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6 of Oprah's Famous Feuds

Oprah Winfrey has been called the most powerful woman in the world, and since her syndicated talk show is broadcast in over 130 countries, it's not a ludicrous claim. It's only natural then, that someone so powerful would find herself ensnared in her fair share of controversies. Whether you think Oprah's a power-hungry witch or simply an easy target for anyone desperately seeking a quick burst of exposure, it's hard to argue that no matter who starts the feud, talk TV's queen always handles herself with grace and civility. (Well, most of the time.) And she usually wins. Here are a few of our favorites:

Oprah vs. Jonathan Franzen

Forget Harold Bloom; Oprah might be the world's most influential literary critic. When she picks a book for the Oprah's Book Club segment on her show, what publishers call "the Oprah Effect" kicks in, and sales can spike by upwards of a million copies. For most writers, that sort of enlarged audience and the accompanying royalties would be a dream.

For most writers who aren't Jonathan Franzen, that is. When Oprah chose Franzen's sweeping 2001 family drama The Corrections as a club selection, the author bristled. Franzen apparently didn't feel that his tome belonged in the company of the oprah-franzen.jpgother selections, lamenting, "The problem in this case is some of Oprah's picks. She's picked some good books, but she's picked enough schmaltzy, one dimensional ones that I cringe, myself, even though I think she's really smart and she's really fighting the good fight." He also expressed discomfort at having the Oprah's Book Club logo on the novel's cover.

Oprah countered by revoking Franzen's invitation to appear on her show, although the novel was discussed by the book club. Although Franzen later admitted he felt awful about the whole episode, it proved that no elitist writer can win a fight with Oprah; the top result for an Amazon search for The Corrections returns the The Corrections (Oprah Edition).

Oprah vs. James Frey

If Oprah triumphed over Franzen, she absolutely dropped the hammer on James Frey, the author of the partially fabricated memoir A Million Little Pieces. Oprah selected the memoir as her book club selection for September 2005, and the paperback version immediately shot to the top of the New York Times' bestseller list for 15 straight weeks. All of the publicity wasn't great for Frey, though. After he appeared on the show to discuss the book, The Smoking Gun started digging around for his mug shot from an anecdote in the memoir in which Frey gets arrested. As it turned out, they couldn't find one because the incident never happened. Soon, the veracity of the whole book was under suspicion.

This hullabaloo obviously embarrassed Oprah since she'd brought the book into the spotlight in the first place. Frey appeared on Oprah's show again in January 2006 to explain himself and contend that the same drug addiction the memoir recounted led him to lie in his writing. Oprah would have none of his equivocating, though, and sternly chided Frey, "I feel you betrayed millions of readers."

She wasn't done, though. Oprah then had Nan Talese, Frey's publisher, defend the decision to market the book as a memoir. Under intense questioning from Oprah, Talese finally admitted that she hadn't actually fact checked the book. Talese would later viciously decry Oprah's "fiercely bad manners," but the damage was done. Winfrey had deftly humiliated both in front of her enormous TV audience.

Oprah vs. David Letterman

When Letterman hosted the 1995 Academy Awards, he made the infamously bad "Oprah, Uma; Uma, Oprah" joke in which he ostensibly introduced Winfrey to Uma Thurman. For most viewers, it was just thirty seconds of excruciatingly unfunny television. According to rumors, Oprah didn't find it funny, either, and what had previously been a cordial relationship in which Oprah had appeared on the comedian's show turned frosty.

Letterman exacerbated things by starting a running bit on his show he called the "Oprah Log," in which he kept a daily diary of whether or not he'd been invited to appear on her show. Every entry had the same answer: nope. Oprah later told Time that she was "completely uncomfortable" as the target of Letterman's jokes, and the rift widened.

In 2005, though, the pair finally patched things up, as Oprah appeared on Letterman's show before the premiere of the Broadway version of The Color Purple. Even against renowned comedians, Oprah always gets the last laugh, though. She needled Letterman with an on-air gift: a signed, framed photo of herself with Uma Thurman.

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Oprah vs. Ludacris

When rapper/actor Ludacris appeared on Oprah's show in 2006 with his castmates from the film Crash, he probably expected a fairly soft interview to help garner attention for the film. Instead, Oprah singled him out and chastised him for using the words "bitches" and "ho's" in his rhymes. Ludacris was understandably perplexed by this treatment, which he said continued even after the show went off the air. He later accused Oprah of editing out his rebuttals and comments and leaving her own untouched. He told GQ, "Of course, it's her show, but we were doing a show on racial discrimination, and she gave me a hard time as a rapper when I came on there as an actor"¦It was like being at someone's house who doesn't really want you there."

Although rappers 50 Cent, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike have also publicly criticized Oprah for not supporting hip-hop, Oprah later told MTV, "I'm not opposed to rap. I'm opposed to being marginalized as a woman." It's tough to doubt her quote given its context; she gave the interview while attending the birthday party of Def Jam CEO L.A. Reid.

Oprah vs. Hermes

Oprah hasn't just had beefs with people; she's also taken on luxury designers. This story is shrouded in controversy, but a few facts seem to have emerged. In 2005, Oprah showed up at a Hermes boutique in Paris to buy a purse. Unfortunately, though, the store had already closed and denied her request to slip in to quickly buy the handbag. Oprah was supposedly livid about what she considered to be rude treatment and suspected that the denial was based on racism, and a public war of words broke out. Oprah contacted the U.S. head of Hermes to relay her side of the story. The company maintained that she'd simply run into an overly rigid employee who didn't recognize her and failed to bend the rules as was common for celebrity customers. (Whatever the employee's actual motivation was, he certainly didn't display much business sense; the Birkin handbag Oprah wanted to sneak in to purchase retailed for over $6,000.)

As rumors raged that Oprah wanted viewers to boycott Hermes, she squashed the controversy with her usual flair by inviting Hermes' U.S. chief Robert Chavez on the show. She explained to Chavez that she was just upset over the rude treatment of a single employee. Chavez offered a sincere apology, and Oprah encouraged views to buy their own Birkin bags.

Oprah vs. Angelina Jolie

Oprah's legendary philanthropy nearly matches her fame, and one of her recent projects is the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The boarding school is devoted to finding academically gifted low-income girls in South Africa and then nurturing their leadership abilities. Obviously, Oprah's pursuing a noble goal with the project, and she occasionally looks to other celebrities for help with promoting the school. Knowing that Angelina Jolie has a deep and abiding love for Africa, Oprah invited her to lend a hand in promoting the school. Jolie supposedly flatly refused. She was apparently still peeved that Oprah had sided with Jennifer Aniston in Aniston's breakup with Jolie's beau Brad Pitt. This one hasn't had any resolution yet, but you can be sure of one thing: when the dust clears, Oprah's going to come out on top.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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