Ready for Prime Time

updated 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE GOWN WAS WHITE, AS WERE THE bouquets of hyacinth. More than 40 of Oprah Winfrey's closest friends came bearing gifts. But it wasn't an altar that the famed talk show host was approaching; it was the Big Four-Oh. And while some make that passage with trepidation, Oprah opted for beluga caviar and lamb, served at L'Orangerie, a fine French restaurant in Los Angeles. "All year Oprah's been looking forward to turning 40," says Debra DiMaio, executive producer of Winfrey's show. "For her, it was part of a very positive milestone."

The weekend-long festivities were also a chance for Oprah to demonstrate how old she isn't. Winfrey left the planning for her Jan. 29 birthday to DiMaio—with a special request: a slumber party. "The one," says DiMaio, "that she always wanted to have." And so, though the guests—celebs and old chums alike—behaved like adults on Friday night, eating Continental cuisine and sipping wine, on Saturday the birthday girl gave the boot lo the guys—including her fiancé, Stedman Graham, 42—and traded in her dress for pajamas. Then, says DiMaio, Oprah's female guests sat around her $975-a-night Hotel Bel-Air bungalow "talking until 3 o'clock in the morning. Oprah had a great time." So, for the record, did her banished beau. "Just getting out of this cold," says Graham, returned now to the subzero freeze of Chicago, "was a relief."

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