Rich Self-Made Women: Oprah Winfrey

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There is certainly nothing wrong with being an heiress, most of us would not mind if it were to happen to us. No grudge Alice Walton and Jacqueline Mars, but the women who are most intriguing are those who were able to build their wealth by their own hand. California is the state with the most self-made women, resident to one third of all the FORBES’ 2016 of America’s Richest Self-Made Women (Vinton). Likely due to the fact that California has Silicon Valley in its northern quadrant and Hollywood to the south, it makes sense that California would be the Queen of all self-made women. First up is billionairess and media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey has accumulated a $3.1 billion fortune, and has toppled last year’s rival, Elizabeth Holmes, with a then net worth of $4.5 billion, who founded the blood-testing startup Theranos, which she started in 2003 (Herper). Forbes has re-evaluated Holmes fortune and estimates that there is no longer a fortune to be measured. It is possible that Holmes will now make the fastest and longest fall list, should Forbes decide to start one. Holmes has been hit with accusations that her tests are inaccurate and is under investigation by so many federal agencies, it is bone chilling.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey was born in rural Kosciusko, Mississippi, a seven square mile city with a median income of just under $22,000 (“Oprah Winfrey”). The per capita income is just over $13,000, while approximately 24% of the city’s population is below the poverty line. Winfrey moved from Kosciusko to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when she was six years old. While in Milwaukee, she lived with her mother Vernita Lee. She later moved to live with her father in Nashville. A disciplinarian, Vernon Winfrey had a positive effect on the soon to be mogul, giving her the structure and rules that the youngster needed. Vernon’s efforts were apparently successful, because soon Oprah presented the news part time on radio station WVOL. Initially, Winfrey earned an internship with CBS affiliate WLAC-TV in Nashville. After completing her internship, she became an anchor and reporter at the CBS News station at just 19 years old (“Oprah Winfrey”). Oprah was the youngest anchor on the station, and also the first woman African American, quite an accomplishment at that time in the deep South, in fact, a remarkable accomplishment for anywhere. Winfrey graduated from Tennessee State University in 1976, moved to Baltimore, and became both a reporter and co-anchor for an ABC News station. Fundamentally not a news reporter, Winfrey switched to co-hosting the local morning show People Are Talking and found her calling. She excelled at the casual conversation style found in the talk show model (“Oprah Winfrey”).

"Rog, I'm going with King World"

In 1984, Oprah moved to Chicago and took over hosting duties on the AM Chicago show (“Oprah Winfrey”). She was so authentic and appealing the show became an immediate success. It took only one year before the name AM Chicago was retired and renamed to The Oprah Winfrey Show. But Winfrey was not one to sit on her laurels. After having interviewed Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in Baltimore, Winfrey and Ebert went out on a date in Chicago, to the movies and dinner at Hamburger Hamlet (Ebert). During dinner Winfrey asked what she should do about her dilemma. Both ABC and King World wanted to syndicate her talk show. Not sure if she should syndicate or not, and not certain which of the two options to choose if she decided to move forward, she discussed the possibilities with Ebert. Her concern was that if she was not successful, King World would drop her like a hot potato, in the case of ABC, since they were self-sustaining, she might have a better chance, if things did not go well. Ebert picked up a napkin and wrote down how much he made through his syndicated show Siskel and Ebert, wrote down how much Siskel earned, then wrote down what Winfrey could potentially make since she would be on the air five days a week, for an hour (much more face time that Ebert). He gave Winfrey the napkin and it took her just over 10 seconds to make her decision. "Rog, I'm going with King World" (Ebert). Syndicated throughout the United States, The Oprah Winfrey Show became the highest-rated television talk show, toppling her rival, veteran talk show host, Phil Donahue (Robertson).

The Oprah Book Club was started on the Oprah Show as a regular segment in 1996, Oprah would advised the audience and viewers of the reading selection about two to four weeks in advance (“Oprah Winfrey”). The book was then discussed, usually with its author and a few choice fans. Books which were selected by Oprah almost always became best sellers. The Club had a tremendous impact on the publishing industry.

The Donahue-Winfrey Phenomenon

Phil Donahue had owned the talk show circuit exclusively for over 20 years (Robertson). But television analysts were not withholding their condolences over Donahue’s television talk show death in the face of Oprah Winfrey’s meteoric rise to national prominence. The talking heads took note of the fact that when the two competitors were placed on at the same hour, Winfrey usually came out the winner. This was clear in the two most important markets, New York and Los Angeles. To say that Winfrey steamrolled her way to the top was to speak in delicate terms. Both Donahue and Winfrey reached between 9 and 10 million viewers, primarily women every day. Forbes projected the salary of each host to be about $8 million a year, among the top earning entertainers nationally (Robertson).

Donahue paved the way for Oprah to be successful (Robertson). He had discussed hot, hard to talk about topics for years and made it easier for those who came after him. Donahue’s topics showed that:

A baby was born [ . . . ] while the camera mercilessly zeroed in on the mother's labor; there were angry farmers, a woman who killed her abusive husband, homosexual parents, sufferers of AIDS and American Nazis. Mr. Donahue went to Moscow and Leningrad and Chernobyl (Robertson).

During the Emmy Awards, Winfrey thanked her rival for opening the door for her. Winfrey said:

''One of the biggest moments of my life came right then,'' she confided recently. ''After I thanked him he came up to my table and he kissed me and that's when I knew that it was all media-contrived and he didn't hate me at all! He told me: 'You deserve it, you deserve it, you deserve it' '' (Robertson).

In the end, Winfrey said, there really is a place for the both of us. In fact, that was true (Robertson). The Phil Donahue show stayed on the air until September 13, 1996, and was the longest consecutively run syndicated talk show in the history of U.S. television.

Steven Spielberg and The Color Purple

In 1985, Winfrey portrayed Sofia, in the Steven Spielberg presentation of The Color Purple (“Oprah Winfrey”). A feisty and memorable character, who can forget her assertion that Harpo, her husband, who was trying unsuccessfully to get her underneath his control, was not going to beat and abuse her anymore: "I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead 'fore I let him beat me!" (John). Oprah received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for her performance, and a 1986 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. The Color Purple, on Broadway, is the smash hit play adapted from the novel and movie. Winfrey produces the 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival, described by the New York Times as "Exquisite! A joyous celebration of storytelling." 

Harpo Productions

Harpo, or Oprah backwards, is a multimedia and entertainment company (“Harpo, Inc. Company Profile"). Harpo Productions is a subsidiary of Harpo, Inc. and its current subsidiary is Harpo Print, LLC, the company’s publication arm which produces O, the Oprah Magazine in conjunction with Hearst Magazines. Previously, Harpo Films and Harpo Radio were also subsidiaries of the Productions company, but were each shut down, in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The company also holds 50% of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, which is a cable network in joint venture with Discovery Communications. HARPO and OWN are now located in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. In 1998, Oprah co-founded Oxygen Media, a women’s cable TV network, and in 2006 she started Oprah & Friends, a channel that could be heard on satellite radio (“Harpo, Inc. Company Profile").

Recently, Oprah presented a 21 day Meditation Experience with Deepak Chopra. The meditation program has offered 10 different topics since its inception (“Oprah & Deepak's”). The Meditation Experience is a free 20-minute audio meditation that can be heard on the Chopra Meditation Center website. The latest program for the pair is called Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body and Spirit.

Oprah and Philanthropy

Oprah is involved in many philanthropic projects independently and through her Oprah’s Angel Network (“Oprah's Angel Network”). The Angel Network was initiated in 1998, and is a public charity established with the goal of inspiring people to do something to help others. Particularly, to help underserved women and children so that they can fully become the person they were meant to be. The Angel Network develops charitable projects and supports existing programs, and gives grants to non-profits on a worldwide basis that share the same philanthropic philosophy (“Oprah's Angel Network”).

Some of the Angel Network’s philanthropic programs include (“Oprah's Angel Network”):

the building of more than fifty five schools spanning over twelve countries globally, giving educational opportunity to an endless number of children in provincial areas 

furnishing over $1 million of educational supplies to poverty-stricken South African students, along with uniforms for school and shoes

the building or restoration of homes for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, spanning Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas

building of the Seven Fountains Primary School in South Africa, offering educational opportunity to over 1,000 children with programs that serve as a touchstone for other schools throughout the continent

establishing Ambassadors, a project co-sponsored by Oprah's Angel Network and Free the Children, to encourage young students to become global stewards of compassion for others

equipping under-privileged children with books where book club selection is established, through the Oprah's Book Club Awards, like for the classics, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, in Beijing, China and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, in St. Petersburg, Russia

giving grants to organizations dedicated to providing transformative benefits to alter the lives of women and girls, motivated by the Rescuing the World's Girls program created by O, the Oprah Magazine, and the Live Your Best Life tour 

providing the Use Your Life Award to 54 organizations that were making a significant contribution to transforming lives

Oprah has herself been the recipient of numerous awards for her humanitarian efforts including awards from philanthropic, civic and entertainment organizations, for being an outspoken voice against child abuse; being named a Kennedy Center honoree; receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (“Oprah Winfrey”).

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. "How I gave Oprah her Start." Roger Ebert's Journal. 16 November 2005. Web. 3 August 2016. <>.

"Harpo, Inc. Company Profile." Hoovers. Hoovers, Inc. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>.

Herper, Matthew. "From $4.5 Billion To Nothing: Forbes Revises Estimated Net Worth Of Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes." Forbes. Forbes, Inc.  1 June 2016. n. d. Web. 3 August 2016. <>.

John, Christopher. "About the Character Sofia in the Movie "The Color Purple". Entertainment Guide. Corporation. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>.

"Oprah & Deepak's 21-Day Meditation Experience, Desire and Destiny." The Chopra Center. The Chopra Center at Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>.

"Oprah's Angel Network Fact Sheet," Oprah. Harpo, Inc. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>. 

"Oprah Winfrey." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>.

Robertson, Nan. "Donahue vs. Winfrey: A Clash of Talk Titans." The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 1 February 1988. Web. 3 August 2016. <>.

Vinton, Kate. "Meet The Richest Self-Made Women In California." Forbes. Forbes, Inc.  1 June 2016. n. d. Web. 13 August 2016. <>.