What It Took to Keep Oprah’s Farewell Bash Under Wraps


Some of you may remember the "surprise" farewell put on for Oprah Winfrey in May at Chicago's United Center, the one where 85 percent of America's celebrities took turns paying homage to the queen of talk: Usher, Tom Cruise, Maria Shriver, Madonna, Patti LaBelle, Will Smith, Tina Fey — oh, and how the list goes on. Well, turns out it's a logistical nightmare keeping that many famous faces below Oprah's radar and right in her backyard. For a full behind-the-scenes look, you can tune in to Oprah's new cable network OWN tomorrow at 8 p.m. But for a few of the near-misses that almost spoiled the "surprise" (and yes, let's pretend Oprah really had no idea what was coming), keep reading.

Tom Hanks: The night before the extravaganza, Oprah executive producer Sheri Salata got a phone call from the restaurant where Oprah was supposed to have dinner. Tom Hanks — in Chicago to host the farewell's first hour — had reserved a table at the same restaurant. "Cancel Tom," she told the maître d', "because she'll see right through that!"

Beyoncé: Like all good superstars, Beyoncé was planning to headline the show with a bevy of backup dancers, who at one point were practicing in the Oprah studio. They'd just wrapped up their session and left the building when who walks in, dressed in her sweats, but Oprah.

Maya Angelou: During rehearsals, Angelou got a phone call from Oprah asking what she was doing, whom she was with, where she was at. You know, all the questions a mother would ask her teenage daughter who she thought was hanging with the wrong crowd. The celebrated author and poet, cool as cool can be, replied: "Somewhere. But I'll be home tomorrow."

Here's to hoping that tomorrow's show includes footage of Halle Berry and John Travolta hiding behind one of those overstuffed Starbucks armchairs because Oprah decided to get herself a chai tea latte.

Oprah Behind the Scenes Preview: The Scoop Behind O's Massive, Star-Studded Swan Song [TV Line]