Single-Minded: Plowing Through the Oprah Bio

Kitty Kelley forgot to read the memo about good reporting and good writing before she spawned her big, big book on the Queen of Daytime.

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As it stands, “internationally acclaimed investigative biographer” Kitty Kelley’s latest offering, Oprah: A Biography, reads more like a middle-school book report than a well-researched, heavily reported, and revelation-laden expose. Footnotes would have been greatly appreciated.

It reminded me of one I wrote in seventh grade on France. I waited until the 11th hour and, instead of going to the library to do work, I talked to boys and simply penciled in all the things I could remember about the French (They speak French!) on college-ruled paper.

My mother was aghast when I brought home a C because I deserved an F. “Oh, Lena, Mrs. ____ only gave you this grade because she likes you. Do it over.” So I was forced back to the drawing board and an ancient typewriter.

Unfortunately, Kelley didn’t get that same memo. So instead of giving a legion of Oprahphiles what they missed out in 1994 when the talk-show doyenne decided to cancel the publication of an autobiography she’d written for Knopf, Oprah is a he-said-she-said, best-of-past-quotes compilation. According to Oprah, Winfrey put the kibosh on her own book because she’d revealed too much of herself in it–namely a brief stint as a teenage prostitute. The irony here is that Kelley’s Oprah reveals nothing a good Google search wouldn’t.

The 423-page tome does little but regurgitate old rumors and tired blind items about a woman who’s understandably become more legend than laid-back. Reading the repeated mentions of Oprah’s insistence on confidentiality agreements, her embellishments on the truth, and her extreme poise as a teenager, I couldn’t help but think, “Umm, duh!” If you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, then it goes without saying that you can’t create an empire without pissing off a bunch of people.

“Whether her pregnancy was the result of sexual molestation or promiscuity,” writes Kelley of Oprah, who became pregnant at 14 possibly at the hands of her father’s brother, “it was something she felt she needed to hide.” Thanks for that. In the next paragraph, Kelley “reveals” that during a 1994 high school reunion show, Oprah said, “I did not have any embarrassing moments in high school.” This is supposedly proof of what one of Oprah’s aunts calls “Oprah’s lies.” Or perhaps just a regular woman struggling with a painful past?

Also, the writing is pretty bad. Case in point: “During his 1993 interview [with Oprah], Michael Jackson looked ‘Off The Wall,’ Oprah wasn’t ‘Bad,’ and it never got ‘Dangerous’…” Even Es for effort have to be earned.