Critics Review Kitty Kelley's New Oprah Winfrey Biography

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley is out with a new book on Oprah Winfrey called "Oprah: A Biography." She gives the talk show queen the same tell-all treatment she gave Frank Sinatra, Jackie Kennedy and the Bush family in previous books. Talk shows are refusing to book her, perhaps fearing backlash from the powerful Winfrey. So what are reviewers saying about the book? Here's a sample:

Kelley doesn’t get the “big get”: She concludes that there’s “no foundation” for the perennial rumors that Winfrey and BFF Gayle King are lesbian lovers (and she doesn’t prove whether or not fiancé Steadman Graham is gay). But she does say that Winfrey took money for sex during her wild youth, and that Winfrey’s decision not to publicly admit to prostitution (something her sister Patricia had alleged in the National Enquirer years ago) is what kept her from publishing her own autobiography. Kelley also claims to know the name of Winfrey’s biological father, but says she promised not to tell until Winfrey’s mother tells Oprah herself—kind of a weird nondisclosure disclosure. Kelley discusses Winfrey’s affair with a married man, her crack cocaine use, and her brother’s death from AIDS. There are moments when you have to feel sorry for Winfrey because everyone wants a piece of her. But Kelley’s vast array of anecdotes that portray Winfrey as a control freak, a demanding diva who speaks of herself in the third person (“Oprah does not do stairs”), and a lavish spender further chip away at her image as St. Oprah.
-- Pat Wingert, Newsweek

Somewhere, Frank Sinatra's steamed. And so are we. When the Chairman of the Board got the Kitty Kelley treatment, we got first-class dirt—ham and eggs off the chest of a prostitute, anyone? Now it's Oprah Winfrey's turn, and we get—what? A relationship with John Tesh? A "volcanic" affair with a radio DJ? Rumors of "giggly late-night phone calls" to Diane Sawyer? For this, Kelley's been shunned by the talk-show circuit? Seriously?
-- By Joal Ryan, E! Online

Despite the crudeness of the psychological insights and some wince-worthy prose—“The downpayment on dreams as big as hers meant dropping a guillotine on the past”—Kelley is good on Oprah’s cultural significance. It’s hard to remember, but Oprah, before converting to what Ann Landers once referred to as her “touchy-feely crap,” was a contemporary of Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones and, as Kelley explains, in some ways their progenitor.
-- Lauren Collins, The New Yorker

When the subject of Kitty Kelley’s biography of Oprah first came up last week... I said I would read the book, review it and get back to you. Well, I have changed my mind. And here are the reasons:
1. I do not care for Oprah. I think she has the same two faces of many other celebrities. Lovely and warm in public, haughty off stage … unless you are in her inner circle.
2. I am a friend of Kitty Kelley’s. I am mentioned in the book, as is my late mother, Ann Landers. I decided I could not be an unbiased reviewer.
3. The publicity department of Random House became an irritant. They played favorites with reviewers, and I found them dishonest, in the bargain. So … if anyone is disappointed that they will not be reading my review of the book, I apologize. I just decided that integrity needed to come into play, and if not now, when?
-- Margo Howard, The Women on the Web

Inevitably, a certain odor precedes her (Kelley's) unauthorized biographies to the marketplace, but more interesting is the ink-cloud of despair that rises from every quote-laden page... the reams of books and articles she has digested and extruded, the hundreds of interview subjects she has lassoed to the ground... This at least has the benefit of making Kitty Kelley's latest book more scrupulously sourced than some of its predecessors... In her own cussed and occluded and occasionally mean-spirited fashion, she gives us a way in.
-- Louis Bayard, The Washington Post

The larger problem with Ms. Kelley’s reportorial Cuisinart is that its mash-up of Winfrey voices is so disjointed. The circumstances of a conversation shape what is said, especially with someone who can affect as many different personae — high, low, black, not so black, tearful, bullying, tawdry, lofty — as Ms. Winfrey can. But it’s never clear here to whom Ms. Winfrey was talking unless she was conducting an interview with, say, Michael Jackson. Her ability to ask questions like “Why do you always grab your crotch?” has helped make her whatever she is today, even if Ms. Kelley cannot explain why Ms. Winfrey is so enduringly popular. After some hollow authorial claims of respect and admiration, “Oprah” just aims for the jugular. It doesn’t draw blood.
-- Janet Maslin, The New York Times

photo: NY Daily News