There's baking soda and vinegar, gasoline and a match, acid and eyeballs and Oprah and James Frey. Or wait should we scratch that last pair off the list? Has the notorious and telegenic feud between the two cooled? According to an article in Vanity Fair, which has been confirmed by Oprah's folks, the talk-show host recently reached out to the best-selling author she annihilated on live TV a few years ago for fibbing in his memoir.
"We invited him back on the show" last spring, says Oprah's spokeswoman, Angela dePaul, but the reunion didn't work out for reasons she declined to divulge. A few months later, the Chatelaine of Chicago herself picked up the phone and called Frey to apologize for the public whupping she handed him in 2006, when it was revealed that his 2003 addiction memoir, A Million Little Pieces, had some not-so-little lies in it, like the fact that he spent only a few hours in police custody rather than the three months in jail he described in his book. Oops. (See the top 10 fiction books of 2008.)
Oprah, who had taken the memoir to heart back when she thought it was nonfiction, promoted it to best-sellerdom through her book club and went so far as to call Larry King Live to defend Frey during a show questioning the veracity of A Million Little Pieces. After The Smoking Gun did some digging that fatally undermined the author's already unsteady wall of credibility, Oprah invited him back on her show and got all high school principal on him. "That's a lie. It's not an idea, James. That's a lie,” was one of her precision, squirm-inducing lines all delivered on live TV and drunk in by viewers like the sweet nectar of schadenfreude. (See the top 10 TV feuds.)
Why would Frey and his acclaimed editor Nan Talese agree to be on such a show? Talese, a longtime titan in the publishing industry, later said she and Frey were duped, that they had been told they would be on the show as part of a panel discussion on "Truth in America." When they arrived at the studio, they found they were the only panelists. Oprah's folks say no duping took place. In any case, it all made for the most spectacular media-élite street brawl since that crazy guy pretended to be Howard Hughes' biographer.
And now, apparently, it's over. In Oprah's phone call to Frey last year, she told him that she'd been meditating and suddenly realized that part of her reaction to his mendacity stemmed from her personally feeling duped and betrayed. She said, in what might be a first for any entertainment mogul, "I feel I owe you an apology."
Frey, who told TIME he was "very surprised" to get the call, had gone on to write another book, a novel titled Bright Shiny Morning, which received mixed but not universally awful reviews (including a good one from TIME) and which came out in paperback on May 12. The paperback has some passages that were not in the original, including those about a guy who has tapes of phone calls with a talk-show host who has given him a hard time, which has led to speculation that Frey has audiotapes of Oprah. ("The book is fiction," was all Frey had to say on the subject.)
But as bad as Oprah's public shaming was at the time, it pales in comparison to what has happened to Frey since then in July his 11-day-old son Leo died of a genetic neuromuscular disorder.
"The last three years have been surreal and difficult and at times uncomfortable and at times terrible," says Frey. "But at this point, I'm cool with all of it, at peace with all of it. The priorities now are taking care of my family and producing the best work of my life."
If only one of these former feudsters had a syndicated TV show so that the making up could be as public as the breaking up! Oh. Wait. Would Frey ever go back on Oprah's show? He isn't completely ruling it out. "Both parties would have to be comfortable about why I was coming on," he says, "and what I was talking about." And now, Oprah, will you continue to play nice? "The show has wrapped for the season," says dePaul, "and there are no plans to invite him again at this time."