Monday, April 22, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: Oprah’s Aunt on Kitty Kelley: “I found out she wrote ugly things. She didn’t get anything ugly from me.”


Oprah Winfrey’s cousin, Katherine Esters, who is known as “Aunt Katherine,” disputes some of the claims made by trash biographer Kitty Kelley in her new book about the talk show host. She does feel manipulated by the tabloid sensationalist.

Mrs. Esters is 82, still lives in the Mississippi town where Oprah was born, but hasn’t seen or heard from her cousin in a while. She told me this morning that she’s considered the town historian in Kosciusko, and that when people want to know something genealogical they come to her.

That’s what Kelley did, says Mrs. Esters, who has short term memory problems, is on dialysis and has a respiratory condition. She told me that when Kelley arrived at her home, she had no idea what kind of books she wrote or who she was. “I asked her if Oprah sent her and she said she did not. She said she was writing an unauthorized biography.” Mrs. Esters says Kelley’s visit was close to the time that New Yorker writer Henry Louis Gates came to get pictures so he could trace Oprah’s ancestry. There may have been some confusion.

“I asked my friend to find out who she was,” Mrs. Esters says of Kelley. “She went on line and found out what kind of books she wrote. When Kitty came back the next day, I didn’t give her much of an interview.” The intrepid Kelley did follow Mrs. Esters to her dialysis appointment. “She tried very hard to get me to make derogatory statements about Oprah. I would not.”

Two key issues: Mrs. Esters says she is sure she did not tell Kelley who Oprah’s father was. “I told her to ask Oprah’s mother who her father was. I wish she’d quoted me properly. I’m sorry if Kitty made me something that I’m not. I really am sorry.“

She added: “For all practical purposes, Vernon is her father.” Mrs. Esters says of Kelley: “She’s just a smart person who can cross you up on stuff.”

“But one place where Kelley may have it right: Mrs. Esters is adamant that Oprah had whatever she needed as a child. She concedes they were poor, but says: “Oprah’s mother worked for a well to do family. Oprah got their hand me downs. She had dolls.” Winfrey’s famous cockroach story, she says, is invented. “I asked her once why she told that story, and Oprah said people were not interested in the truth. They want something sensational.”

Mrs. Esters says she has not heard from Winfrey in some time. “She’s out of reach to us,” she says. She says that she’s also not much in touch with Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, who lives in Milwaukee.

“I’m not close to Vernita now. Because Vernita is rich, and I’m poor. And she doesn’t relate to me the way she did when she was poor. Rich people don’t care for poor people. She’s just as out of reach to me [as Oprah].”

As for Kelley: “I found out she wrote ugly things. She didn’t get anything ugly from me. She’ll say what she decides to say. It doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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