One Incredible Journey: The Ultimate Oprah and Gayle Conversation
Oprah: The one thing I'll take is the statue of Sojourner Truth that Jamie Foxx gave me for my birthday last year. It was a study used for the statue that Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama unveiled in the Emancipation Hall of the Capitol. I have it sitting on the table behind the sofa, in front of my desk, so I look directly at Sojourner Truth. Even in my youth, she was the historical figure I most identified with. Because even though she was born a slave, she was able to speak. She could communicate with people from all different backgrounds. She could speak to the most disenfranchised groups, and she could also speak to Congress. She was invited to the White House by Lincoln. Jamie didn't know that I'd been reciting her "Ain't I a Woman?" speech my whole life, or that when I die, I want to go out like a comet in the sky, which is something she said about her own life. But he gave me that statue, and it will come with me when I go.
Gayle: The thing is, Oprah, I understand that it's time for the show to end. I know it's the right decision, but it really is the end of an era.
Oprah: Well, it's a great compliment to have people feel this way. But I've always known I didn't want anybody to have to drag me off the stage. You have to run your own race. Run it like a marathon. And just steadily build energy for yourself so that when you're on the last lap, you're stronger than ever. And that is really what we've done. I think this season has been the best of our entire journey.
Gayle: That's true. There have been a lot of people coming back on the show for one final appearance. I keep thinking about Diana Ross singing "It's Hard for Me to Say." I felt so emotional watching that. Because I remember watching Diana Ross as a girl, and I know you watched her, too.
Oprah: Not just watched her. Idolized her. That was one of the most moving moments of my life, Diana Ross singing to me on the show—I didn't know it was coming. All of a sudden, she just goes, "May I say something?" She was like, "Where's my microphone?" And I thought, "Oh, Lord," because I don't like surprises. But when she started singing, it was a surreal moment for me. It took me right back to the first time I saw her on The Ed Sullivan Show. I could feel the chenille green spread that covered the sofa upstairs in the flat that my mother rented. It was like I was right back there watching on the black-and-white Zenith, astonished that there could be this beautiful black woman on TV. Imagine being 10 years old, and it's the first time you've ever seen a projected image of somebody who looks like you, and it isn't something somebody else is making fun of. It isn't Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. It isn't demeaning in any way.
Gayle: I know! She was so sophisticated.
Oprah: The Supremes were just—good Lord. So, the fact that this could happen in my lifetime—Diana Ross singing on my show! That that could happen is just a miracle. I kept thinking, "Okay, maybe I am gonna marry Paul McCartney." [Laughter] That's the only other dream I had.
Gayle: Well, that brings us to your first show, in 1986: "How to Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice." Clearly you didn't listen very well, because you're not Mrs. Paul McCartney. But what do you remember about that first show?
Oprah: I was nervous. I got hives in my armpits.
Gayle: I don't recall you being nervous. That's so interesting. Was it because you were live?
Oprah: I was live. But it was like butterfly nervous. I would have to say—and I know it will sound arrogant, but it's the truth—that I felt pretty confident the show was going to be successful nationally. I'd already spent two years in Chicago, honing it. And I understood the commonality of the human experience. I mean, I just knew that people in Chicago were no different from people in Iowa or Detroit or Phoenix, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, Tennessee. I didn't have any fear at all about that.
Gayle: But you didn't think it would be this successful, did you?
Oprah: No, I didn't. I wasn't even thinking in terms of money or anything. I was very naive about the reach and the influence and the impact. What I knew is that I would be able to connect to people. The reason we were so successful in those early years was that everybody on staff was just programming from our own lives. We'd go to the beauty shop, we'd hear an idea. There was a phase where everybody was dating and looking for a guy, and so all the shows were about that. And then we moved on to the stuff that happens once you settle down, and then the shows were about raising kids. There wasn't a focus group. There wasn't a PR person.
Gayle: Right. No strategy.
Oprah: The PR person was my assistant, Alice McGee. And Alice went on to become one of the senior producers—she's the one who started the Book Club. But she was hired as an intern. And when I began getting all that mail, I said, "Listen, Alice, I need somebody to help me with this."