Oprah and Gomer Pyle

It has always been a source of amusement for me that people are so interested in my moment in the spotlight. No matter what I put in my bio, the first thing that is commented on is my Oprah appearance. It was way back in 1992 just after I published my first book, a self-help book called Overcoming Relationship Impasses that I co-authored with Joe Rock.

But before you look at it (Watch it here.), let me say a few words in my defense. I sent out promotion packets about the book to all the major talk shows. We didn’t have an agent nor was the publisher doing  much to publicize the book. That’s how it works unless you are a celebrity or someone with ongoing media exposure, like journalists, etc. I was in my practice after my last client on a Monday night and the phone rang. It was a producer from the Oprah show. I calmly said yes, I could be there for a Wednesday morning taping. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I thought, Holy crap! After all, I was a full-time private practitioner with zero media experience, and I was scared half out of my wits, with nightmares of looking like Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News,” sweating profusely and completely out of my element. I had not even done a newspaper interview about the book at that point. 

I flew up after my last client on Tuesday (unlike now, many late-night flights were available), and a limo picked me up the airport. In true Gomer Pyle fashion, I thought, “GOLLY! I've never been in a limo before!” And it wasn’t a run of the mill limo with water to drink, it was the full Monty, a stretch limo with anything and everything you could possibly want to drink. I poured myself a bourbon and was starting to feel pretty good about the whole thing.

Then I walked into the lobby of the Drake Hotel. It was magnificent: huge crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and a mahogany check-in desk right out of movies. And once again, my mind did a full-on Gomer. “GOLLY, the Drake frikken hotel! I had been to a few conferences in nice hotels, but this was something well beyond what I had seen before. After all, I am just a Kentucky boy from the hills at heart. I couldn’t help but sing the Beverly Hillbillies song as I walked through the lobby…swimmin’ pools and movie stars. When I checked in, even though it was past midnight, the Oprah Show had a $50 food voucher awaiting me. Keep in mind that this was 1992, so it was about $104 in today’s money. I decided it would be downright sinful not to spend every dime. And I did. Boy those shrimp cocktails and double Makers Mark were good.

The show was about men who had been kicked out by their partners. I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing on a TV show. I knew a lot about the book, obviously, and a fair amount about working with couples in this situation, but nothing about how to be on national TV. The producers for the show, a young and extremely talented group, were exceptionally helpful and had done their homework. They really knew the book and asked me very good questions to prepare me for what might happen. They told me that I had to be very assertive, even aggressive at times and the last thing they wanted me to be was a wallflower. They noted that Oprah would intentionally provoke me, in a nice way, to comment on the action as it unfolded. I was freaked to say the least and rued the day that I ever thought to write a self-help book! Visions of Albert Brooks terrorized me.

In today’s parlance, I was traumatized.

All in all, it went well.  I started out quite freaked (notice my darting eyes), but I calmed down once I started talking about stuff I knew about. And the audience liked what I had to say. It’s funny looking back. I was 40 but still looked like a kid, an over-educated hillbilly.

One more thing: People often ask me about Oprah. What was she like? She was warm, friendly, and the consummate professional. I have nothing but good things to say about her and her staff, everyone from the producers to the security folks. It was a great experience.

You might wonder why this Oprah appearance didn’t make sales of the book soar and me a household name? Because the publisher was completely incompetent. This is oft told author’s whine.  Simply, the book was not in the bookstores due to the publisher’s screw up. Oprah held up the book and said nice things. So folks went into bookstores, and it was missing in action. It wasn’t the ticket to success that her later shows and book club generated but it was still the best endorsement you could get at the time. There were 1300 phone orders from the show. I wondered what it would have been had the books been available. It wasn’t a big deal to me for very long. My professional writings became much more important. 

The book is out of print but I still have a pdf of it under a different title, The Lone Changer: Solving Relationship Problems When Your Partner Won't Help. Email me at barrylduncan@comcast.net for a free copy. 


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