Oprah Winfrey is an original. She doesn’t go by other people’s playbooks, she invents her own. As the Queen of Daytime, her syndicated show draws more than 8 million viewers (that’s a bigger audience than most primetime shows), so now she’s decided to launch two feel-good reality shows for network primetime.One of her new ABC shows is called “The Big Give,” which is appropriate because Oprah likes to give. She gives out money and cars, along with advice on what books to read, what movies to see and which philosophies to embrace. Oprah’s impassioned advocacy occasionally bends the rules. Take her film recommendations: She’s a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, whose rule book states that members should not publicly confide their preferences or influence others on how to vote. Several Academy members have been chastised by Oscar rule-keepers because they’ve taken up the cudgels for a particular contender. Three years ago, director Robert Wise took the heat when an article appeared under his byline in a Los Angeles newspaper urging Academy members to give the Oscar to Martin Scorsese for “Gangs of New York.” Well, none of that intimidates Oprah. She’s been trumpeting her recommendations louder than ever this year. Hearing Jennifer Hudson sing in “Dreamgirls” was “a religious experience,” proclaimed Oprah. Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” was “one of the greatest performances of all times.” And Will Smith? “A great and powerful actor,” said Oprah, upon seeing “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Is all this contrary to Oscar policy? “There are a small number of members for which editorializing on movies is integral to their work,” cautioned Ric Robertson, executive vice president of the Academy. “There’s a slightly different standard that we hold them to.” Who are these members? Apparently the only one besides Oprah is yours truly. Indeed, I would be the sole member of the newspaper editors‘ branch, if there were one. That leaves me free to endorse my Oscar favorite. Liberated by Oprah, I will now come clean: I was really bummed out when “ET” lost out to “Gandhi.” I wish Oprah were around then to back me up. But then, she might have loved Ben Kingsley.
* * *Peace, love and an FBI dossier A shocking historic footnote made the news last week: The FBI considered John Lennon a bad guy. J. Edgar Hoover even went on record in warning the White House that the Beatle “had taken an interest in extreme left wing activities and is known to be a sympathizer of Trotzkyist communists in England.” All this became known thanks to the release of FBI documents held secret for 25 years. The documents revealed the extent of FBI surveillance of Lennon, who obviously blabbed enough about “peace and love” so as to arouse Nixon-era suspicion. The Lennon case should be of interest these days as members of the entertainment community become more vocal in opposing the war in Iraq. Noise from peaceniks makes the government very uncomfortable. To be sure, all the FBI ever learned through its surveillance was that Lennon flirted with the possibility of financing a “left wing bookshop” in London and showed up at antiwar rallies. Even more ominous, he expressed his sympathy with the oppressed and underprivileged people of Britain and the world. The material was made public as a result of litigation initiated by Jon Wiener, an historian who has written extensively about Lennon. The government fought release of the documents for 25 years on the grounds that the incident could trigger “military retaliation against the United States,” reported the Los Angeles Times. Presumably from the U.K. Well, now the information is out there. It’s up to Tony Blair to retaliate accordingly.