tv Charlie Rose PBS November 22, 2017 12:00pm-1:01pm PST
the live audience doesn't intimidate you, right? not a bit. no? okay. you came from very modest circumstances-- modest is not the word. very few people in the world are known by one name. they started me with a campaign called, "what is an oprah?" you're a big share-holder in weight watchers. that is a sign, when weight watchers says: "let us help you." [audience laughs] have you ever thought you could actually run for president? i thought, "oh, gee, i don't have the experience, i don't know enough, i don't know--" and now i'm thinking, "oh." [audience laughs] woman: would you fix your tie, please? oh, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but, okay. just leave it this way. all right. [♪] [rubenstein speaking on-screen text]
i began to take on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. [rubenstein speaking on-screen text] [inaudible dialogue] tweet, tweet. hello. [audience laughs] hi. well, the live audience doesn't intimidate you, right? not a bit. no? okay. i feel right at home, actually. it's the one thing i miss from the daily show. you know, every now and then, somebody will say, "do you miss the show?" no, i don't miss the show. what is miss is the people, is the camaraderie. because what i did every day is... have my own aftershow with the audience. i would talk to the audience, probably half an hour to 40 minutes after every show, starting 10 years in. because at first, i did autographs every day. and i'd stand there by row, and i'd do the autographs,
and never look up, trying to get through 350. right. and then, one day i decided. "oh, gee, i don't wanna do that anymore. but what do i really wanna do? i wanna talk to this audience, i wanna find out who they are, where they come from." so i started, like, talking to them 10 years in, and that became my favorite part of the day. wow. yeah. it was my own personal focus group. it's the reason why we were number one for 25 years. because i used the information that i gathered every day, from people who were the greatest resource. they were the people who were viewers, who had taken the time to come with their aunts and daughters and cousins and a few husbands who'd be like, "well, i came to oprah." [audience laughs] so-- "that's gonna be good, for at least two months." yeah. worth something. well, that show was on for 25 years-- yeah. --in chicago, and, um, when you did it, you won, i think, almost 50 emmy awards. and it was voted one of the best tv shows in the history of tv. so you ended it, though, after 25 years to do other things, and we'll talk about that. but no regrets about ending that show? no, no regrets whatsoever.
you know, i didn't want to be punch drunk, in the ring, still trying to... uh, come up with, what is the next thing? what is the next thing? because over the years, we became our own greatest competition. so when i first started, went national in 1986, every time there'd be another talk show, there'd be, "oh, geraldo rivera. oh, what are we gonna do?" and then i realized a couple of years in, that you run your own race better than anybody. if you take the time to see what everybody else is doing, you lose your ground. and that i could be a better me than i could be anybody else. and so, no need to try and compare myself to other people. so once i got that, we hit our own rhythm. and also, once i discovered that it wasn't just a show, but that it was a platform in which to speak to the world, and then... that was about '89, when i thought: "okay, what do you wanna say to the world? how do you wanna be used, and not have the tv use you, but how do i wanna use it?"
what drives you to keep working so hard? you could... you know, you and i are in the 60s category. and so, when you're in your 60s, you've lived more than you're gonna live-- yeah. --realistically. so when you realize you've lived more than you're gonna live, you can say: "why not relax a little bit? why not just ease up? why have you decided to even work harder then you did before?" because i think, david, that everybody-- you know, the thing that works for me, all these years, whether it was the magazine, or-- which i still have. --or whether it was the show, i understood that there's a common denominator in the human experience. and i want the same thing you want, which is the same thing you want, and you want. what we all want is to be able to live out the truest, highest expression of ourselves as a human being. that doesn't end until you take your last breath. what is the truest, highest vision that you hold for yourself? no matter where you are in your life,
there's always the next level. there's always the next level, to the last breath. so i feel that i always knew that i would get-- be done with the show when i felt like: "oh, i've said as much as i could say here, on this platform." and then, how will i be used?" if there were a theme song to my life, "amazing grace" would be one of them, and, "keep on using me to use me up," would be another one. [audience laughs] you know that bill withers song? yes. ♪ da na na, da na na na na na-- ♪ so i feel that until you have used your value as a human being, you're not done. mm-hmm. okay. so today, if you look back on what you've achieved, and let's suppose you've got a long way to go before you're finished achieving everything, what would you say are the greatest pleasures that you have received, or what you're most proud of? okay, so the thi-- these are good, thank you. this is good. [audience laughs] well, i watched your interview show, so i know how to do some interviewing. [laughs] [audience claps] um, i think the thing
that i am most proud of reminds me of when i had done my school in south africa. i have a school in south africa for girls, and i wanted to create this school... [applause] ...and um... rubenstein: this has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. winfrey: just celebrated a 10th anniversary, i've got girls from brown, to stanford, to elon, all over the united states going to school. i have ten graduations to attend wow. in 2017. i-- [audience chuckles] but i remember when i started the school and i said to my beloved friend, maya angelou, i said, "maya, i'm so... just so proud that i was able to create this school." and i said, "this is gonna be my greatest legacy." and maya said to me, "you have no idea." [audience laughs] quite right. "you have no idea what your legacy will be," she said to me, "because your legacy is every life you've touched." and that shifted the way i saw legacy, or what you leave behind, or what you do.
'cause maya was explaining to me that, you know, over all the years of watching your show, everybody who decided that they were gonna go back to school, or lose weight, or no longer hit their children, or get out of a bad marriage, all of those people who have seen and experienced your voice-- and the same thing with everybody here. --"you have no idea what your legacy will be." your legacy is every life that you've touched. and we like to think of it. i know you have done amazing things with your philanthropy. we like to think that these great philanthropic moments are the ones that leave the impact, or will make the huge difference in the world. but it's really what you do every day. it's how you use your life to be a light to somebody else's. you know, and it's how you use your work as an expression of your own art, whatever that is. so i think i would say the girls, as i get to watch them now graduate from college and move into their lives. but really, there is a moment
that happened to me, um, just about a year after i went national. there was a woman in ann arbor, michigan, who wrote me a letter that will go on-- well, i'm not gonna have a tombstone, but if i had a tombstone, wasn't cremated. --it would go there. she said, "oprah, watching you be yourself every day makes me wanna be more of myself." and i just don't know of anything better than that. so i am most proud of-- and just yesterday, i went to see notes from the field with anna deavere smith. and in the bathroom, this woman comes up to me and says: "you know, i've watched you all these years. and you did so much for me." i used to just hear people say, "oh, i watch your show. i love you, i love you, i watch your show." and about 10 years in, about the time i started talking to the audience, i would stop people and say: "so tell me, w-what is it, that moved you? why do you love the show? why do you--" and this woman said to me, just yesterday:
"you helped me to be more of myself." how is-- and so, that's my-- but being oprah, is it hard to go to the bathroom in these public places? [audience laughs] i mean, isn't that kind of challenging at times? as a matter of fact, it was. because there was another lady attacking me because she thought i didn't do enough for mrs. clinton. so somebody else came out of the stall-- oh, jeez. --this is yesterday, and said: "leave oprah alone, she's just trying to pee." right, quite right. [audience laughs] well, did they follow that advice, or no? okay, so-- no, and she followed me out, talking about what i could've done, should've done, blah, blah, blah. if you think about what you've accomplished, you came from very modest circumstances. you didn't come from a wealthy family. well, "modest" is not the word. well, i was trying to be polite. [scattered laughter] i mean, i was actually poor. and i, you know, a lot of the girls at my school-- actually, all the girls from my school. --are poor. and i was saying to them just recently, i was just in south africa for a graduation: "you know, you all come from the same circumstances. you are poor."
and one of the girls raised her hand and said: "i don't like using that word." i go, "well, if you're not poor, then you should excuse yourself because that's why i'm paying for you, [laughter] because you're in this school." so you're not, but you don't like the choice of the word. so i don't have a problem with the word, i don't have any shame about it, i think, you know, probably earlier in my life or career, the word would've bothered me. but it, truly, it was-- i was poor. no running water, david. or electricity. living with an outhouse. okay? that's poor. rubenstein: but you were also shuttled between your mother, your father your grandmother, and so forth. that's very disconcerting, to be shuttled back and forth. so at what point did you realize that you had some skills that were maybe gonna enable you to rise up? when you were young, you had some pretty good skills as an orator. well, i think kindergarten i kinda felt it. i was-- right, right. [audience laughs] did other people agree with you, then, that you were gonna be special, or--? no, this is my kindergarten story. my grandmother had taught me-- so i'm raised on this little acre, i used to call it a farm, then i went back and saw it. it wasn't a farm.
[audience chuckles] right. it was an acre, um, and i remember my grandmother taught me how to read. so i grew up learning to read. and we read bible verses, that's how i grew up, reading. so by the time i was 6 and got shuttled to milwaukee and-- 'cause my birthday came in the wrong time-- i hadn't start-- the grace, for me, is that i didn't spend a day in a segregated school. so i did not have one moment of ever being conditioned to believe that i was less than anybody. so when i walked into my first kindergarten class, first time i'd ever seen little white children that grandmother didn't, you know, work for. and everybody was doing their abc things. and i was like, "why are the children doing the abcs?" so i wrote my kindergarten teacher, miss knew, a letter. and i said, "dear miss knew, i do not belong here." [audience laughing]
so-- "because i know a lot of big words." and then i proceeded to write every big word i knew. anybody who reads the bible here, it was shadrach, meshach, abednego, nehemiah, jeremiah. and then i put in elephant and hippopotamus just because they were some more big words. so i kinda then-- i saw the impression that made on miss knew. speaking of big words and bible, yeah. y-your first name, came from a biblical source. but it was supposed to be-- orpah, yeah. --orpah. how did it get to be oprah? uh, misspelled the first day i went to school, and it stayed that way. so it's on my birth certificate, it is orpah. but it's very famous. very few people in the world are known by one name. there's oprah, there's elvis, there's jesus. very few people-- [winfrey & audience laughs] but, i mean-- t-there are a few others. but suppose your name was just mary or jane-- it wouldn't have worked. it wouldn't have worked, okay. and i remember once being in baltimore, and i had a news director who, when i first came to work in baltimore,
had said to me, "we're gonna have to do something about that name, we need to do something about that. 'cause nobody's gonna remember it or know how to pronounce it." and up until that time, david, i'd always wanted to have a name like everybody else's. so it was only when my bosses told me that i was gonna have to-- i needed to think about changing it, and they mentioned, you know, suzie, 'cause suzie's friendly, that nobody could say suzie and not mean-- not say, "suzie. suzie winfrey, eyewitness news." --that that's a friendly thing. and it's only when i was challenged with the idea of changing it, that i thought, "no, i'm gonna keep my name." so when i started in baltimore, they started me with a campaign called, "what is an oprah?" trying to explain to people how to pronounce the name, a-and-- and-- well, so those who may not know your background, you went to college in tennessee. yeah. and then you worked briefly in a tennessee broadcasting operation. then you were recruited to go to baltimore-- yes. --my hometown. my mother used to watch you,
and she would call me up and say: "there's a terrific person on a show here, she's going national." i said, "well, really, come on, people in baltimore don't usually go national." but she was right. your mother knew. i know, she was smart. you should listen to your mother. so when you went to baltimore, you went initially to be a broadca-- an anchorwoman. --an anchorwoman. and then, it didn't quite work out. yeah, i got fired. why-- [audience laughs] well, demoted. okay, you got demoted. but they had a contract, so they didn't say goodbye. and then, how did you work out to be on an afternoon show where you actually got to be an interviewer? how did that happen? well, what happened was-- they-- this is how-- this is what i now know with age and perspective. that, many times, getting demoted is an opportunity for something else to show up. or, getting fired, you know. lots of people i've interviewed over the years have these stories about the best thing that ever happened to you. it puts you in the next best place-- i was not a good television reporter. i was too emotional, i would go out on the stories and then, you know, try to take blankets
back to the people who-- rubenstein: but you were young, you were 21, 22. yes, and i was very also, empathetic. and i was always getting written up for getting myself involved in other people's business. and so, uh-- [audience laughs] i was making $22,000 a year. and my best friend, gayle, who i met there at the time, she was also working there. and she said, "oh my god. you're 22 and you're making $22,000. imagine when you're 25, [audience laughs] and when you're 30." so i'd be making 60 about now, it'd be good, 62. and, um, [laughter] glad that didn't work out, yeah. but, we were, uh... we... once i got demoted, they didn't want to pay out my contract. i was making $25,000 a year, they didn't want to pay me the $25,000. so they kept me on, and said: "we'll put you on this talk show. just to run out your contract." and the person who wanted to demote you, has that person risen in the broadcast world?
[winfrey & audience laugh] as a matter of fact, they did, they moved on and did some other things. okay, so,-- you did this afternoon show, and part of it was called dialing for dollars. you were supposed tcall people up-- oh, yeah. oh, gosh, you have done your homework. rubenstein: i'm from baltimore, so i know about this show. winfrey: you'd be in the middle of a conversation like right now, and i'd get up and i'd say: "gotta go do dialing for dollars." and i'd move over to a little set, and i'd call someone from the yellow pages-- do you all-- anybody remember yellow pages? right, right. okay, so you have the phonebook, and you go to the yellow pages, you'd call, and you'd dial, "i'm dialing for dollars, do you know the count and amount if-- are you watching right now?" it was crazy. all right, so, it worked out, the show-- it worked out. --the show worked very well, and all of a sudden, your contract is up for renewal, and then somebody comes along and says: "how about a show in chicago, why don't you do a show in chicago?" and you decided to leave, is that right? i decided to leave-- my contract really wasn't up at the time, but, um, i started feeling like-- i think everybody knows... i-i-i've moved my whole life on instinct, you know?
i feel like now it's time to let the show go. i feel like it's time to move on. because i've grown as much as i can grow. when i've grown as much as i can grow in a space, that's my instinct to move. so i started to feel like i needed to move someplace else. new york felt too... um, crowded, too hard to get around. it was the number one market, everybody wanted to come here. as a matter of fact, i had an agent at the time, and i said to the agent: "i just wanna be a substitute for joan lunden." remember joan lunden? i said, "could you just get me, you know, a job as the substitute for joan lunden when she goes on vacation and maybe she wants to take a break." and that agent said to me, "that's never gonna happen, because they've already got one black person." and i said, "really?" and he said, "yes, bryant gumbel." i said, "it's the wrong station. he's on another station. so maybe they would take one more over--"
but he said, "no, not-- that's not gonna work out." so i let that agent go. right. and i ended up going to chicago because i was on somebody else's audition tape, actually. one of my producers had gone there. she called me up and she said: "dennis swanson just saw you on my tape." she was-- she had been hired as a producer. "and he wants to know-- would you be interested in doing a job here called a.m. chicago?" that's how it happened. so you got there, and it was an existing show. and you took it over, and all of a sudden, it became pretty popular. in fact, they changed the name to the oprah winfrey show. yeah, 'cause people started calling it the oprah show you'd say, "did you see the oprah show today?" so they weren't calling it a.m. chicago. and this is the thing, every single person other than my friend gayle, who was still in baltimore, had said to me, "you're gonna fail in chicago." because i was going to be going up against phil donahue. everybody said-- phil who? phil who? phil-- [audience laughs] [applause] so come on. yes, i was gonna be going up against phil donahue.
and you know, it didn't matter to me. because i did not think that he was beatable. and i actually said it to my boss, dennis swanson, who has gone on to do great things in television. dennis swanson said, "we know you can't beat him. so don't worry about it. just be yourself." and that saved me, because h-had-- imagine little chubby me with a jheri curl. uh-- right. being told: "now you've got to go, and you've got to beat phil donahue." we were-- he said, "we're just a local show here. and so, if you can get a number, we'll take it." and-- so-- and so, i had no pressure. i had no pressure. so i just went on the air, and i was myself. so he openly left chicago and moved to new york because of the competition, i guess. i'm not sure. and ultimately, you were-- well, we beat-- i beat him, david. i did. right, right. [audience laughs] well, i-- i did beat him. i did. i wasn't trying to, i wasn't even trying to. but, you know, it's just like, um... well, i'm sympathetic to white men with white hair,
[winfrey & audience laugh] but, uh, you did-- you did very well? well, he actually was so gracious, and i often-- i have always said, "had there not been a phil donahue, there couldn't have been an oprah show." because he paved the way for that kind of audience, you know. smart women at home, many of them stay-at-home mothers, taking care of their kids. some of them going back into the workforce in the mid-80s, when i started, who were interested in talking about purposeful things, meaningful things. so-- he opened that door. when did you realize, in chicago or baltimore, that you actually had a skill as an interviewer that was really better than anybody else's? where do you think that skill came from? i never thought it was better than anybody else. what i do think i have that is really uniquely my own, is my ability to connect to the audience. because my skill comes not from my interviewing ability-- my skill comes from my listening ability. and my skill comes from me knowing
fundamentally, inside myself, that i am no different than the audience. so what gave me the power in the seat, and the power with the microphone, was i always saw myself as the surrogate for the audience. so i would ask people questions that i would not normally ask. i mean, i asked a really embarrassing question once. not 'cause i wanted to know the answer, but because i thought the audience did. and then i thought, "i'm not gonna ask what the audience wants the next time, when i get into that situation." it was a-- i put myself in a bad situation. i asked sally field, when she was dating burt reynolds, i asked-- remember this, gayle? i asked sally field, did burt sleep with his toupee on? [audience laughs] rubenstein: what was the answer, or the question? heh, and i would never do that today. i wouldn't do it, because-- i was doing it 'cause i was getting pushed by the producers, like, "people wanna know,
people wanna know." so i was thinking i was doing it on behalf of the audience. she shut down. and i could see that it embarrassed her. and i never got another thing from her. so i thought, "okay, that was wrong." i learned from that. so while you were there doing this show, you got an opportunity to be an actress on the color purple. yes. [applause] well, not just an opportunity. oh, lord. i don't even have time for this story. because i never wanted anything more in my life, david. and i haven't wanted anything as much since, as mucuch as i wanted the color purple. i had read the book. uh, i had seen a review in the new york times. i went and bought the book. i read it that afternoon, i went back and bought eight more books. this is before i had a book club, of course. and, um, in the... it was, like, '83, '84? and...i then would pass it out. i was the kind of person where-- i've always been the kind of person, if i find something that's interesting, or shareable, i want everybody to have it.
so i bought-- went back to the bookstore, bought every book that was there. i took it to work the next day and said: "you've gotta read this book." so i started hearing that they were gonna do a movie. long story short, i auditioned for the movie, and, uh-- only because quincy jones happened to be-- happened, no such thing as happenstance-- quincy jones was going through chicago. my little show, a.m. chicago, was on. they were looking for an actress to play this part. i did not know quincy jones. he is coming out of his shower after taking the red-eye. he is there for a deposition, 'cause he's testifying on behalf of michael jackson, for somebody who said, you know, billie jean was their lover, or whatever. and, um-- [audience laughs] so he's there, in chicago. he's coming out the shower, the tv set is on, and he sees me on a.m. chicago. and he thinks, "i think that girl could be in the movie." so he tells his people, who call me.
i had been praying and hoping to be in this movie, the color purple. and i get a call. one day i'm just in the-- in my office, and, uh, the casting agent says: "i'm calling about a movie we're doing. would you be interested in coming to audition? the movie is called moon song." and i said, "well i wasn't prayin' for a movie called moon song. [audience laughs] i was prayin' for a movie called the color purple. could this be the color purple?" he said, "no, the movie's called moon song." at the time, that's what they were all calling it 'cause steven didn't want people to know he was doing it. i went and auditioned and i knew, of course, it was the color purple. quincy was the producer, and-- and steven spielberg was the director. and so, you got the part? i got the part. i loves harpo. god knows i do. but i'll kill him dead 'fore i let him beat me. you were nominated for an academy award. mm-hmm. and you should've won, but didn't win that year. but it's okay, the dress didn't fit, and i wouldn't have been able to get outta the chair. [audience laughs, applauds]
so um... speaking about the book club, yeah. you obviously have a love of reading and books. so when did the idea come to have a book club, and when did the idea come to stop doing that? well, see, everything that i have ever done has come out of some kind of-- something that felt true to me. so my greatest business acumen is being true to myself and actually being in touch with what feels like the next right thing. so one of my producers, alice mcgee, and i, exchange books every year for holidays. and whatever had been my particular book that i loved that year, she would always have leather-bound, and write a little inscription in it. and so, one day she came to me around... we'd been doing this since '85. and she came to me and said: "we love books so much. you love books so much. why don't you talk about them on the show?" and i said, "no way. no way you're gonna get people to read books. and how are you gonna talk about it?
because nobody's read the book." she said, "what if we can get them to read it first?" this is alice's idea. "what if you can get them to read it first, then you could talk about it." the book is called the twelve tribes of hattie by ayana mathis. and i'm telling you, this book touched me so deeply. the spirit of, just, sacred truths just leap from the pages. so it was alice's idea. we put at the back of a show. i said, "let's just give it three minutes where you just-- let's just test it out, and see how it works." and the first time we did it, like, a million, 4 million people read that jacquelyn mitchard book. and we were like, "okay, if you can get 4 million people to read a book, that's enough to now come and watch you talk about it on television." so that's how that happened. rubenstein: okay, and it worked out. and you began to move book sales everywhere. winfrey: well, the idea, at first, was just... because alice and i like books so much. so the only two people that were picking those books for the first 10 years, were alice and i. and then it got hard for the two of us,
to come up with a book, 'cause you know, it's hard to find a great book every month. so then i said: "well, i need more people to help me." so we're giving out, you know, assignments to other people to read. but it really came out of: "i love this book and i wanna share it with other people." so now, you've written a few books yourself. no, not really. i just wrote a cookbook, but no. rubenstein: cookbook, okay. you have a cookbook, and then you have a book about your life coming out next year? well, it's not gonna come out. you know why? why? because, i haven't written it yet. oh. i was-- [audience laughs] you know why? no, but-- really? yeah, it was announced that i was. this is what i'm finding, it's really hard to write a good book. it's really hard to write. you know, i've been reading a lot of other people-- like, i just read hillbilly elegy, and-- i love reading other people's memoirs. and i can't believe how people's memories-- like, they can remember what they did in the fourth grade, and what they were wearing. it's really hard, it's been a very difficult
process for me, so i've delayed it for now. all right, let's talk about your show. you ended your show in 2011. yep. mm-hmm. but slightly around that time, you decided that you were gonna build the o-w-n-- winfrey: o-w-n. o-w-n. rubenstein: --which is oprah-- winfrey network. winfrey: oprah winfrey network. rubenstein: and that was a joint venture between you and discovery channel. and you were still doing your show in chicago, and all of a sudden, they say: "let's do a network." and so you're still finishing the show, and the network is starting, so it didn't go as well as you would have liked in the beginning. it was a mess, yeah. but then, you finish your show and it turned out-- worked out pretty well, and now it's doing very well. doing very well. we have, really, some great, successful shows on there. and i partnered with ava duvernay this past year to create this drama series called queen sugar. rubenstein: that's right. right. [audience applause] winfrey: another drama series, called greenleaf. so i am now able to-- it's the next level for me. every day, on my show, for 25 years,
i was the... storyteller. helping people to let their stories out into the world in such a way that enhanced them, or helped them see themselves differently, or however it showed up for them and now, i get to use drama-- the platform of drama, to create stories that allow people, particularly african-american people, to see and feel themselves in a way that shows us as people of value. as people who care about the things that everybody else cares about. you know, the one thing i was always trying to do through all of my work, particularly all those years at the oprah winfrey show, was to let people see... what maya always said, is that we really are more alike than we are different. and that, when you get into somebody's home, and you're sitting around the kitchen table-- i don't care who you are or what your kitchen table looks like, or how many square feet you have.
--that the feelings are the same. that we find our deepest humanity at that kitchen table. and when you open the door, and i look in your house, and your house-- which i used to do on the oprah show, i used to just love going to people's houses, like-- i just wonder what you're doing for dinner, and then just dropping in and say, "hey." so, um-- [audience laughs] to do the own, you basically moved from chicago, when you had been living for 25 years. yes. moved to the west coast. yes, that's right. and was that hard, to give up chicago, or you didn't mind? no, i think everybody has to-- particularly, you know this, having hit 60. there comes a point, i'm really good at this, at not holding on to what was. and being able to live in this present moment. you know, i never was one of those women who was afraid to tell your age, or you're trying to be something you're not. i mean, i think, for everything, there's a time and a season. uh, the bible is completely right about that, i think. i think, um...
and you know in your own self, when it's time to move from that. so the only thing that was hard for me about chicago, i mean, i remember when we were-- there was just millions and volumes of tapes that had to be, you know, coded and archived and all that. and i remember last year, we were going through the building, and i was going through with gayle, who's been with me through everything. and gayle's like, "i feel sad. don't you feel sad?" and i said, "i don't feel sad at all. i feel a great sense of pride." i think that what we were able to do with that show every day-- sitting, really, in the heart of america, allowing people to see the best, and sometimes the worst of themselves, through their neighbors, and dysfunction, and ideas that we brought to them. but, um, i'm just proud of the work. and then i realized it's time to let that go. so no, i don't feel that at all.
the only thing that was hard was when the building came down. i sold the building, which was really like a campus, there were five building. and when that first main building came down, and somebody instagrammed it, that's the only time i had a, like-- ugh. it's really happening. you know, but it's no different than-- have you ever gone back to your house where you used to live, and the house is gone? i remember, i saw the empty building. i was driving through chicago, and the building had been emptied, and i was anticipating feeling, like, oh, what am i gonna feel? am i gonna have that moment that gayle was talking about? and it felt like... when you're at a funeral of somebody that you love. and you can see the body there, but the spirit is gone. you can see that this person that i have loved is no longer in-- so that's what that building felt like to me. well, i went back to my childhood home not too long ago with my mother-- yeah. --for a tv show. and i knocked on the door, and i said, "can we come in? i used to live here a long time ago." and they called the police. [winfrey & audience laughs]
they thought i was a robber or something. anyway, so you mentioned a couple times gayle. yeah. and gayle king is here, she is your best friend. tell me, how do you maintain a friendship when you live in such different cities all the time, and you've maintained it over a long period of time. yeah, since those days in baltimore, since we were 21 and 22. so usually, people have friendships where they go for five years, or 10 years, but not 25 years plus. at least it's hard to maintain it when you're not living in the same city. we've never lived in the same city. and i don't know what would happen if we ever lived in the same city. [audience laughs] she would be over at my house, in the refrigerator, heh, heh. no, i think the reason why this friendship has worked, and i wish-- i say to my girls at my school, "you wish yourself--" they call her auntie gayle and me mamo-- i said, "you all wish to have a friend like auntie gayle. you want to have a friend who wants the most, the best, and the highest for you." i have never seen a person like gayle.
i've never-- [applause] rubenstein: okay, all right. yeah, you know, everybody-- especially if you are on the rise in your career, and you have had certain friends, and they all act like they're happy for you, but not everybody's happy for you. and every now and then you can hear just a teensy bit of jealousy. you can hear it, you can sense it. i've never had a moment's jealousy from gayle in, you know, the 30-odd years of our friendship except for the one time i was onstage dancing with tina turner. [audience laughs] that's the only time i ever heard gayle go: "i wish that was me." i mean, i thought she'd be jealous of this, that she's not being interviewed by me. she's not jealous of that? okay. [laughs] you mentioned the refrigerator, and you mentioned the-- the dress that was a little bit tight. yeah. so you've been very public over the years about your weight issues, and now you're a big shareholder in weight watchers. um-hmm. so how did you kinda deal with the weight issues over the years? i tried to let that work for me, you know. actually, weight watchers called me up.
and, as i said, i don't do anything that doesn't feel truthful, or organic, or, like-- how can-- so they were asking me to be a spokesperson and i said, "well, i've never been on the program. i've always thought the people who had to count points, i don't know about those people." and, um-- [audience chuckles] but the fact that weight watchers was calling me, that's how bad it got. weight watchers called me. so, heh, you know, that is a sign. when weight watchers says, "let us help you." right, right. [laughs] you go look in the mirror, and go: "oh, i see what you're talking about, okay." right. um, so i was just doing what i always do. and that is not just trying to be a spokesperson, but, listen, how can i own a piece of it? because since the days of the oprah winfrey show, you know that worked out for me. right, pretty well. the biggest, greatest decision i made with the oprah show was to own it myself. so the very first year that we came up for renegotiation for a contract--
because my bosses at abc had given me a really hard time when i was doing the color purple, they had said to me, "you only have two weeks' vacation." and i wanted to do that movie more than anything in my life. and i said to them, "i will give up my entire contract's vacation if you will just let me do the movie." so i had a really smart attorney at the time, jeff jacobs, who said, "you never wanna be in that position again, where you have to give up yourself, give up your life." so when the contract negotiation came around, the second time, i said: "what if i own the show, and you don't pay me unless the show makes money. and we make money together, so let's split it." so i approach everything that way. if i am going to be of value to you, it should also be of value to myself. you are now the ceo of your company, you're the owner and the ceo. you've got thousands of people working for you. yeah. and as the ceo, do you have to say no to people all the time,
and is that hard to do? you get other people who say no. [audience laughs] saying no is hard, that is one of the big lessons-- life lessons, for me. i grew up, obviously, a girl. raised in the south, women, need to please, wanting to please everybody. so it took me a long time to get that lesson of only saying yes to what you intend to say yes to. and, so, i tried to do all of my business decisions and personal decisions based upon my intention. like, even being here today. you know, i-- [stutters] wasn't your highest priority, right? [audience laughs] but i made it so. well, i appreciate it. i made it so, because i met you a couple of times, and i thought you were really-- well, first of all, gayle was like: "it's david, oh, he's so nice." so, uh-- ha, ha. thank you. and also, i've seen you, a-and had seen a couple of interviews, and i thought they were thoughtful and interesting. so it might be nice to-- well, thank you.
--intentionally sit down with you. well, i've watched your interviews so i know what to do. okay. so is it easier to be the interviewer, or the interviewee? definitely easier to be the interviewer. 'cause as you know, you have the power of the mic right now. you get to stop me, you have the control-- oh, nobody can stop oprah. [audience laughs] b-but, it's definitely easy, but i like-- i like it when you do it with thoughtful people, because, you know... uh, nobody... [stammers] when i go to speak to kids, they'll ask something, like: "what's it like being famous?" and i say, "well, being famous is just like... more people know your name. but you are the same. 'cause fame is this thing that happens on the outside of you. and it's somebody else's perception of who you are, it's not who you are." when you develop the success you've had, what comes along with it in our society is money. yeah. and, uh, when you make as much money as you have made, and i've been fortunate to make, you really can't spend it all yourself.
no matter how much you wanna buy a new plane, or-- but you can try. you can try, but it's-- [audience laughs] it's tough. you could have a really good time trying. i-it's tough, i mean, how many things can you really buy? yeah, that's true. so the trick is, you figure out how to give away the money. can you talk about your philanthropy, how you decide to give away money. and, by the way, you just recently became the largest donor to the museum of african-american history and culture in washington. [applause] thank you for that. well, i wanted to be. i wanted to be the largest donor because, from the beginning, it's the only board i've ever been on, other than my own business associations. and over the years, people have asked me to be on lots of boards, but it didn't feel organic, it didn't feel-- but i agreed to be on that board over 13 years ago. because i believe you are nowhere in life unless you know where you've come from. and that understanding-- the true root of what has been paved for you is necessary for a people.
to move forward. so i wanted to leave the legacy of that for generations to come. particularly for african-american children, but also, for people of all races to understand who we are, as a people and as a culture, and what that has meant to america. so now, you decide how to give away money by virtue of a foundation, you have a staff-- yeah. --how do you decide? i wanted to give money to that. i don't have a staff. i do have a foundation. and i do have people working there. but i just-- nobody tells me what to do. okay, but, people call you all the time and say: "give me money for this--" how do you deal with that? i don't pay attention to that. in the beginning, i used to. in the beginning, david, i was so overwhelmed by it. because i couldn't figure out when your salary's published in the paper, how much money you make, and everybody knows it, so you can no longer say, "i don't have it." i couldn't figure it out. [audience laughs] i was like-- people were leaving home, leaving their husbands, boarding trains, coming to see me.
i had people standing outside my door in chicago. and i was just, like, overwhelmed by it. and then, i... started to... i mean, i got lots of advice from lots of people about what to do. i now only do what i intend, that comes from what is important to me. so helping girls, because i was a poor girl, and i know what that feels like, i can-- it resonates in my spirit. i know that when you change a girl's life, you not only change hers, but you change her entire community. because girls give back to the family, give back to the community. so saving girls around the world is really important to me. educating girls and women, and empowering girls and women, 'cause i am one myself, feels like a natural thing. so i say to people who want to give, i used to have on the oprah show something called the angel network. and i started that specifically because a little girl had come on my show. a little girl, in elementary school
had collected $1000 in pennies. by just going around to her teachers and friends, saying, "can you give me your change, small change?" so i thought, "if she could get $1000, i wonder what i could do?" so i did the same thing on the air, and i ended up with, like, $3 million asking people to send me their change. and then i started asking people: "wherever you are in your life, wherever you are, don't look at what your neighbor's doing, don't look at what some big philanthropic organization is doing. where are you in your life that you can be used for something bigger than yourself?" let me ask you about what you're gonna do with all this money. i get this question myself, you can't probably give it all away, sensibly, during your lifetime. you could. but have you thought about trying to give it away during your lifetime? or you thought, after you're gone, somebody will figure out what to do with-- oh, no, no. no, i know where it's going. and i'm going to use it to help other people's lives be better. and i've thought about using it to, you know,
first of all, endow my school. and for me, it's using it for educational and empowerment opportunities for women and children. let me ask you a question about politics. you avoided politics throughout your career. uh-huh, i tried to, yeah. and you've had no politicians on your show. you said they were not really what you wanted to do. and then, somebody named barack obama was running for president in 2008. mm-hmm. and you said: "i'm gonna violate my principle, and i'm gonna endorse him." and it seemed to work out. it helped him a great deal, you might say, i think. interestingly enough, it wasn't the kind of thing-- again, i operate from what feels like the right thing to do. you would be stunned at how little i thought about was it the right thing, or what it was gonna cost me. i did it because i felt compelled to do it. i felt, from the time i saw him at-- in 2004, at the convention, and i was in chicago and i'd seen him, as a senator, around. and i saw that, like everybody else did, that convention in 2004.
and i remember i was alone in my house, and i thought: "he's gonna be president someday. and i hope i'm around to help him do it." so i started telling him in 2004 and 5, "when you run for president, let me know. when you run for president, let me know." i had a group of african-americans at my house, who had all been, really, major legends for me. so i had this big par-- i like having parties. so i had this big party, and i had, like, diana ross, and cicely tyson, and maya, and coretta scott king, and all of these wonderful, legendary women to thank them for paving the way for me. and then i had a bunch of young'uns, like mariah, and janet, and all of those groups, to also help me thank them. and i had barack obama come to my house and speak in 2005, where i had all these people there, and i said to that group in 2005: "this man is gonna be president of the united states someday. and i hope i'm alive when it happens. and if i am, i will do whatever i can in my power--
i will quit my job, i'll go work for him, i'll canvass for him, i'll do--" and they said, "what's his name again?" [audience laughs] that was-- "wh-what was his name again?" that was in 2005, so it wasn't-- i just-- i felt like... this is something i can do. rubenstein: did some of your viewers criticize you for getting involved with politics. winfrey: oh, major criticism. and i was surprised by it, actually, 'cause i had-- i was only surprised by it 'cause i had never thought about it. it didn't occur to me that people didn't know that i voted, one way or the other. right. and, um-- [audience laughs] when i went to-- i remember, in iowa, the very first time, i introduced him in iowa. and i said, "well, i'm not out here supporting him because he's black. i'm supporting him because i think he's brilliant. and, you know, actually, i voted republican almost as many times as i voted democrat." and i started getting booed. so i realized, "oh, you're speaking to democrats. they don't wanna hear that you voted republican." so-- it wasn't a political thing for me.
it was-- i felt compelled. it felt like, "this is the right thing to do." the first night he was inaugurated, 2009, january 20th, 2009. so upstairs at the white house, you were invited to the residence. mm-hmm. and what was it like-- how'd you know? well, i know. okay. [audience laughs] and so i was wondering what it was like-- african-americans are in the residence of the white house, the president's african-american, and this is a house that's built by slaves. and what was the emotion like that first night? you got somebody elected president of the united states, you helped him get elected. and what was it like, that first night? it was indescribable. i don't think there are actually words that could... i heard dave chappelle, actually, on, um, saturday night live talking about looking over and seeing a party recently, it wasn't the same, i don't think, as inaugural night. it was kind of-- it felt surreal. and obviously, you're looking at all the painting on the wall, the past presidents and leaders who were all white.
it-- it was surreal. we could just kinda... i remember walking out afterwards. it was gayle, stedman, gayle's kids. we were all like, "did that just happen?" right. it was-- it felt surreal. barack obama was the first african-american to be elected president. and now, we've had somebody elected president who was a media figure, you might argue. um, now-- [audience laughs] we've never had a woman elected president of the united states. so have you ever thought that, given the popularity you have, we haven't broken the glass ceiling yet for women, that you could actually run for president and actually be elected. [cheers, applause] i-- [audience laughs] i actually never thought that was-- i never considered the question. even a possibility. i just thought, "oh..."
"oh." right, because it's clear that you don't need government experience to be elected president-- that's what i thought! i thought, "oh, gee, i don't have the experience, i don't know enough, i don't know--" and now, i'm thinking, "oh." right. [audience laughs, claps] "oh." well... now, speaking of o, that's the name of your magazine, right? yes, it is. [laughs] so a couple final questions before we wrap up-- as you consider whether you're gonna run for president of the united states, or not. that won't be happening, but i mean, i did used to think: "well, gee, you have to know so much more than i thought you had to know." but anyway... [winfrey & audience laughs] so today, as you look at what you're doing, your highest priorities are developing own, and acting, and also executive producing. yes, i just finished the immortal life of henrietta lacks. right. yeah. um-hmm. [applause] rubenstein: and, that's-- henrietta lacks' cells were used, in effect,
for the polio vaccine and other things. and your role in that is? winfrey: her daughter, deborah lacks. rubenstein: wow. so are you gonna continue acting, as well as-- i'm gonna continue acting, i'm gonna continue developing shows that speak to the humanity of people, in a way that makes them wanna live better, and do better. and, um... that exalts their victories and lets them know that they are important and meaningful in the world, you know. i would have to say, that... every day, david, that show was such a-- it was like therapy for me. kind of like now. right. every day of the show was-- i paid attention. so i've never been to a therapist, but i-- i paid attention all those days on the show. and i made therapy acceptable for a lot of people who thought, "ugh, no, not me." so one of the things i started to get. uh, around... mmm... mid to late--
no, mid to late '90s, is that everybody that i had on the show, at the end of the show, would say something to me, like, um... [whispering] "was that okay? was that okay? how was that? was that okay?" [in normal voice] at the end of the interview. and i started to then track it. it didn't matter if it was-- i-i had gone and done a show where i was in a prison, and i was interviewing a father who was in jail for life for murdering his twin daughters. and at the end of the interview, even behind bars, he said to me, "was that okay? how'd i do?" and barack obama said it, when he sat in the chair the first time. and george bush said it, beyoncé said it, at the end of-- she taught me how to twerk and then said, "is that okay?" [audience laughs] so that's an acquired skill, do you think, right? yes, the twerking thing. but this is what i learned sitting in that chair for 25 years.
that at the end of the day, whether you are... interviewing me, or i get to interview you, whatever your profession is, wherever you are in your life, in your relationships, every person that you encounter, every experience, the person wants to know, "was that okay? was that okay?" and what i started to hear, was that what people are really saying is: "did you hear me? did you hear me? and did what i say mean anything to you?" and so, i started to listen with that in mind, with that intention of validating that your being here, your speaking to me, your taking the time to do this with me, is important because you matter. and that's true for everybody who's watching or listening, that every argument that you ever have, every encounter, the person just wants to know: "did you hear me, did you see me, and did i say anything that mattered." how do you ever relax now? oh, i'm so--
i would say the word for me now is, um... i-i-i'm content. i'm not just relaxed. i'm content, 'cause i know a lot of rich people who are not happy. but i am not one of them. [audience laughs] but when you're-- i am one of the happiest rich people you are ever gonna see. well, when-- when you're trying to just-- when you're trying to get away fr it all, and just get away from everything, you just relax at one of your homes, or? yes, i relax-- well, and also, it doesn't take a lot for me to relax. i can be happy looking at a leaf. gayle could say, "what are you sitting out under the trees, with your thoughts?" and i'll say, "yeah, i'm really--" i can be happy with a book, i can be happy reading poetry, i can be happy in front of a fire, i can be happy with my dogs, i can be-- yeah. so if you were in a reverse position, you were interviewing me, what would be the last question you would ask oprah winfrey? [audience chuckles] i would probably ask you something-- i would ask-- the question that i like is a question that stumped me years ago. i was interviewing with gene siskel, remember gene?
yes. and at the end of the interview, gene asked me, "what do you know for sure?" and i couldn't think of one darn thing that i knew for sure. and so two days later, i called up gene to tell him what i knew, and he goes: "interview's over, oprah, i don't care." so-- [audience laughs] so, uh, let me-- [laughs] so i would say, "what do you know for--" that cracked me up. i don't know why. i'd like to thank you for doing this. i realize, one of the great pleasures of your life is not being interviewed by me. so i appreciate your giving me the time to do this. it is! it has been a pleasure, though. thank you, and it's my pleasure, completely. and i would like to say that i-- this is a low budget show compared to yours, so we are gonna give a car out to everybody here, including you. but it's a smaller car than you usually give out. [audience laughs] it's a little car here. and, um-- [applause] so it's a car. we, uh-- is it, really? aww, this is great! so-- we can't afford a big car, but, uh, thank you--
winfrey: that's so cute. that turned out to be one of the great, iconic moments. and everybody, you know, that "you get a car. you get a car." the reason i was screaming that so loudly, do you know why? rubenstein: no. winfrey: is because the audience, they were-- they were literally-- the word "hysterical" does apply. they were screaming so loud, they didn't-- they couldn't-- [imitates hyperventilating] and so, what we had done was we had passed them out, and the night before, we had-- i made sure that they taped the keys down. because i thought the first thing that anybody does when they get the box, is they're gonna shake it, and everybody is gonna know that everybody else has it. does everybody have a box? audience: yes! inside one of these boxes is a key. do not open it yet. if your box has a key, you will be the last person today to get one of those cute little g6s. so i had said, "we only have one car left." because i'd already given out 11 cars and we only had one car left. everybody-- and there's one more car.
so when-- one lady, opened her first, you say, "everybody, open at the same time," but you know they're not. when she opened it and she started screaming, everybody else started screaming because they opened theirs, and nobody could hear what i was saying. rubenstein: right. [audience laughs] i could see they were confused, 'cause she was looking like, "but i have it!" "no, i have it!" "you-- she has it." "no, i have it!" so that's when i started saying, "you get a car, you get a car, you get a car. everybody gets a car!" [applause] that's where it came from. well, thank you. thank you. thanks very much. thank you very much. okay, it was fun. thank you very much. thank you. thanks again. thank you. [♪] you're watching pbs