The Oprah Winfrey of today is so successful and wealthy that it's easy to forget that she had to wok really damn hard to get where she is.
Over the weekend, Winfrey appeared at the Essence Fest. She gave an address that lasted a good 45 minutes but one story that really stood out was how she won her Oscar nominated role in Steven Spielberg's The Colour Purple.
Winfrey was the morning news host on AM Chicago when the film was in development but was the biggest fan of the Alice Walker novel out there. When she learned that the book was being adapted into a movie she decided that she just had to find a way to get involved with it.
“I started praying to God, ‘Please help me find a role in The Color Purple,” she told the rapt audience at the festival. “I didn’t need a speaking role. I was willing to carry the script, help people with the water.”
At that same time, she continued, Quincy Jones, a producer on the movie, had come to Chicago to deal with a lawsuit filed against Michael Jackson. As he was coming out of the shower in his hotel room, “chubby little me with my Jeri Curl,” was on his television, Winfrey remembered.
“Quincy Jones calls Reuben Cannon, the casting agent, and says ‘I think I found Sophia.’”
Cannon then invited Winfrey to audition for him but she didn't hear anything for three long months, at the end of which she decided to call him herself. That move didn't sit well with Cannon.
“Reuben says to me, ‘You don’t call me. I call you. And I didn’t call you. Do you understand I have real actresses who have auditioned for this part.’ I hung up the phone and start crying,”
Winfrey became convinced that it was her weight that cost her the part and immediately booked herself into a fat farm.
“I decide that this is because the fat has finally caught up with me. Now I must get rid of the fat,” she said to shouts from the crowd. “In two weeks I’m going to go to a fat farm and I’m going to lose 25 pounds. I’m going to drink a lot of green juice. I’m going to have cleanses and colonics.”
Winfrey then began to jog on the stage as she recounted her exercise at the fat farm.
"It starts to rain. Y’all know how that is,” Winfrey said, as she continued to jog. “I don’t even care. I’m praying to God to help me let it go. It’s controlling my life. I start praying."
“And I keep hearing this noise. There is nobody on the track but me. And I look around, and it’s my thighs rubbing together. It’s my thighs rubbing together causing this thunderous sound. Then I really start to cry.”
Winfrey turned to her faith for comfort and began to sing a church hymn called 'I Surrender All'
“I sang. And I cried,” Winfrey recalled, as the crowd sang along. “Until I could reach the point where I would not only be able to go to the movie but I would be able to bless the other actors [in the film.]”
So then God answered her prayers. Or at least a god did. A woman at the farm told Oprah that Steven Spielberg was on the phone for her.
“The instant I let it go, a woman comes running out of the cafeteria screaming, ‘Ofrey, is your name Ofrey?’ Ten years, still no one knew how to pronounce my name. ‘Somebody is on the telephone for you, says his name is Spielberg,’” Winfrey remembered the woman told her.
“I hear you are on a fat farm,” Spielberg said to Winfrey.
“No sir, this is a health retreat,” she replied, as the crowd laughed.
“He says, ‘I’d like to see you in my office in California and if you lose a pound you could lose this part.’”
"I packed my bags. I stopped at the Dairy Queen: Three scoops just in case I lost half a pound. Next day, I was in Spielberg’s office and he said, you’re hired.”
The iconic scene from the movie that helped Oprah land her Oscar nom then played on the screen behind her and the crown in attendance quoted the scene back to her.
Considering Oprah could now probably buy the street that Rueben Cannon lives on and turn his house into her gym, he might regret speaking to her in such a condescending manner.
In any case, we doubt Oprah is too bothered.