OPRAH Winfrey is influential. Fact. Who else would have enough clout to get Hollywood’s A-listers and some politicians to pour out their hearts on screen.
Although Winfrey has hung up her talk show heels, she hasn’t strayed from her couch therapist roots, so to speak. And her show, Oprah’s Master Class, has seen some of the most iconic figures of this century open up in a way they never have before.
Rapper Jay-Z started things with television journalist Diane Sawyer and film producer, director, author, actress, civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou following suit along with Simon Cowell, Lorne Michaels (creator of Saturday Night Live), Condoleezza Rice and Oprah, who wrapped up the season with her personal tale.
In the second season of her hit series, she puts screen legend Jane Fonda in the spotlight.
The actress, writer, political activist, former fashion model and fitness guru covers various facets of her life in different segments: growing from your pain, the joy of ageing, finding her focus, learning to forgive yourself…
During her chat, Fonda, looking as ravishing as ever, reflected: “Like a lot of girls, I was pretty feisty, I was a tomboy. I climbed the trees and I wrestled and then suddenly you had to have boyfriends and you had to be a certain way. You had to be popular and you had to be thin, and you had to be what they wanted you to be.
“That became a very difficult time in my life, partly I was suffering the loss of that strong brave girl that I had been. I was mourning the loss of her. And so I slept a lot and didn’t know what to do with myself and I was floundering.
“My father (Henry) called me frivolous and lazy. He didn’t realise that I was suffering, starving myself… anorexia and bulimic, etc, etc and so on.”
While composed as she spoke, the past emotions quietly bubbled under.
She continued: “I was on this toxic quest for perfection… and it is toxic. I should have known better because I saw lots of women who weren’t perfect who were beloved.”
One of her fondest memories was of an event that happened in her youth in France.
She recalled: “I was 16. My father was married to an Italian woman. She was a bit of a jetsetter. We were in the south of France. We rented a house on the Mediterranean and all kinds of famous people would come and spend the day, including Jackie Kennedy and Elsa Maxwell and all kinds of fancy people. And one day Greta Garbo came to lunch and looked at me and said: ‘Would you like to come swimming with me?’
“Well, first of all, none of the people who ever came there would look at me or noticed me, much less went swimming. They were too worried about their hair or whatever. And I said: ‘Yes.’
“She disappeared and came out in a bath robe with one of those serious white shower swimming caps on. We walked down the stairs and got to the bottom; she dropped her bathrobe and she was naked. And she wasn’t perfect. She was an athlete. She was muscular and sturdy. And it made me so happy that she was a good, healthy body… It took me so long to get into the water. I remember I was swimming out and she was combing back and we met, bobbing in the water, and she looked at me, right in the eye, and she said: ‘Do you want to be an actress?’
“And I said: ‘No!’ She said: ‘Well, you are pretty enough.’ Then I swallowed about a ton of water. I was so shocked and then I think I had a Cheshire grin on my face for the rest of the day. It was a great experience.”
As time went on, Fonda learnt many important life lessons. One of which is: “We are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole.”
While heartbreaking, at times, her journey is filled with such inspiration and many lessons to be learnt. And she is without a doubt a damn compelling storyteller, too!
• Oprah’s Master Class with Jane Fonda airs on TLC Entertainment (DStv channel 172) tonight at 8.55pm.