Ellen and Barbara Talk Success with Oprah

Posted Wednesday January 19, 2011 1:05 PM GMT

In celebration of OWN’s “Your OWN Show” that airs Fridays at 9PM, O, The Oprah Magazine took time to ask six TV luminaries “What Was Your Big Break?”

Featured in the February issue of Miss Winfrey's magazine, the column profiles Ellen DeGeneres, Barbara Walters, Meredith Vieira, Suze Orman, Tom Colicchio and Holly Robinson Peete – as they each share the opportunity that made their careers and changed their lives.

Highlights from the responses given by the stars are as follows:

Barbara Walters:

“I was a writer for the Today show when the so-called “Today Girl” was Maureen O’Sullivan, mother of Mia Farrow. She was a well regarded actress, but she couldn’t handle Today— the time cues, the hours. NBC needed a replacement for just 13 weeks, somebody they didn’t have to pay much—and there I was. And there I stayed for 13 years. Can you imagine? My whole career is made.”

Ellen DeGeneres:

“When I started out, I traveled the country doing street performances and small gigs. I lived in my car until I was discovered in a coffee shop in San Diego… wait, I’m sorry. I’m thinking of a documentary I saw about Jewel. My big break came on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I was ecstatic when I got booked and went crazy figuring out what to wear. (Sinbad actually gave me shopping advice, and I listened to him. That explains the Hammer pants.) Onstage, I “killed,” as they say. When I finished, I looked around everywhere—except at Johnny. I looked at the band, the audience, the lighting guy. When I finally looked at Johnny, he was leaning over the desk beckoning me to join him. I was the first female comedian he ever asked over to his couch. He said I was clever. I’ll never forget that.”

Meredith Vieira:

“I’d been hired by CBS News and I decided to get a perm. They overprocessed my hair and it started to break, so I had to chop it all off. On my first day—it was January— I wore a hat to work, and kept wearing it for several days because I didn’t want anyone to see my hair. When everybody did, they were shocked. Two weeks later, the president of CBS News said to me, “We’ve got an assignment—we’re sending you to Chicago.” I said, “Okay, when do I come back?” He said, “You’re not coming back.” I’ll never forget walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago in the cold and wind, thinking, What have I done? This was during a recession—farmers were dealing with foreclosures, the Rust Belt was suffering. From the Chicago bureau, I was flying to Detroit and Indiana and all over the heartland. I was on the air pretty much every day, outdoors, talking to Dan Rather, in the hat. Those segments put me on the map. Not that I’m suggesting the road to success is a bad perm, but it certainly helped me.”

Suze Orman:

“My biggest break in life was losing all my money. I was working at a bakery in Berkeley, and my customers pooled $50,000 so I could open my own restaurant. I invested it at Merrill Lynch, where it was mismanaged; in four months, it was gone. I was devastated, but I had to rise to the occasion. So I learned all about finance and investing, went to Merrill Lynch’s training program, and became an executive there. Every loss leads you to a gain, and every no takes you hat much closer to a yes.”

Tom Colicchio:

“I was the chef de cuisine at Mondrian in New York City for three months. After my father passed away, I took some time off, then I went back to work, then I decided to go to France. I was bouncing from one thing to the next. Then I got a call asking me if I’d like to be chef at Mondrian—a big jump. A few months later, we got three stars in The New York Times. I was 26, no one really knew me—it was out of the blue, and it changed everything.”

Holly Robinson:

“When I auditioned for 21 Jump Street, I was fresh out of college, nervous, and broke. I drove an old Honda with bad brakes that made a horrible screeching sound, like Fred Flintstone at a stop sign. After the audition, just as I was starting my little Honda, the21 Jump Street producers walked into the parking lot. They heard that awful noise, looked at my car, looked at me, and I swear they thought, We have to give her the part because she’s got to get those brakes fixed! That afternoon I found out the role was mine.”

Photo Credit: O magazine, Getty Images

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