By Donna Britt
Friday, November 18, 2005
On Monday, Oprah Winfrey celebrated 20 years on the nation's airwaves with a special episode featuring the best and worst moments of her gargantuanly popular talkfest. The next day, she released "The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection," a six-disk DVD on which she highlights favorite interviews and tells viewers "what I was really thinking."
In the spirit of Oprahness -- I mean openness -- I'll tell you what I was really thinking in a grocery line as I read a recent tabloid article speculating on whom Oprah might one day choose to replace her on TV -- a list that included Katie Couric, Halle Berry and Winfrey's longtime pal Gayle King, who once helmed her own talk show.
Studying the list, I thought of a bolder, less-predictable option:
I want to be Oprah -- and not because I'd enjoy being a one-woman empire and first-name-only cultural goddess (nobody cared about Isis's or Aphrodite's last names, either.) Like the beauty pageant contestant whose desire for the crown has nothing to do with the accompanying scholarship or fame, my motive is pure:
I want world peace.
Starting within my own family, which has, I must reveal -- Oprah's replacement won't hide much -- occasionally argued over something that hasn't troubled Winfrey for decades: money. Boatloads of syndication dollars would make the bills, mortgage, college and private school tuitions, and children's violin-drama-karate-basketball lessons that now bedevil me a distant memory.
I want to be Oprah.
I want to be fitter and far more beautiful in my fifties than in my twenties or thirties. To have my own smart magazine with my face on the cover month after month. To have intimate birthday soirees that include Sidney Poitier, Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner.
I want to have a good-looking, hyperactive show-off jump up and down on my couch -- and have "Entertainment Tonight" yakking about it rather than my husband demanding that our 10-year-old get down, now .
One problem: Oprah is so extraordinary that millions of wonderful women would love to be her -- including Darlene Mathis, the owner of Collectibles Gallery, a Georgetown home accessories store and a proud organizer of the "Oprah Winfrey for Nobel Peace Prize" movement ( http://oprah4peaceprize.org ) featured Nov. 8 on "Access Hollywood."
Mathis's old friend, Rockville public relations consultant Rocky Twyman, got the idea for the movement "from God" after watching the talk show queen give a $1 million check to the U.S. Dream Academy, a Columbia, Md.-based nonprofit benefiting children of the incarcerated. Oprah "didn't praise herself, though people were chanting her name," Twyman recalls of the event. "She gave a testimony to God . . . saying that at-risk families were what He put her here for."
Touched by her humility, groundbreaking show and gifts to universities, charities and, most recently, Hurricane Katrina victims, Twyman, Mathis and others obtained signatures at Metro stops, the Black Family Reunion and area stores. They've gathered almost 6,000 since July.
Mathis, who says she hasn't had a vacation in seven years, most wants to be Oprah "so I could take 10 days off," she jokes. "Oprah tapes her show and can do good while she's on vacation."
But Mathis, 50, who was raised in Northeast Washington, has a deeper reason for admiring Oprah:
She was sexually abused by a family member at age 9 -- the same age that Winfrey was similarly abused. Mathis will never forget turning to the 1985 show on which Oprah famously confessed her decades-old secret.
She immediately switched off the TV.
"I believed she was responsible for it happening to her, just as I thought I was," Mathis explains. Turning the set back on, she heard Oprah tearfully describe never having felt pretty and eating compulsively to dull her pain. "That's me," Mathis realized.
The show led Mathis to fasting, prayer, therapy -- and self-acceptance. "I found that I had bones and muscles in my cheeks to laugh with," she says now. "Before Oprah, you didn't see people who'd overcome such a tragedy" on TV.
Tomorrow at 5 p.m., Mathis will host a one-year "birthday" celebration for her store, giving out handmade "Oprah 2006" Christmas ornaments to the first hundred signers of the petition -- a lovely act that, admittedly, could jeopardize my own application for Oprahdom.
Okay, so I'm hardly extraordinary. But I'm an openhearted, spiritual type who meditates daily and has a proven professional track record of asking strangers squirm-inducing questions and then revealing their answers to the world.
I, too, long to make the world a better place -- and wear really cute outfits while doing it.
If that weren't enough, my best childhood friend -- I'm not making this up -- is named Gayle King. My Gayle, a Chicago-based former Ebony Fashion Fair model, has even appeared on Oprah.
Is that cosmic or what?
Admittedly, being Oprah would be tough. But I'd make the necessary sacrifices:
Trading in my filthy, wheezing, 10-year-old Explorer for a Porsche. Relinquishing my Payless flip-flops for Jimmy Choos. Letting Oprah -- who wisely eschewed husband-and-kids for saving-the-world -- take over my chaotic, grocery line-standing existence. I'd even consider throwing in one of my "favorite things" -- Darrell, my handsome, 20-year-old son who recently pronounced Oprah "hot."
Such moves could threaten my one-of-the-little-people status. But this you can know for sure:
Operators -- including Darrell, who knows a good thing when he hears one -- are standing by for Oprah's call.