The presence of a sure thing

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"Opraaaaaaah's in the hoooouuuuse!"

This was at a February benefit performance of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" to end violence against women, and dozens of female celebrities had shown up. Bold-face names such as Jane Fonda, Rosie Perez, Glenn Close and Queen Latifah paraded across the stage, each speaking one word into a microphone (slang words for vagina, but that's a different story) before stepping down to polite applause.


Then came Oprah. There were no formal introductions, but she climbed onto the raised platform and before she could even open her mouth, Madison Square Garden was filled with the roars of a sold-out, mostly female crowd, with the light of a thousand flashbulbs. As the applause stretched on for minutes, Eve Ensler raised her microphone and bellowed her boisterous welcome: Oprah's in the house. As if we really needed to be told.

If you haven't experienced the power of O firsthand, her Midas touch, the stunning success of everything she puts her name to might seem baffling. You might wonder how her magazine has become perhaps the most successful launch in the history of publishing. You might wonder how high its circulation can climb before it peaks. You might wonder how she could almost single-handedly reinvigorate a moribund magazine category. But if you were at the Garden on that cold night last month, you wouldn't be surprised at all.


Even before the launch of O, the magazine's success seemed assured. I remember cornering Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black at an event months before the first issue appeared, telling her I believed this magazine would hit a circulation in the millions (with an "s") within a year. At the time, the sting of Talk's overhyped launch and subsequent bad press was still fresh, and Cathie told me her biggest challenge was managing expectations. She was reluctant to predict anything. Still her eyes told me she agreed: O was a sure thing.

As one of the relatively few men in the audience that night at Madison Square Garden, I came to believe in the power of Oprah, the bond she has with women. I felt it in the applause. I was blinded by it in the shower of flashing camera light and was moved by it in her poignant performance. I won't claim to understand it, any more than I'd claim to understand any of the wonderful mysteries of a woman's world. But I'll never again deny its existence.

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