Kitty Kelley's Oprah dissection a brave opus

Fri Apr 23, 2010 10:34am EDT
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By Elizabeth Guider

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - One has to admire Kitty Kelley's chutzpah. For decades, she has managed, unauthorized naturally, to take on really big people as her subjects -- Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra among them -- and this time around is no exception.

Nowadays, what with the blogosphere, TMZ and kids baring their souls on Facebook, it's hard to imagine there's any audience for a so-called "authorized" biography of a celebrity -- privacy is just oh so 20th century. To have readers, a biographer simply has to gun it.

Part of the irony of Kelley's "Oprah: A Biography," however, is that Winfrey built her success around getting folks, mostly women, to spill their hearts out in front of millions. She also did a lot of it herself, so there's not exactly that much we don't already know. OK, there is one page about a brief fling with John Tesh, of all people, but other than that.

Still, work went into this effort. Oprah is a protected institution, and to try to pick it apart and reconstitute it is no mean task, especially when you don't have the help of the institution itself.

A lot of other people did talk, however, and what emerges is a complex portrait of a personality full of contradictions, weaknesses and calculation as well as those positive traits we all know about. Fans who regularly watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show" are unlikely to tune out because of the book.

Kelley seemingly has amassed 25 years worth of allegations and criticisms in 524 pages and managed to tell, tacky and titillating parts aside, an instructive tale about what it took for a dirt-poor black kid (well, maybe not so dirt poor) from Kosciusko, Miss., to become America's richest and arguably most influential woman.

No doubt Winfrey's lawyers are all over this "so-called biography," as she off-handedly dismissed it, for possible libel claims, but in many cases in the book official versions of the facts as put out by the Winfrey machine simply boil down to: She exaggerated, either a little or quite a lot, depending on whom Kelley spoke to and what ax they have to grind.

There are a lot of people giving their version of the Oprah they know or remember mostly in response to Oprah's own words to interviewers or statements on the show. (Several media outlets have refused to discuss the book out of "respect" for Winfrey. Oprah chum Gayle King had the best line, quipping that the tome is not likely to be "an Oprah Book Club selection." It is, though, an instant best-seller.)   Continued...