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Oprah Winfrey's life isn't an open book

OPRAH: A Biography, by Kitty Kelley. Crown, 524 pp, $30.

Oprah Winfrey may be one of the richest and most powerful people in the world, with about $2.4 billion and the highest-rated daytime talk show on television, but celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley says she has one thing Winfrey doesn't - the identity of Winfrey's biological father.

And she's not telling.

Winfrey wouldn't talk to Kelley for "Oprah," her way- unauthorized biography, and neither would Winfrey's mother, Vernita Lee, her perpetual fiance, Stedman Graham, or her best friend, Gayle King.

For the past 15 years, Winfrey has required virtually everyone around her to sign confidentiality agreements. But Kelley managed to talk to Vernon Winfrey, the man who raised Oprah though he knew he wasn't her biological father, and Katharine Carr Esters, a cousin Winfrey calls "Aunt Katharine."

And just to prove it, the first two pictures in the book's photo insert show not the Queen of All Media, but Vernon Winfrey whispering in Kelley's ear and Esters with her arm around Kelley. Take that, Oprah.

I hope Kelley's having fun needling her subject, because it certainly doesn't do the reader any good to learn in a footnote that "on July 30, 2007, Mrs. Esters told the author the name and family background of Oprah's real father on the condition that the information not be published until Vernita Lee tells her daughter the entire story." (The week of the book's publication an 84-year-old World War II vet named Norh Robinson came forward claiming he is Oprah's dad.)

Nor is Kelley any help in answering the question many people have: Is Winfrey gay?

Kelley quotes James van Sweden, a landscape architect who designed the grounds for Winfrey's Indiana farm: "I spent days in her bedroom, designing plans from every window, so that by the time I was finished I knew every inch of that room, inside the closets and out, which is why I can tell you that there were no men's clothes in any of Oprah's closets and no trace of Stedman anywhere.

"She talked about Gayle far more than she ever did Stedman," van Sweden continues, "but I don't think that she and Gayle are a lesbian couple. They're just very good friends." So there you have it.

Anyone who cares about Winfrey already knows she was sexually abused as a child, gave birth at 15 to a premature baby who died soon after, used cocaine in her 20s and struggles with her weight. She's always been ambitious and wanted a lot of money. Now that she's rich, she loves to throw her cash around. She's revealed all this on her show or in her magazine.

There are some good tidbits. Winfrey learned from former president Bill Clinton to write one-page letters, so their recipients could frame them, according to Kelley. After the excruciating show in which Winfrey roasted James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces," for straying from the truth in his drug-abuse memoir, she sent a note to Frey's aristocratic publisher, Nan Talese:

"Dear Nan, Thanks for being on the show. Sincerely, Oprah."

There are lists of every title from Oprah's Book Club, sensational show topics and a David Letterman bit, "Top 10 Articles From Oprah's New Magazine," including "No. 4: My Love Affair With Oprah, by Oprah."

Unless you're having a love affair with the lady, "Oprah: A Biography" is a very long slog.

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