Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey was reared by her grandmother on a farm where she “began her broadcasting career” by learning to read aloud and perform recitations at the age of three. From age six to 13, she lived in Milwaukee with her mother.
After suffering abuse and molestation, she ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home at the age of 13, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled. As a last resort, she was sent to Nashville to live under her father’s strict discipline. Vernon Winfrey saw to it that his daughter met a midnight curfew, and he required her to read a book and write a book report each week. “As strict as he was,” says Oprah, “he had some concerns about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best.”
Oprah Winfrey’s broadcasting career began at age 17, when she was hired by WVOL radio in Nashville, and two years later signed on with WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter/anchor. She attended Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts.
In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV news as a co-anchor, and in 1978 discovered her talent for hosting talk shows when she became co-host of WJZ-TV’s “People Are Talking,” while continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter.
In January 1984, she came to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s “AM Chicago,” a faltering local talk show. In less than a year, she turned “AM Chicago” into the hottest show in town. The format was soon expanded to one hour, and in September 1985 it was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Seen nationally since September 8, 1986, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” became the number one talk show in national syndication in less than a year. In June 1987, in its first year of eligibility, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. In June 1988, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” received its second consecutive Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and she herself received the International Radio and Television Society’s “Broadcaster of the Year” Award. She was the youngest person and only the fifth woman ever to receive the honor in IRTS’s 25-year history.
Oprah Winfrey Biography Photo
Before America fell in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she captured the nation’s attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. Winfrey’s performance earned her nominations for an Oscar and Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress. Critics again lauded her performance in Native Son, a movie adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic 1940 novel.
Her love of acting and her desire to bring quality entertainment projects into production prompted her to form her own production company, HARPO Productions, Inc., in 1986. Today, HARPO is a formidable force in film and television production. Based in Chicago, HARPO Entertainment Group includes HARPO Productions, Inc., HARPO Films and HARPO Video, Inc. In October, 1988, HARPO Productions, Inc. acquired ownership and all production responsibilities for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from Capitol Cities/ABC, making Oprah Winfrey the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show. The following year, HARPO produced it first television miniseries, the The Women of Brewster Place, with Oprah Winfrey as star and Executive Producer. It has been followed by the TV movies There Are No Children Here (1993), and Before Women Had Wings(1997), which she both produced and appeared in. In 1998, she starred in the feature film Beloved, from the book by the Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison.
Oprah Winfrey Biography Photo
In 1991, motivated in part by her own memories of childhood abuse, she initiated a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers, and testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. President Clinton signed the “Oprah Bill” into law in 1993, establishing the national database she had sought, which is now available to law enforcement agencies and concerned parties across the country.
Oprah Winfrey was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time magazine, and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her influence extended to the publishing industry when she began an on-air book club. Oprah Book Club selections became instant bestsellers, and in 1999 she was presented with the National Book Foundation’s 50th anniversary gold medal for her service to books and authors.
She is one of the partners in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network presenting programming designed primarily for women. In 2000, Oprah’s Angel Network began presenting a $100,000 “Use Your Life Award” to people who are using their lives to improve the lives of others. When Forbes magazine published its list of America’s billionaires for the year 2003, it disclosed that Oprah Winfrey was the first African-American woman to become a billionaire.