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Former Oprah producer Janet Lee was full of shout-outs recently while she was autographing her book "Living in a Nutshell" at the Longfellow neighborhood's paper, art, gift and home shop, CorAzoN.
Lee made shout-outs to the folks at Lowe's, to Tom Cruise's fourth wife (whomever she might be) and, of course, to Oprah, for whom she worked from 1998 to 2009. I hope a shout-out from a former staffer gets the talk icon's attention, as last week I began a delusional campaign via Twitter to get Oprah to do one of these Q&As.
Lee has an impressive TV résumé, which also includes Martha Stewart and "a lot of locals even here at KSTP, when 'Good Company' was around. I'm dating myself. Steve and Sharon days -- I had a great time. And in Boston, the same thing on 'Good Day, Boston.'"
Given her television pedigree, I had to ask Lee about NBC's Ann Curry and Savannah Guthrie, too, in addition to a few questions about the mindset of the organized. Lee told me the secret to living in a nutshell is "giving up a sizist attitude to small spaces. People who have small spaces buy junior size sofas, small little nesting tables, small little mirrors and art on the wall. And all that does is shrink the space. You've got to go big with key spaces in your home."
Q Have you always been highly organized?
A Organized, no. So I create storage systems that are fun and give me instant gratification. In the book there are boating straps hung on the wall and it's so easy, you pull them out and put in a shoe. Awesome.
Q Some people are born organized, some less organized.
A We don't care about the people who are born organized. They are an alien animal to me. But I grew up in a family of, let's say, rat packers. So I know consciously it's in my DNA. I have to constantly find ways to keep things contained in a really creative and beautiful way. That's the only way I'm going to maintain it.
Q Have you ever noticed how the unorganized person always finds the organized person as a mate?
A That is hilarious. I'm only giving this to you, but I was married for 11 years and I have to say that was true. I won't tell you who was the neat and who was the messy. Felix and Oscar ["The Odd Couple"] does come to mind.
Q What's the most untidy area of your home?
A Whooo. OK. I would say it's probably one of my closets. I don't have an untidy area. I would say I'm pretty good right now. It's a tight space, very well-edited.
Q Do your friends invite you over, hoping you'll help make their small living spaces more tidy?
A Yes. That is the danger of being a decorator, because they want free advice. I am the on-call decorator friend, for 9-1-1 painting emergencies and decorating mistakes. I'm your girl.
Q Do you have any friends who don't appreciate when you do this?
A Oh, no, no. I'm very good. I learned this from Nate Berkus. I'm not judgemental. I keep that to myself. And I have a real good poker decorating face. No one would know, inside I'm actually cringing.
Q How many hours a day did you work when you were an Oprah producer?
A It is the Ivy League of TV. I've worked at many different television shows before and after. Let's put it this way. I traveled around the world and back, landed in Chicago to drop off my tapes to come back an hour later to start editing. [A shout-out to O:] Thanks, Oprah. Hi! See these bags? [pointing under her eyes]. No. Love you. It was the best experience ever, ever. It's like living your best life is what all of us have been empowered to do.
Q Oprah's on the line. She wants you to create your OWN show for her network. About what will it be?
A You actually hit it before. Your question about couples. I did transform a bedroom of my friend's in the book, and now she is engaged to be married. I'm just saying, there is a show like that where your space leads to a great love relationship.
Q On what do you splurge?
A Good fabrics and cashmere. Cashmere's an investment. I buy it on sale. I think it is worth every dollar and penny. And the tip is -- this is from Martha -- you never take your cashmere to the dry cleaner. Put it on a light cycle and air dry.
Q Home Depot or Lowe's?
A Home Depot, because there's no Lowe's near me. But I think Lowe's has better customer service. [Shout-out to Lowe's execs:] Hi, Lowe's. Call me.
Q Why wasn't Ann Curry a good fit on NBC's "Today Show" ?
A I do love Ann and have a thank-you note from her from my days at Oprah. She [Curry] did a piece for me. She is so sensitive, and I feel like sometimes she needed to just be a little looser in some of the segments and let the people tell their story as opposed to her being emotive about the story all the time. But I love Ann, and I love seeing an Asian woman on camera.
Q Yeah. I met Ann Curry once, and she's one of the most beautiful women I've laid my eyes on, ever.
A I know. Stunning.
Q What if "Today" never regains its dominance over GMA with Savannah Guthrie as co-host?
A Well, I'm on the GMA side. I like Savannah, but I don't know anything about her. And also if I do a segment with her, I'll be looking at her belly button. She's super tall with heels.
Q What happened to that couch Tom Cruise jumped on the Oprah show?
A That yellow leather sofa, I know, was retired. Probably in some vault in Chicago. That's a good field trip for us.
Q To prove to his next wife, which will be Marriage Impossible 4, that she's an even greater love than Katie Holmes, off what will Tom Cruise have to jump?
A I won't say the Empire State Building, 'cause that wouldn't be nice, but [Shout-out to the next Mrs. Cruise:] Hello, Wife Number Four. Don't. Don't do it.
Interviews are edited for space and clarity. Reach C.J. at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch her on Fox 9.