Oprah Winfrey: Rise to Fame Essay

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Kristina Giles Mr. Fiorelli Creative and Critical Writing 7 May 2011 Oprah Winfrey: Rise to Fame When people watch The Oprah Winfrey Show many never think that Oprah Winfrey would be a lady who experienced a disheartening childhood. We know she worked her way up the social mobility ladder and media industry but have people stopped to think about the specifics of how Oprah did it? What qualities did Oprah bring to her life and career that enabled her to move up the social ladder?

Oprah’s childhood, the start of her career, and the launching of her talk show are all key points in Oprah’s life that have helped her become one of the most influential woman in the media and the United States today. On January 29, 1954, Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in rural Kosciusko, Mississippi to a single teenaged woman, Vernita Lee. (Winfrey, Oprah) Vernita originally named her Orpah, a name from the Book of Ruth in the Bible. Because of the pronunciation and spelling, Vernita decided to name her Oprah instead. As a young child, Oprah moved back and forth between her mother and father.

She lived in both rural and inner city poverty. Because she was extremely gifted when it came to education, Oprah skipped Kindergarten and the second grade. Oprah’s life at home though, was far from perfect. She was sexuality abused at the age of nine by male relatives and friends. At fourteen, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son who died in infancy. (Winfrey, Oprah) “Winfrey became a delinquent teenager, frequently acting out and crying for attention. ” (Oprah Gail) Because of this rebellion, Vernita sent Oprah to live her father, Vernon Winfrey.

Oprah claims that her father saved her life. Vernon was very strict with Oprah and provided guidance, structure, rules and books. (Oprah, Gail) He made sure that school and education were the top priority for Oprah. Things began to turnaround for Oprah. She became an honor student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her school’s speech team where she placed second in the nation for dramatic interpretation. She also won the Miss Tennessee Black beauty pageant. Oprah received a scholarship at the Tennessee State University and there, she studied Communications.

Attracting the attention of a local black radio station, WVOL, she was hired to do the news on a part-time basis. Oprah worked at WVOL during her senior year of high school and for her first two years of college. By providing Oprah with the guidance and structure that she needed as well as a focus on hard work, Oprah’s father gave her the foundation she needed to overcome the obstacles many young, African American women faced at that time. She was on her way! Like many people who move up on the social and career ladders, Oprah had a number of “firsts” during her initial years in broadcasting.

While working in the local media, she was the first black news anchor and also the youngest news anchor on Nashville’s WLAC-TV. In 1976, Oprah moved to Baltimore, one of the major metropolitan broadcasting networks in the country. There she co-anchored WJZ-TV’s six o’clock news broadcast. Oprah’s initial jump into the television talk show genre came when she was recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ’s local talk show People are Talking. (Oprah Winfrey) Again, Oprah was on her way! Drive, ambition, and a few lucky breaks are common for people who are socially mobile.

Oprah Winfrey’s television career took off when she moved to Chicago in 1983. Never one to back down from a challenge, she hosted WLS-TV’s low-rated half-hour morning show, AM Chicago. Again hard work and dedication paid off for Oprah Winfrey. Within months of her coming on the show, AM Chicago took over Donahue as the highest rated television show in Chicago. Roger Ebert, a movie critic, persuaded Oprah to sign a deal with King World. At the Movies was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and was extended to a full hour.

The show debuted on September 8, 1986. The Oprah Winfrey Show became the third highest rated television show and the #1 talk show and received a Daytime Emmy for excellence in talk/ service broadcasting. (Winfrey, Oprah. ) Men and women who break career and social boundaries often bring a new element and creativity to their chosen profession. Often their ideas and work are scrutinized. Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey’s swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk.

As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue [… ] What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah’s eye [… ] They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session. (Zoglin 2) In the early years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the program was classified as a tabloid talk show.

But in the 1990’s, Oprah started to reach out towards different and less talked about topics. Some of the guests Oprah had on her show included a group of nudists (showing only their heads), white supremacists, and transsexuals (Gale. ) She has also hosted shows on much broader topics such as geopolitics, heart disease, spirituality and meditation. She interviewed celebrities on social issues they were directly associated with, such as cancer, charity work, and substance abuse. One of the biggest changes she made to the talk show genre was the televised giveaways.

One of the most talked about giveaways was in 2004, at the beginning of the show’s nineteenth season, when Oprah gave each member of the audience a new car. (Shelton. ) Oprah was soon “deemed the undisputed ‘Queen of Talk. ’” (Winfrey, Oprah. ) Taking it to the next level, Oprah formed her own multimedia company named Harpo Productions, (Oprah spelled backwards). Harpo Productions soon took over the ownership and production of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah decided to end The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 9, 2011 after twenty five seasons.

Again, taking it the next level, Oprah will remain a media player through The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) which debuted on January 1, 2011. (Oprah Winfrey) Problems that Oprah and her team face with ending the show are transforming Harpo into a world-class production studio, getting OWN a partnership with The Discovery Channel and building audiences for OWN in a fragmented and increasingly digital media world. (Woman to. ) Surprises in her personal life did not set back Oprah. In fact, she celebrated and highlighted them on her show. Over the years, audiences have seen her document her weight losses and gains.

One of the biggest events in Oprah’s life was when she discovered her half- sister, Patricia. Patricia was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when Oprah was nine years old. Patricia was given up for adoption while Oprah was living with her father in Tennessee. (Oprah Meets) Patricia had said that she lived in a series of foster homes until she was seven but her childhood was still very difficult. Tracing her roots took Patricia many years but she was able to find her mother and her half-sister, Oprah. When Oprah learned about her half-sister, she said that the discovery “left me speechless. (Hammel 1) This was the family secret that Oprah called “one of the greatest surprises” (Hammel 1) of her life. As noted before, Oprah Winfrey has had many “firsts” and accomplishments in her climb up the social ladder. These include being the first African-American to appear in Forbes’ billionaire list. (Winfrey, Oprah) In 2005, Oprah was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and she was the first African-American listed by Business Week as one of America’s top 50 most generous philanthropists. (Buzzle. com 1)

Like many who have reached the upper echelons of society, Oprah has donated a significant amount of time and money to many charities. Most of her money goes to three charities: The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation, The Angel Network, and The Oprah Winfrey Foundation. The Angel Network has developed many projects. One of these projects is The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. This charity began in 2007 when Oprah opened a school in South Africa for girls (Shelton. ) The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation was created in 2007 to give money towards the Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

The Oprah Winfrey Foundation is run exclusively by Oprah which means that no one can donate to the organization. Through these three charities and organizations, Oprah has extended her influence throughout the entire world. (Oprah’s Charities 1. ) Other charities that Oprah has volunteered her time for are the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, the Clinton Foundation, Project Cuddle, United Negro College Fund (Winfrey, Oprah) and Free the Children (Oprah’s Charities 1. ) Oprah Winfrey’s rise to fame was not easy. Living in both rural and inner ity poverty & enduring sexual abuse at an early age did have a negative effect on Oprah. When her talents were channeled in the right direction and when provided with structure and guidance, Oprah was able to overcome these challenges and use her talent to change not only the norms of her field of work, but others in society who benefit from her charities’ work. Hard work, talent, creativity, and a passion for what she does has allowed Oprah to rise from humble beginnings to becoming one of the world’s most influential persons.

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