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...