Friday, November 13, 2009

Making It Right with Oprah

Sarah Palin finally said yes to Oprah. Every time Oprah is in the news, which is nearly everyday, I suffer a cringe of shame and regret. Why? -- you might rightfully ask if you cared one whit about my regrets. A badly ended affair? An unpaid loan? A business deal gone south? No. I'm afraid much worse than any of that. To get this monkey off my back once and for all I will confess to you here and now that I once said no to Oprah. I shall give you a moment to collect yourself.

It was the spring of 1996. I had been on a three week publicity tour for my book The Free Fall of Webster Cummings followed by a two week roving television shoot for the PBS series Travels on America's Historic Trails. I was exhausted and homesick. My 11-year-old son and my fiance -- now my wife -- back in Alaska were on my mind constantly. I promised them the minute I got home we'd load up the boat and head across to the wild side of Kachemak Bay for a few days of being just us. There had been delays and schedule changes and they seemed dubious. I promised them I would not mess it up again.

The day I arrived home I went immediately to the garage and started getting gear together. God it was good to be home. The phone rang and a very nice producer from Oprah informed me in a congratulatory tone that Oprah wanted me on her show. I had a fishing pole in one hand the phone in the other. Oprah was a kingmaker even then. My book wasn't doing so well and certainly needed the juice. I let too much time pass, but finally asked, "When?"
"The day after tomorrow!"
"Here in Chicago. We'll pay all your travel expenses and have a flight booked for you in the morning."
It didn't seem like such a hard decision to make at the time. I'd promised my family. I was exhausted. I could taste the bay from where I stood.
"Is there another day we could do it?"
"No." She said, without ambivalence.
"Now or never?" says I.

I heard later that no one says no to Oprah. And if you do you are dead to her. Or at least dead to her show. I don't know if that's the least bit true. I do know that book sold fewer copies than any of my titles before or since. It was remaindered only a couple years later without even appearing in soft cover. I still have about twenty cases of them in my basement.

So every time I hear her name my Oprah Shame Spiral begins to churn. Like today. And I work through it the same way I always do -- I remember three wonderful spring days across the bay with my family. Sure, there were plenty of those at many other times and only one Oprah, but that one needed to happen. More than Oprah did. That's true even now as I sit here actually in Chicago on my way west to see that same son. He's now 24 and I get as homesick for him now as I ever did.

We're going to have dinner tonight and I'll have to ask him if he remembers that one trip to the cabin. I'll bet he remembers it more than Oprah remembers me saying no to her. Ain't that right, O?


Blogger jgduby said...

It is so heartening to hear about people in the spotlight who make the choice to put their family ahead of their fame.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Bob Johnson said...

I'm going to make it a point to check for that book at Amazon... you're willingness to decline her worship's invitation is worth investing in a book I'd frankly never heard of until this story. You'll always be dear to me now.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Bob Johnson said...

Okay, me again... as you no doubt knew, I wasn't going to be able to buy it from Amazon (unless I wanted to buy a used one, but it sort of misses the point of rewarding you to buy someone else's old copy). Let me know if you want to sell one of those in your basement... seriously.

12:35 PM  
Blogger is a good example said...

The best job in the world is called Dad. My sons grew up and left me too, darn it. But I sure don't regret the afternoons I spent at Andrew's soccer games or the evenings at Joseph's plays. More important than making money, because that time can't come back. Thanks for your piece. John

1:00 PM  
Blogger JLeonid said...

Not to worry. You're probably still eligible for salvation through several of the world's religions.

Thanks for a nice blog on a slow Friday.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

Tom! I'm glad you said no to her! Call me a hater if you want, but I think she needs a few folks to say no to bring her down a notch or two!

Ok, now that's over, I had no idea that you were such an avid blogger! I started following you on Twitter after a recommendation from, and I have to say that I'm glad I did! Keep entertaining and philosophizing!

2:02 PM  
Blogger dreamer said...

wow! At first I was shocked you could say no to O and then the last bit almost brought a tear to my eye...thats very O material :D

2:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Bodett said...

Thanks all for your support. Bob J, go ahead and buy that used book you found, or better yet, buy the audio collection listed on my website. That is still in print!

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad you couldn't have blogged this in '96-- you might've had a bestseller. :-) Anyhow, I just bought my secondhand copy, too.

Enjoy you on "Wait, Wait" and on the Web. Best wishes.

9:07 PM  
Blogger John S. said...

Good call Tom. Family first...all too easy the siren song of

3:43 PM  
Blogger Jessica Eiden Smedley said...

Tom, you rock.

I'm going to purchase that book now.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Notorious said...

Tom, if you don't mind I would like to use this story as a part of my sermon on Sunday. It fits perfectly.

Also, if you look on Amazon, this book is the highest rated.

2:05 AM  
Blogger NiskaRes said...

I loved that book and the whole American Odyssey and I feel sorry that more people never heard of it and missed out.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous PrairieChica said...

Good for you! Some f(O)lks are just a bit too big for their own britches and some forms of exposure are simply not worth the price paid.

5:51 PM  

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