Ellen DeGeneres sat down with Oprah Winfrey and Laura Dern on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to remember that journey they took together two decades ago when they filmed “The Puppy Episode” ― an iconic moment in television history in which DeGeneres’ character, Ellen Morgan, famously came out as gay.
In an episode set to air on Friday, the three of them remembered how much blowback they dealt with as a result of participating in the episode. Winfrey said she received hate mail calling her her the N-word and telling her to “Go back to Africa.”
“I misread that everybody was like us, that they were open-minded and that they were receptive and that they wanted people to just be who they are,” Winfrey admitted.
DeGeneres herself dealt with professional consequences that took years to recover from. “It was called ‘The Puppy Episode’ because we wanted to keep it a secret until it aired and because ‘Ellen Throws Her Career Away’ seemed too on the nose,” DeGeneres joked.
Laura Dern, who played Morgan’s romantic interest in the episode, has said in the past that she had trouble getting work for more than a year after the episode. But 20 years later, she says it was worth it.
“There’s no greater gift than being the person that was with you and looking in your eyes as you said those words [‘I am gay’],” she said.
Twenty years on, DeGeneres also is able to offer a message of hope to all her viewers. “Obviously, we have come a long way in the past 20 years. Even when this show started, the network was very uncomfortable with me even talking about my sexuality or my relationship,” she said.
“Now, we’re here and I’ve done a whole show about the fact that I’m gay, so we have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go to make sure everybody has the right to be who they are.”
She then added, “And one way we can start, and I say it every single day, is to be kind to one another.”