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PARIS - Rumors about Oprah Winfrey's shoplifting habits resurfaced after the talk show host and her posse had been turned away from a Hermes shop in Paris last week. Winfrey and company arrived at the Hermes store roughly fifteen minutes after its 6:30 p.m. closing.
When Winfrey asked if she could nip in for a moment to pick up a gift for Tina Turner, she was refused. A Hermes clerk, not wanting to risk offending Winfrey, explained that her request could not be accommodated because "stores like ours have been having problems with North African gangs of late."
In reality, Hermes employees had been warned not to admit Winfrey, 51, if she showed up after hours and "tried to pull that I'm-having-dinner-with-Tina-Turner-and I-need-to-buy-her-a-watch routine."
"The security department at Neiman Marcus in Dallas warned us a year ago about Winfrey's shoplifting habits," said a Hermes spokesperson. "After she had visited the Dallas store last summer, claiming she wanted to buy a watch for Ms. Turner, employees reported several watches, necklaces, and scarves valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars had gone missing."
Harrod's of London discovered similar losses last December after Winfrey and a group of her friends had turned up twenty minutes after the store had closed, asking if Winfrey could dash in to pick up a watch for Tina Turner.
"We were reluctant to press charges because we had no proof," said Trevor Jones-Lloyd, deputy director of security at Harrods.
"Accusing someone of Ms. Winfrey's stature and ethnicity of criminal activity could cost far more than the value of jewelry and handbags she and her cohorts might steal. Besides, who would believe that a person of her means would risk her reputation to steal things she could easily afford to buy?"
Oprah Winfrey is known for her hard-hitting interviews with the rich and fanous.
The explanation for such behavior is really quite simple, says A. William Williamson, Ed.D., a prominent Chicago-area psychologist: people who shoplift, even people as well-known as Oprah Winfrey and Winona Ryder, are trying to steal affection that they can't get any other way.
This judgement might seemingly apply to Ryder, whose popularity rivals that of cold sores these days, but Winfrey is lionized by all women and some men the world over. Nevertheless, says Williamson, it is instructive to note that Winfrey confines her shoplifting binges to summers and holidays, times when she is not recording her show and basking in the adulation of her studio audience.
"As long as Ms. Winfrey is filming, merchants are safe," said Williamson. "When she's left to her own devices, it's Katie bar the door."
Winfrey, meanwhile, claimed she had been denied special treatment at Hermes because she is black. Calling the incident her "Crash" moment—a reference to the film about the pervasiveness of racial prejudice against black talk show hosts—Winfrey said the refusal was "one of the most humiliating moments" of her life. She added that she planned to devote at least one program to the incident after her television show returns from hiatus in September.
In related news, a spokesperson for Tina Turner said yesterday that the singer could not recall having dinner with Winfrey during the last two years, must less accepting a stolen watch from her.