Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah
Photo: George Burns
It's another sunny Saturday in California, but who has time to notice? At Smashbox Studios in west L.A., O 's creative director, Adam Glassman, and his team are focused on the details: clothes, accessories, sets, and ambience. "The purple dress is looking washed out under these lights," says Glassman. "Let's go with that red one Prabal Gurung made for her." Rick Floyd, the set designer, and his 14-person crew (who've spent the last 39 hours sleeping in shifts and existing on a 7-Eleven diet of Doritos and beef jerky) put the finishing touches on a giant gingerbread house. "More icing! Easy on the gumdrops!" instructs Floyd. Santa's elves have nothing on these guys.

Meanwhile, photographer Ruven Afanador is positioning stand-ins for Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres as the caterers set up a buffet of comfort food. Enter Ellen (above with Oprah, feasting their eyes on the life-size gingerbread house built for the shoot), right on schedule. She checks out the wardrobe racks from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's clothing line, The Row, and shelves filled with the vegan shoes she favors, then greets Serge Normant, who is standing by to do her hair. Finally comes the true star of the shoot, Oprah's puppy, Sadie, trailed by a happily exhausted Oprah herself, who has just flown in from New York City after taping a live show in Central Park. Ellen gives both a warm hug and, to Oprah, the gift of a fully loaded iPod.

An hour later, with DeGeneres's playlist cranked up, the two women go to work in front of the camera—but soon it doesn't feel like work. "Love the hair," Oprah tells Ellen as Afanador (above, helping Ellen become present-able) snaps away. "Oh, I can get it for you," Ellen deadpans. "Serge, get Oprah this hair!" Energy ripples through the room. "Hi, baby!" Ellen calls to wife Portia de Rossi , who has dropped by for support.

As the day winds down, the Billecart-Salmon Champagne Rosé begins to flow for the traditional end-of-shoot toast. "You know," Oprah says, taking a sip, "going into this shoot, I had the week from hell, but I feel better now, and that's because of Ellen (here, getting wrapped up in lights). She isn't just a delight, she is light. And I don't think there's anything better you can do in this world than bring light wherever you go." Cheers to that!

Your Backstage Pass: Photos from the cover shoot

See the O covers featuring Ellen and vote for your favorite!

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