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15 Chatty Facts About The Oprah Winfrey Show

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In early 1984, a little-known television personality named Oprah Winfrey began hosting A.M. Chicago, a struggling morning talk show on WLS-TV. Within a month, the show rose in the rankings to become the highest-rated local talk show (before Oprah arrived, it was in last place). Within a year, the half-hour show was extended to an hour—and renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. One year later, on September 8, 1986, Oprah went national. On the 30th anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show’s debut, here are 15 facts about the daytime gabfest.

1. BY THE TIME THE SHOW MADE ITS NATIONAL DEBUT, OPRAH WAS ALREADY AN OSCAR NOMINEE.

Though The Oprah Winfrey Show didn’t make its national debut until the fall of 1986, American audiences were already familiar with the would-be daytime queen, though they knew her as an actress—and an Oscar-nominated one at that. Six months before she popped up on television, Oprah was in contention for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (she lost to Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor).

2. IT WAS ROGER EBERT WHO CONVINCED WINFREY TO SAY YES TO THE SYNDICATED DEAL—WHILE THEY WERE ON A DATE.

Oprah.com

For the show’s 20th anniversary, Winfrey admitted that she had trepidations about signing a syndication deal for The Oprah Winfrey Show, and that it was Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert who convinced her to say yes. The two were on a date (their first) when Winfrey told Ebert about the offer to take her show national. According to Oprah.com, “Roger grabbed a Hamburger Hamlet napkin and started jotting down some numbers. First, he took his annual salary multiplied by two (because his co-critic at the time, Gene Siskel, made the same salary). Then, he multiplied that number by five since Oprah's show would be on five days a week. Finally, he doubled that number to reflect the hour timeframe, and then doubled it one last time because he was sure her show would be a huge hit!” He slid the napkin across the table to Winfrey, to show her what she stood to make by saying yes, to which she replied: “Done deal!”

Alas, the romance was not to be. The two did go on a second date—Ebert recalled that they went to see the Count Basie Orchestra, but that Winfrey left early as she had to be up at 5 a.m. for the show. Still, the two remained friends and Ebert made several appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

3. IT COULD HAVE BEEN JUST ANOTHER SERIES OF CELEBRITY Q&AS, HAD DON JOHNSON AGREED TO BE THE FIRST GUEST.

For her very first national show, Winfrey wanted to go big—and there were few bigger stars at the time than Miami Vice’s Don Johnson. But Johnson wasn’t into it, even after Winfrey sent him a very stylish (and very expensive) pair of rhinestone sunglasses to try and persuade him. The experience led Winfrey to make the momentous decision that her show should be about everyday people, not celebrities (well, at least not all the time). “So what we came up with was a show called ‘How to Marry the Man of Your Choice,’” Winfrey explained.

In 2010, during the premiere episode of the show’s final season, Johnson finally showed up—to return those rhinestone glasses to Winfrey. "They were all the rage and they cost a fortune," the host said.

"I know it has taken me about 24 years to get these back to you,” Johnson explained. “For clarity, I was shooting 18 to 20 hours a day at the time and it's not that I didn't wanna come, they [producers] wouldn't let me come. But I understand things have been going OK for you.”

4. WHEELING OUT THAT WAGON OF FAT IS ONE OF WINFREY’S BIGGEST REGRETS.

One of Winfrey’s most memorable moments is also one of her biggest regrets. On November 15, 1988, the hostess wheeled out a wagon full of 67 pounds of animal fat to illustrate just how much weight she had lost following a recent—and highly publicized—diet. Years later, she described that moment as a “Big, big, big, big, big, big, big mistake!,” telling Entertainment Tonight that, “When I look at that show, I think it was one of the biggest ego trips of my life.”

5. ELIZABETH TAYLOR WAS HER WORST INTERVIEW.

Like any good talk show host, Winfrey hasn’t been shy about her best and worst moments. When asked about her worst interview, Winfrey points to a sit-down with Elizabeth Taylor during the show’s second season.

“It's still painful to watch," Winfrey said, "For many reasons—including my bad hair." Just before the interview, Taylor told Winfrey that she didn’t want to talk about any of her romantic relationships. "That's kind of hard to do when you're Elizabeth Taylor and you've been married seven times," Oprah said. Taylor later apologized to Winfrey for the incident, and admitted that she was experiencing serious hip and back pain at the time, which didn’t help the interview.

6. HER INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL JACKSON IS THE MOST WATCHED INTERVIEW IN TELEVISION HISTORY.

On February 10, 1993, Oprah’s interview with Michael Jackson—which was broadcast live from the musician’s Neverland Ranch—became the most watched interview in television history (and remains as such), with 90 million people tuning in. Her closest competitors are Barbara Walters, who scored 74 million viewers with her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky, and David Frost, who got 45 million people to tune in to his legendary tête-à-tête with Richard Nixon. Toward the end of Jackson's interview, Elizabeth Taylor showed up!

7. ELLEN DEGENERES COMING OUT ON THE SHOW LED TO A TON OF HATE MAIL.

In 1997, comedian (and future talk show host) Ellen DeGeneres chose The Oprah Winfrey Show as the place to come out publicly as a lesbian, just before her character on Ellen did the same to her therapist, who was played by Winfrey. Both shows got a ton of publicity, and not all of it was positive. Years later, Winfrey revealed that "I played the therapist on that [episode of Ellen] ... and got the most and worst hate mail of my entire career after doing it, like 'Go back to Africa' hate mail."

8. WINFREY HAS LEFT A LOT OF MONEY ON THE TABLE.

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Though she’s worth a reported $2.9 billion, Winfrey once told Fortune that “I don’t think of myself as a businesswoman,” and she has proven that refusing to sell out can be a profitable business in and of itself. While most celebrities would see having a mega-hit talk show as a great money-making opportunity, Winfrey—who is regularly cited as one of the world’s most generous celebrities—wasn’t about that. Throughout the show’s run, she refused to let the promise of big bucks sway her. The show didn’t enter into licensing deals or paid endorsements, even though she had plenty of companies banging at her door to become one of her “Favorite Things” or to see their latest releases as part of her Book Club. But Winfrey’s recommendations were all her own.

9. “THE OPRAH EFFECT” WAS HUGE.

Though Winfrey’s affections for a product or service couldn’t be bought, when she did tell her audience about something she liked, they listened—and spent. Known as “The Oprah Effect,” her Book Club had the power to turn an author from an unknown to a bestseller, and even a brief mention of a beloved product by Winfrey could see that item’s sales go into overdrive. When Winfrey mentioned that she owned a LightWedge book light, the company saw its sales increase from $3700 per day to $90,000 in a single afternoon.

10. SHE WAS SUED BY A GROUP OF TEXAS CATTLEMEN.

Just as Winfrey had the power to boost any business, a bad review could take it away. During a 1996 episode about mad cow disease, Winfrey admitted that a conversation with a vegetarian activist who told her about the dangers of a mad cow disease outbreak in America had stopped her “cold from eating another burger." A group of Texas cattlemen were not pleased with Winfrey’s comment, and filed a defamation suit, claiming her remark led to $11 million in losses. In 1998, the court sided with Winfrey, who declared that "Free speech not only lives, it rocks." (She also confirmed that she was “still off hamburgers.”)

11. THAT FAMOUS CAR GIVEAWAY COST $8 MILLION.

In 2004, Winfrey surprised her audience in a big way when she gave all 276 members of her studio audience a brand-new Pontiac G6. Winfrey wasn’t lying when she famously (and meme-worthily) exclaimed, "You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!" The total cost of those cars? Just under $8 million. (Earlier this year, John Oliver trumped that total by paying off $15 million of medical debt.)

12. YES, EVERYONE WHO GOT A CAR HAD TO PAY TAXES ON IT.

While winning a brand-new car on television might seem like the ultimate high, it does come with some strings (as winners on The Price is Right can certainly attest). And for some members in the studio audience that day, the tax bill for that new car was as much as $6000. “That responsible part of me stepped forward and wondered 'where am I going to get the money to pay the taxes?,'" said William Toebe, who was at the show with his wife—which meant two cars and two tax bills. But it turned out well for them: they took the cars, sold them immediately, and made enough of a profit to pay off some other bills.

13. SHE STOPPED SUBMITTING THE SHOW FOR EMMY CONSIDERATION.

In 2000, after winning 47 Daytime Emmy Awards—including a Lifetime Achievement Award—Winfrey refrained from submitting her show for any further Emmy consideration. She reportedly wanted to make more room for others in the daytime arena to be nominated, and win.

14. IT’S THE LONGEST-RUNNING DAYTIME TALK SHOW.

When The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its final episode on May 25, 2011, it had been on the air for just shy of 25 years, making it the longest-running daytime talk show.

15. HER BOOK CLUB IS STILL ACTIVE.

Though not as regular, Oprah’s Book Club was reintroduced in 2012. Now known as Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, her recommendations are doled out via OWN and O: The Oprah Winfrey Magazine. So far, she has only recommended a handful of books—the most recent one being Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, which was released last month.

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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