Oprah: Yesterday And Today

From Anonymity. . .

When Oprah Winfrey made her 60 Minutes debut in 1986, she was only 32 years old, and virtually unknown across the U.S. Her talk show had just been picked up for national syndication.

Thirteen years later, Oprah is seen in more than 130 countries around the world, having sustained one of the most prosperous television careers in the medium's history. She's an actress, a television producer, and a generous philanthropist who has donated millions to her favorite charities.

Find out more about Oprah Winfrey: These Web sites have a wealth of information.
Currently presiding over the Harpo media empire at her production studios in Chicago, Oprah sat down with 60 Minutes Correspondent Mike Wallace to trace the steps that led her to be the most famous and visible black woman in America today.

MIKE WALLACE: How much were you worth when I talked to you back in 1986?

OPRAH: I don't know what I was worth. I know I didn't have an apartment. I know that when you came to interview me.

MIKE WALLACE: And now this person who didn't have an apartment 13 years ago in which to have an interview for 60 Minutes, now is worth somewhereÂ… between half a billion and a billion dollars. And you had no doubt that that was the way it was going to work out?

OPRAH: I had no doubt about it working. I really didn't understand at the time....that you could make this much money. And I think, perhaps, if I had known, maybe I would have been more scared. I know now that I am where I am because I always believed I could get here. I always believed it.

She may have believed it, but how did she get there? She was born 45 years ago in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and was raised by her grandmother. Her parents were divorced, although she eventually wound up living with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. She said she never experienced any racism while she was growing up. She was always the best in her class, and won all the prizes.

People who knew her back then say they were sure that she was going to be famous one day. When she was only 16, she got a job reading the news at a Nashville radio station. Later, she went to Tennessee State University. She won the Miss Black Tennessee contest. And when she was 22, she moved to Baltimore and became an anchorwoman on a local TV news show.

MIKE WALLACE: Back in 1986, I said on the broadcast that you "mixed a little Dear Abby with a lot of Dr. Ruth." Let me read what some of your topics were back then: Penal implants.


MIKE WALLACE: Yes. 'Women who turn to lesbianism.'


MIKE WALLACE: Man poaching......my mother stole my man.

OPRAH: Are you sure?


OPRAH: I did that for a while. And that was no longer fulfilling to me. As I grew with the show. I started to think, I don't want to do this anymore. This doesn't feel like what I should be growing myself into.

What she has grown herself into is a major star. She has won every award imaginable, and her success has permitted her to take the risk of producing the kind of talk show that today is, in many ways, different from all the rest. It's a "change your life TV" program, a concept Oprah hopes will inspire viewers.

There's talk of spirituality and empowerment, plus a daily reminder for viewers to remember their inner spirit. And this new format has brought something else brand new for Oprah: criticism.

OPRAH: You know, we called it "change your life TV," which for better or worse may not have been the thing to do, to step out and say, 'Oh, we're gonna change your life.' That might have been a mistake. I cannot be defined by what other people think. I can only be defined by what I believe. And what I said to you almost 13 years ago, I can be defined by what I believe is my purpose. And one of my purposes is to use this television show as a voice to not only entertain people, as I did in the beginning, but as a source of information, as a source of enlightenment, wherever we can, and also as a source of lifting people up wherever you can. And I really, if people have a problem with that, then watch Jerry Springer. I really do feel that.

And some may be doing just that. For despite her huge popularity, Oprah's audience has diminished some this past year. Ratings aside, the big disappointment for Oprah in 1998 was the box office flop of her prized movie Beloved.

MIKE WALLACE: 'Beloved.' What was wrong?

OPRAH: That's a really tough question for me. And I don't know what was wrong with it. And I asked myself that question over and over and over again. It feels like this child like I gave birth to and the world said, 'Oh, well we don't wanna see your baby.'

MIKE WALLACE: Question: how black are you?

OPRAH: I think it's an unfair question because the soul of who I am, who I really am, not the color of my skin, is what this success has been about.

MIKE WALLACE: But as the most famous, surely the most visible black woman today in America, and who knows where else as well, does that not give you a certain sense of responsibility in terms of black leadership? That's what I mean when I say, how black are you?

OPRAH: How black am I? I really feel a sense of responsibility first as a creation of a force that I call God, that's bigger than myself. And because I'm black, I feel the responsibility to that. I feel the responsibility to my womanness. But more importantly, I feel a responsibility to my humanness. And the fact tat I am black is just that. It is a fact.

MIKE WALLACE: Okay, you were 32 when I met you. You're 45 now. Thirteen years from now you'll be 58. Where, what?

OPRAH: I don't see it. I can't see 58. I can't even see it. I mean, I just really try to live in the moment. I couldn't have seen this. Do I look like I saw this then? I don't. I didn't see this. So I try to live in the moment and let that moment carry me to the next great place.