Oprah Winfrey: Another American Icon Gets The Kitty Kelley Treatment The prolific and perennially controversial celebrity biographer takes a look at the life of a talk show host who doesn't much like to be talked about. Not surprisingly, Kelley's latest bio is entirely unauthorized.

Oprah The Icon Gets The Kitty Kelley Treatment

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Oprah Winfrey comes into American living rooms every weekday, and she's famous for getting the hard-to-get, like Elizabeth Edwards, who talked to Winfrey first about the affair her husband, John, had while he was running for president.


MONTAGNE: You asked your husband for just one gift when you got married. What was that?

MONTAGNE: I wanted him to be faithful to me.

MONTAGNE: Did you believe that this was the only time?

MONTAGNE: I did. I did. You know, I believed him.

MONTAGNE: Only time with her.

MONTAGNE: Only time with her.

GRIGSBY BATES: So writer Kitty Kelley was faced with a considerable task when she decided to do an unauthorized biography of daytime television's queen of talk. Kelley said Winfrey was intriguing, in part, because she was such a huge challenge - a bigger challenge, even, then the members of a powerful political dynasty.

MONTAGNE: I didn't just jump into this project. I really wanted to do a full-dimensional biography, and Oprah Winfrey was the only live story I wanted to do after the Bushes.

GRIGSBY BATES: Kelley says getting her publisher to sign onto the project wasn't easy. After all, beginning in 1996, the Oprah Winfrey Book Club had been a crucial shot in the arm for the publishing industry for more than a decade. An Oprah endorsement can sell millions of copies. And it's not just good for books. She stumped for Barack Obama in 2008 at the Iowa caucuses.

MONTAGNE: So much has been said about what my jumping into this arena does or does not bring to the table of politics. I really don't know.

GRIGSBY BATES: Eventually, Kelley got a green light for the book but Winfrey, like Kelley's other celebrity subjects, wouldn't agree to be interviewed. So if the subject herself isn't going to talk, how do you do it?

MONTAGNE: For this book, although I interviewed 850 people and I did not personally interview Oprah Winfrey, the biggest source of information in the book, and the best source of information, was Oprah herself.

GRIGSBY BATES: Kelley began gathering information from thousands of Winfrey's past public utterances.

MONTAGNE: She also got two of Winfrey's family members - her stepfather, Vernon, and her cousin Katherine Carr Esters - to speak, and had photos taken with them and included in the book as confirmation.

A B: Kelley did do a two-part interview with Matt Lauer on Monday and this morning on the "Today Show." But David Drake, spokesman for her publisher, Crown Books, a division of Random House, says rumors that other media outlets have declined interviews are true. Drake won't name names but reportedly, ABC is one of them. ABC's parent company, Disney, is partnering with Winfrey in several of the new shows she'll present on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: If they're deciding the merits of a book's newsworthiness on the basis of whether or not it might offend one of their corporate partners, it's an abdication of the primacy of letting the news value dictate the news.

GRIGSBY BATES: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik says that's a sign of how interconnected much of modern media has become. He says Winfrey's stature has made her untouchable in many parts of the broadcast media.

FOLKENFLIK: She is clearly an unparalleled, influential voice in media that presidential candidates, that Oscar candidates, that people who have a message they want to get out to the public are desperate to have the attention and the good graces of.

GRIGSBY BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you can read an excerpt of the Oprah biography at npr.org.

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