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If you like Oprah Winfrey's story, you might also like:
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Oprah Winfrey's
recommended reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Oprah Winfrey also appears in the video:
You Can Do Anything

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Oprah Winfrey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Talent and Vision

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Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
Profile of Oprah Winfrey Biography of Oprah Winfrey Interview with Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey Photo Gallery

Oprah Winfrey Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Entertainment Executive

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  Oprah Winfrey

What prompted you to develop your own studio and take control of your show?

Oprah Winfrey: It was what we call a win-win-win situation, but it was a lot of trouble. Just to get to be an actress, I ended up building my own studio, because when I was shooting The Color Purple, I was not allowed the kind of freedom that was necessary to do that work. And what I really want to do is create films -- for myself and other people -- that uplift, enlighten, encourage, and entertain people. In order to do that, I need time. So I was working under a situation where I only had so much time to do it. As I say, to me, success is a process. There was this empty studio and old vacant lot available. And I have a partner who said to me, "You know, there is that studio available. And if you take over your own show..." Well, it just never occurred to me that could happen.

So the studio came to be as a roundabout way for me to get to be an actress. I've been trying to be one since I was three. And it happened as a part of an on-going process for me. It's much easier for me to make major life, multi-million dollar decisions, than it is to decide on a carpet for my front porch. That's the truth. I was in the K-Mart store, and I couldn't decide between the one with the kittens and the ducks. I had them all laid out. They are $5.99 a piece. It took me longer to make the decision as to which mat I would have: "Welcome Friends" or "Welcome"or "Welcome to My House" than to make the decision to get my own studio.

I have a lawyer/manager, he and I are now partners who came to me and said, "You know, you could own your own show." And before he said that to me, I thought, "Own my own show?" I just totally dismissed it. "How am I going to own my own show? I have a contract. What am I going to do?" He says, "You can own your own show, and there is a studio that is the old Fred Niles studio that is going to become available. It needs a lot of work..." I thought nothing of it at the time. I totally dismissed it because he was always making projections and coming up with ideas, and I just thought, "Okay, I'll let him dream on." Just as my speech coach had said to me many years ago. "Dream on." Because I had a really solid contract when I was shooting The Color Purple, I didn't have enough time to shoot it. I was begging for time because I realized that what we were doing was something very special. But, it's very difficult to convince news people that. "oh, no it's really not what you think." So the studio came about as a result of me wanting more time and creativity and control for myself. I bought the studio, so that I would be able to act and do the show at the same time. So that I would be able to do two things that were very important to me.

The show is very important to me because it is a platform for being able to make a difference in people's lives, to influence them to change for the better. I don't want to give that up -- until it's time. And I will know when it's time. I don't want to be the kind of person that stays in the ring too long and gets punch-drunk from the experience. I just want to be able to do it for as long as it works. And I know it's not going to work forever.

As long as I can be an influence and make a difference, that's what I want to do. But I also want to act because I think that it's very important to create work that for one, puts the black cultural experience on screen. I've been black, I've been female all my life. That's the only thing I know. So I know that experience. I love being a woman, and I love being a black woman. I read mostly female literature because I just find that I'm drawn to it. If I'm in a book store, I'm drawn to the women writers because that's what I know. And so I want to be able to put that on screen. I want to be able to do work that encourages, enlightens, uplifts and entertains people.

There is some work I would not do. I get offered a number of scripts, and have chosen not to do them because, fortunately, I am in the position that I don't have to work for the sake of working. The process of the work is far more important to me, in many cases, than the end result. Once the picture is finished, that's fine. The process of working on a show and being in the midst of a show -- being right in the heart of it -- is far more stimulating, fulfilling, and exciting to me than finishing the show. Then I'm on to the next thing.

You've become the most successful woman in entertainment today. I want to talk a little bit about your role as business woman.

Oprah Winfrey Interview Photo
Oprah Winfrey: That's so interesting to me. I read that, too. I read that! And I think, "Well what does this mean?" Like, one day, I was on the Forbes list, and someone says, "Oh, I saw you on the Forbes List." And it was like, just another thing that had happened. It wasn't like, "Oh, my God! I'm on the Forbes List!" What I find though, is once you make it, there is a competitive streak in you. Because now I go, "Where was I on the list?" At first I didn't care about making it.

I remember calling up Bill Cosby saying, "Could you lend me some money so I could be number five, because I got beat out by New Kids on the Block. " But other than that, it doesn't register. It is very difficult for me to see myself as other people see me. Very difficult. I don't know what that means. I don't know what being Oprah Winfrey means to other people, from the outside. Because I still feel the same. I really do. I feel the same as I did when I was 22 and struggling. Because the struggle has taken on a different form for me. The struggle is more of an inner self struggle, trying to find the truth for myself, than it is trying to get enough money to pay my light bill.

Actually, it was easier trying to find enough money to pay my light bill than discovering what the truth of your life is all about. What other people view as successful is not what my idea of success is. And I don't mean to belittle it at all. It's really nice to be able to have nice things. What material success does is provide you with the ability to concentrate on other things that really matter. And that is being able to make a difference, not only in your own life, but in other people's lives. That's really all it's good for because you no longer have to focus your attention on how you going to pay your car note, and whether or not you are going to sign your last name so that when the check gets there, they can send it back to you, and you can say, "Oh! Forgot to sign it!" You don't have to play those games anymore, so you really have the time and the attention to focus on other things. And the big question for me in my life is now that I have achieved some material success, is, what do I do with it? How do I use this to make a difference?

For me, education is about the most important thing because that is what liberated me. Education is what liberated me. The ability to read saved my life. I would have been an entirely different person had I not been taught to read when I was at an early age. My entire life experience, my ability to believe in myself, and even in my darkest moments of sexual abuse and being physically abused and so forth, I knew there was another way. I knew there was a way out. I knew there was another kind of life because I'd read about it. I'd read about it. I knew there were other places and there was another way of being. And so, it saved my life, so that's why I now focus my attention on trying to do the same thing for other people - education.

You've given a lot back.

Oprah Winfrey: But not enough, not enough. I don't think you ever stop giving. I really don't. I think it's an on-going process. And it's not just about being able to write a check. It's being able to touch somebody's life in such a way that Mrs. Duncan touched mine. It's being able to make a child see the light in him or herself. Making someone else see that for themselves.

It's moving to hear someone as financially successful as you, discounting the importance of the money. It's what you do with your life.

Oprah Winfrey: I know that if I didn't have the money, listening to somebody who had it, I'd probably not believe them. Because you can't believe it. Because if you don't have money, and you are just trying to make ends meet, you think that if you could just make ends meet that would make everything all right for you.

What I know is, is that if you do work that you love and work the fulfills you, the rest will come. And that, I truly believe that the reason I've been able to be so financially successful is because my focus has never, ever for one minute been money. And the fact that the money has come has really surprised me. I've been just really surprised and delighted and very pleased, and at many times overwhelmed by it. But the money has never been the focus. You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it. And I would do this job, and take on a second job to make ends meet if nobody paid me. Just for the opportunity to do it. That's how you know you are doing the right thing.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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