Kitty Kelley’s Oprah bio: brave and audacious

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Kitty Kelley’s much-discussed unauthorized biography of media queen Oprah Winfrey hit shelves this week. And although Kelley isn’t likely to get an invite to appear on Oprah’s television show any time soon, Sue Carpenter reviews the book today and finds it a fascinating read.

‘Oprah’ is, in many ways, a brave and audacious book. Circumventing a highly controlled Oprah-sphere that, for more than a decade, has required all employees to sign nondisclosure agreements, Kelley attempts, and largely succeeds, in piercing the veil of one of the most powerful, influential and wealthy women on the planet.It would be hard to find a better poster child for overcoming adversity than Winfrey: a homely African American girl born in the segregated South in 1954, so poor, she has said, that her only pet was a cockroach. As she has demonstrated repeatedly, bad situations haven’t been a hindrance. It was through affirmative action that she entered the media in an effort to become ‘the black Barbara Walters,’ landing jobs at a Nashville radio station and then a Baltimore TV station, where she botched her gig as co-anchor of the nightly news but bedded the future star of ‘Entertainment Tonight,’ John Tesh. Kelley’s account of Winfrey’s early, pre-Chicago years provides many of the book’s most enlightening — and surprising — moments, since they reflect some of the few times her subject has actually failed.

So far, Oprah has made no comment about the biography. The subjects of Kelley’s books and their families rarely have much nice to say. Ronald Reagan made a statement saying Kelley’s book on his wife Nancy contained ‘flagrant and absurd falsehoods... [that] clearly exceed the bounds of decency.’ When Kelley published her biography of Frank Sinatra, daughter Nancy said ‘I hope she gets hit by a truck.’

-- Carolyn Kellogg