Cheryl and Oprah One on One, Pt. II

May 16, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Before Oprah was filling stadiums like the United Center she was a virtual unknown until her producer, who was trying to get a job here in Chicago, sent an audition tape featuring a local talk show host from Baltimore.

"The story goes that Dennis Swanson saw me on that tape and asked her, 'who's that girl, who's that girl,'" Oprah told ABC7's Cheryl Burton.

That girl was Oprah Winfrey and Dennis Swanson was the station manager at Channel 7 at the time. Oprah remembers the interview very well, especially her anchor attire.

"That was my fanciest outfit, and I had on white stockings. Remember when we wore white stockings?! So now I look at that photograph and I look like a clod who's in a priest uniform wearing nurses stockings," said Oprah.

Oprah says as she flew into the city she had made up her mind. If she didn't get the job she was going to move to Chicago because she loved the vibe and the possibilities of the city.

"Everybody told me when I moved to Chicago, when I was in the process of moving, that I would fail. Gayle was the only person who said, 'I think you could beat Donahue,' and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard," said Oprah.

The queen of talk is especially grateful to Swanson, the man she says changed the trajectory of her life.

"He had the courage to hire me, a black woman, single, host of a morning show in a city that was pretty racially divided at the time," she said. "But he didn't think twice about putting me on the air, bad Jeri curl and all, and said to me, 'we know you are not going to beat Donahue. That's not the goal. Just be yourself'...I had no stylist, I had no publicist, I had no marketing savvy...I literally was flying by the seat of my pantyhose, sometimes white pantyhose, and making every decision based upon what felt like the right thing to do."

Why does she think the Oprah Winfrey show became a phenomenon?

"We wanted to tell the stories of people like ourselves so that I could see my story in you...from the beginning it was all about connecting to the viewer and not about trying to make numbers, and that is what made the numbers," Oprah said.

A half-hour special called Oprah Looks Back: 25 years of the Oprah Winfrey Show will air on ABC7 Tuesday, May 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Load Comments