American Museum of the Moving Image Salute to John Travolta - Show and Backstage

For the last 40 years, Oprah and Gayle King Bumpus have had the kind deep intimate friendship that most women can only dream of, sharing secrets, bonding, laughing, and talking on the phone every single day.

The friendship began in 1976 when Oprah was just 22 and was hired to co-anchor the evening news in Baltimore, with a grumpy older white man who did not want to co-host the news with young Oprah.  One day Gayle, who was a 21 year old production assistant, walked up Oprah to say how proud she was to be on such a historic team (at the time, a black women co-anchoring the evening news was considered historic).

One evening there was a snow storm and Gayle was afraid to drive all the way home.

“Stay at my place,” suggested Oprah.

“But I have no underwear,” said Gayle.

“I’ll give you underwear,” said Oprah.

That snowy night in 1976, the two women stayed up all night talking and bonding, and 40 years later, they are still talking and bonding every night.  Although those  early Baltimore years were some of the worst in Oprah’s life, professionally and romantically, Gayle was the constant shining light.


It was Oprah and Gayle against the World. Two young black girls trying to make it in the white male dominated world of TV news, where many simply did not want them.

The two would spend the 1970s hitting the Baltimore bars, looking for sexy black men.  They would stay out all night getting drunk.  Well, Oprah would get drunk.  Teetotaler Gayle would sip on cocoa or order a glass of milk, much to Oprah’s chagrin.

Now in their 60s, the two women must look back with nostalgia to those long nights in bars and night clubs, in their carefree 20s, in the heart of the 1970s.  To quote the song 1973 by James Blunt:

And though time goes by I will always be, in a club with you, in 1973

While Gayle King knew her best friend was “scary smart”, little did she know that her friend’s head circumference measured a superhuman 25.25″ around, and that such a huge brain size would give Oprah the intelligence to rocket out of Baltimore, and become, at her peak, both the World’s richest black and the World’s most influential woman, and that as the loyal best friend, Gayle would come along for the ride, seated in first class.

And what a ride it’s been.

So what is Gayle’s IQ?

Expected IQ of Oprah’s black best friend: 110

If we begin with the fact that on a scale where the average white American has an IQ of 100 (Standard Deviation = 15), the average African American has an IQ of 85 (SD possibly 15, though reports vary).  The average African American thus has a best friend who also has an IQ  of 85.  However Gayle is best friends with Oprah, who I believe has an incredible IQ of 140 (3.66 SD higher than the average best friend of a black American).

It is known that the IQs of spouses correlate at about 0.45.  If we assume the IQs of best friends also correlate at 0.45, then simple regression would predict Gayle’s IQ to be about 45% as far above the black mean as Oprah’s:

0.45(3.66 SD) = 1.65 SD

Being 1.65 SD above the African American mean implies an IQ of 1.65(15) + 85 = 110

Expected IQ of a 5’10” black female boomer: 98

Having a brilliant best friend is not the only sign of intelligence Gayle displays.  Gayle is also 5’10” tall.  The average African American woman over 60 is about 5’3″ (SD = 1.98 inches).  Thus Gayle is an astonishing +3.53 SD in height!  Given the within sex, within race correlation between IQ and height is about 0.24, simple regression would predict an IQ of 0.24(+3.54 SD) =  0.85 above the black mean, which is 98.

Expected IQ of 5’10” black female boomer who is best friends with Oprah: About 120

So based on the IQ of her best friend, we’d expect Gayle to have an IQ of 110, and based on her height, wed expect Gayle to have an IQ of 98.  What happens when both of these predictors are considered together?

Obviously having two signs of intelligence (brilliant best friend AND super tall height) would predict a higher IQ than having just one of these.

It’s tempting to simply add the prediction based on best friend’s IQ to the prediction based on height:

0.45(best friend IQ) + 0.24(height)

However the problem with doing that is that the two predictions are not entirely independent so simply adding them redundantly counts their shared predictive power twice.

According to the brilliant Promethean who introduced me to multiple regression, in order to make predictions from multiple variables, we must first know the correlation between the variables themselves.  If we assume that the IQ of one’s best friend and one’s height only correlate because they both correlate with one’s own IQ, then taking each variable’s correlation with one’s own IQ (0.45 and 0.24 respectively) and multiplying them (0.45 * 0.24 = 0.11), gives the correlation between the variables themselves.

Assuming these two predictors (best friend’s IQ and personal height) correlate 0.11, instead of the predictors having values of 0.45 and 0.24, they are reduced to 0.43 and 0.19, because these slightly lower values reflect their predictive power independent of one another.  Thus Gayle’s expected IQ:

IQ = 0.43(best friend’s IQ) + 0.19(height)

IQ = 0.43(3.66 SD) + 0.19(3.54 SD)

IQ = 1.57 SD  + 0.67 SD

IQ = 2.24 SD

Thus I estimate Gayles’s IQ to be an impressive 2.24 SD above the black mean, or roughly IQ 120.  In other words, I think Gayle is smarter than 99% of black America, and smarter than 90% of white America.

However this is a very crude estimate with a large standard error.  At best we can say with 95% confidence that Gayle’s IQ is anywhere from 95 to 145, with 120 being roughly the best guess.

Gayle & Charlie Rose

You can go pretty far in America with an IQ of 120, especially when your best friend is the most influential woman on the planet.  Several years ago Gayle was hired to host CBS This Morning with Charlie Rosie.  Oprah told Gayle it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so Gayle took the job, and Gayle recently landed a coveted interview with the Obamas.

Gayle would sometimes joke about having a romance with Charlie Rose, and Rose would play along with the joke.  Because Gayle is so tall, the #1 trait she looks for in a man is height, so the 6’3″ Rose might appeal to Gayle.  She would also appreciate the fact that Rose seems highly intelligent, curious, interested in current events, and extremely successful and famous.

So why then has there been so romance between these two seemingly single morning co-stars? Does the erudite Chalie Rose think the gossipy Gayle is just not good enough for him, or is it Gayle who is not interested in Rose?