“During her speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, she (Oprah) talked about the devastations of concentration camps and then inexplicably segued into how hard it was to be famous and go to the bathroom in public.” – Kitty Kelly’s Oprah, A Biography.
President Barack Obama announced last week a list of Americans who would receive the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed to a civilian. The group included the late Democratic Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye and Oprah Winfrey.
Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor for his combat heroism in World War II. A few years ago he spoke of how he sniped a German officer who was “moving his bowels.” Inouye remembered with regret what he told his men before he took the fatal shot: “This one is mine!” And while we may not like Inouye’s record in the Senate, I believe he should get a pass because of what he did in combat and because of the racism he overcame as a Japanese-American.
Then there is Oprah; the Oprah that despises public washrooms, the Oprah who in 2008 proclaimed Barack Obama to be the “chosen one.” “The Oprah,” who launched Obama’s two-term Presidency.
And when it comes to Oprah it seems to me the President is paying off an old debt. And what do you give a woman worth $3 billion? Perhaps the President asked the first lady what to get Oprah. She may have opined: “The Medal of Freedom would be nice.”
Inouye Lost An Arm… “Oprah Doesn’t Do Stairs!”
Inouye’s posthumous Medal of Freedom was more difficult to earn than Oprah’s, whose biggest contribution to America is a daytime TV show.
More than a decade ago I got a glimpse of the real Oprah. I came home from work early one day and watched her talk show. She was interviewing actor Matt Damon and director Billy Bob Thornton about their then new movie, “All the Pretty Horses.”
Oprah bragged to her worshipping audience in front of her guests, “I don’t even have a cell phone.” To which Thornton replied neither did he, but all three of them had two or three assistants following them around with cell phones. If looks could kill Thornton would have been a dead man.
To be fair, it’s necessary to measure up the life achievements between Inouye— a Japanese-American who was vanguard for the Democrats in the Senate for half a century—and Oprah— a liberal Chicago celebrity and a onetime confidant to the President.
Inouye’s lifetime of achievement began in 1943 when he volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He did that as Japanese-Americans were being interned by the Federal government. Within his first year he achieved the rank of sergeant. While fighting the Germans in World War II he was promoted to second lieutenant.
In 1945, Inouye led his platoon against a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy. He ordered his men to take cover. He proceeded to attack three German gun positions. After he was shot through the stomach, he pressed on with nothing more than his Thompson submachine gun and a sack of hand grenades. After his right arm was blown to shreds by a German grenade rifle, he led a charge past the enemy’s last position.
His actions in World War II gave Inouye a shout-out on one website as, “Badass of the Week.”
Inouye is remembered as a badass, not as a fat-ass. With regards to the latter, Kitty Kelly does point to a terrible day Oprah had at an exclusive art gallery.
In the book, Oprah on page 340, Kelly quotes renowned Washington, D.C., art dealer Peter A. Colasante who had the misfortune of trying to do business with Ms. Winfrey:
“Hey. You’ve kept me waiting for over thirty minutes.” Her security guards moved in.
“C’mon I need to show you your paintings so I can get to my own appointment.”
“Oprah does not walk,” she said.
“Aw, c’mon. It’s only a few yards,” I said with my hand on her shoulder, steering her across the street. She started screaming at her secretary.
I said, “Your people made appointments for you, insisted on absolute times, and said that we all had to be ready for your arrival and let nothing interfere, so I’m doing exactly what your people told me to do.
The secretary was so frightened she couldn’t speak and she started shaking so hard her notebook bobbed up and down. This only incensed Oprah more. I thought she was going to swat the secretary and then decapitate me. Just as this was happening, a busload of kids passed by. They immediately recognized Oprah and started screaming. Then the most amazing thing happened: Oprah stopped hissing and spitting, and her serpent eyes softened as she waved and beamed. “Hi, y’all.”…. She actually turned from screeching harridan to sweet goddess in less time than it takes to blink. I swear I thought I was in the middle of an alien attack… Then I marched her into my gallery, trailed by her pilot, her secretary, her hairdresser, her makeup man and two big security guards. She walked through the front door and started waving her hands over head like she was doing a very slow St. Vitus’ dance.
“I just don’t feel it,” she said, shaking her head. “I just don’t feel it. The vibrations aren’t right… they’re not speaking to me….”
“You’ll feel ‘em once you see the paintings we’ve assembled for you,” I said, pointing up the stairs where the Court oils had been hung.
“Oprah does not do stairs!”
And so it goes, as Obama embraces the achievements of Inouye and Oprah. One was an American war hero. The other sells soap to desperate housewives. One is dead. The other now encouraged to continue the good work of building the Obama legacy.
And let us not discount how tough Oprah has had it either. She has said she was sexually abused as a child, something denied by her family. And when her ratings were poor she said how she had once done cocaine, too.
As Frank Sinatra so famously sang:
That’s life, that’s what people say.
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May.
Life imitated lyrics for Oprah. She was told she would receive the highest civilian honor a President can bestow. The announcement came a couple of weeks after she was subjected to wicked racism by a Swiss shopkeeper.
The First Lady of TV wanted to look at a $38,000 handbag while on a recent trip to Switzerland. She told Entertainment Tonight: “I was in Zurich the other day at a store whose name I will not mention. I didn’t have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear. I had my little Donna Karan skirt and sandals, but obviously The Oprah Winfrey Show is not shown in Zurich.
“I go into a store and say to the woman, ‘Excuse me, may I see that bag over your head?’ and she says to me ‘No, it’s too expensive.'”
It seems Oprah likes crocodile bags. (Ouch! Oprah is not an environmentalist!). Yet this Swiss shopkeeper dared to say no to Oprah!
According to Oprah, the woman said: “No no no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one, because that one will cost too much and you will not be able to afford that.”
Cost too much? Too much for Oprah? That is like telling the Pope he isn’t Catholic. If seeing is believing you can watch how Oprah described her Rosa Parks experience, no doubt while on her way back from her Swiss bank.
I tell you it is an outrage. It is also a coincidence, because the new movie about racism, The Butler, starring Oprah hits theaters Friday.
Obama may feel that what happened to Oprah was so despicable that it influenced his decision to bestow upon the Queen of daytime TV the identical honor he bestowed on the late Senator Inouye.
Just one difference: one saved his platoon and went on to serve in the U.S. Senate for 50 years. The other never does stairs and no longer does handbags in Switzerland.
Yours in good times and bad,