reagen and Frank Sinatra having an affair are examples of full-blown secrets revealed by Kelley in her earlier best-sellers. The only semi-interesting unearthing in Kelley’s book on Oprah Winfrey is that she once dated John Tesh. In fact, Oprah dated both John Tesh and Roger Ebert before meeting her longtime partner Stedman Graham, but these relationships are simply not the hidden scandals that sell books. However, Kelley did discover one very potent piece of information in her research: the true identity of Winfrey’s father. Yet she chose not to put this salient detail into the biography.
Why not, you may wonder. Kelley apparently gave her word that she would not reveal the name because it is Winfrey’s mother’s place to tell her daughter and over the years she has still not done so. Since the book has come out, The National Enquirer has reported the true identity of Oprah Winfrey’s father to be 84-year-old Noah Robinson Sr., a retired Mississippi farmer and World War II veteran, who since then has requested a paternity test. Yet the truth is still to be known.
Kelley time and again returns to writing about the demons Winfrey herself has revealed, specifically focusing on the sexual abuse the talk show host suffered at the hands of her cousin, uncle and family friend beginning at the tender age of nine.
Winfrey first shared her history of abuse on her show in 1986, the year her show went into national syndication. It was a decision that was very controversial at the time, but proved to catapult Winfrey as well as the show to untold heights, although most members of her family still refuse to believe any such abuse took place.
Winfrey’s diva behaviour and her sway in the industry are very prominently discussed in the book. In fact, according to the Washington Times, the biography had an initial printing of around 500,000 copies. Yet, according to Kelley, some major news organisations refused to schedule interviews for fear of incurring ‘Oprah’s displeasure.’
Despite those setbacks, Kelley’s book is a great success. Her style is as engaging as ever. Even though comprising 544 pages (Winfrey’s authorised biography was just 200 pages), most people will read a good half of it before feeling the page count. There is a steady rhythm, enough energy and sufficient content to prove Kelley has done her homework.
After a while, it does feel almost like an overdose on too many People magazine articles, but for the most part it is a harmless guilty little pleasure.
Oprah (BIOGRAPHY) By Kitty KelleyRandom House, New York ISBN 0307394867544pp. $30
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