For years, we’ve watched her act, host a talk show, give away cars, launch a magazine, and essentially build her own empire. Since 1973, the name Oprah Winfrey has been part of some form of entertainment medium, starting with a stint as the youngest and first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.
Though she’s been in spotlights and headlines for decades, there is still so much more to Oprah Winfrey than what cameras and tabloids capture. To learn more about Lady O we must dig through the lesser-known factoids and behind-the-scenes material. That’s where you would find these five things you didn’t know about Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah’s real name
It's not uncommon for stars to use a pen name or go by their middle name, but Winfrey’s case doesn’t quite fall under either scenario. If you look at Oprah Winfrey’s birth certificate, you’ll find that her name was actually Orpah. Chosen by her Aunt Ida, the name Orpah is first mentioned in the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. It belongs to a woman from Moab, the daughter-in-law of Naomi and wife of Chilion.
According to Winfrey, the name change came because nobody knew how to spell “Orpah.” It may not have been changed on the birth certificate, but every other document bearing Winfrey’s name sports the name she’s known by today.
Early-employment woes at WJZ
Among Winfrey’s earliest jobs was a stint as co-anchor for WJZ alongside seasoned newsman Jerry Turner. Coming from her first job anchoring in Nashville, Winfrey was slated to join the Baltimore team, but before her arrival, the network started running a promo campaign. “What is an Oprah?” the advertisements read, splashed across buses and billboards. According to Winfrey, she “could not live up to the hype,” especially sitting next to the well-respected anchor that only wanted to work alone.
Winfrey recalls in an interview with "The Baltimore Sun" that Turner had no issue making his displeasure known. “At every chance he could get, he would embarrass me,” she said. Unfortunately, Turner had enough pull at WJZ, and on April 1, 1977, Winfrey was removed from the evening news and placed onto the morning cut-ins, a far-less glorious job.
Job humiliation wasn’t even the worst of it as Winfrey still remembers the abundant catcalls and unwanted sexual advances she suffered at WJZ. “I was so sexually harassed,” she told The Baltimore Sun.
Inspired by Roger Ebert
Though the two started on a search for romance, the relationship that budded between Oprah Winfrey and Roger Ebert was one that led to the syndication of the former’s popular talk show. According to the journal entry “How I Gave Oprah Her Start” on Roger Ebert’s official site, the film critic and talk-show host dated very briefly. It was during those dates that Ebert provided Winfrey with life-changing advice.
After catching a movie on their second date, Ebert and Winfrey enjoyed dinner at Hamburger Hamlet. It was here that Winfrey brought up ABC and King World’s desire to syndicate her show. With just a napkin and a ballpoint pen, Ebert was able to convince Winfrey to move ahead with syndication. “Rog, I’m going with King World,” he recalled her saying after staring at the simple calculation of her potential weekly earnings.
She has her own effect
Chances are you’ve heard of the Streisand Effect or the Mandela Effect, but the Oprah Effect may be a little less well known. The effect is a play on Oprah Winfrey’s popularity and the influence that she has over her fanbase. Through her 25 years on TV, Winfrey has proven that her word is essentially gold to her most devout followers.
Essentially, the Oprah Effect is a reference to the increase in sales that a product or service experiences after being featured or mentioned by Oprah. The accuracy of the effect can be seen in the people who have been on her show and went on to become household names. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Rachael Ray are among the current stars whose careers were initially formed by Winfrey, and she’s been known to cause books to go from unknown to best sellers.
Miss Fire Prevention 1971
Long before she infiltrated homes all over the nation with an effective talk show, Winfrey was making a name for herself in Tennessee. In 1971, Nashville local radio station WVOL hosted a Miss Fire Prevention contest. Winfrey entered and won, earning herself a prize of a Longines watch and a clock radio.
There was another reward to come from her victory, however. When she arrived at the station to retrieve her prize, a DJ noticed something special about the young woman and had her test-read wire copy. The Miss Fire Prevention winner astounded the DJ and anyone else he brought in as she read through the paper. When she left the station, she did so with her first opportunity in broadcasting.
A life in the spotlight
Though we may see Oprah Winfrey gracing our television sets and magazine racks daily, it’s impossible to know everything about a person. Her life may seem like an open book, but as these five facts you didn’t know have revealed, there is more to the talk show host than we originally thought.