When Winfrey family secrets and production schedules align, daytime TV magic

A look back at the career of daytime talk queen and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 9:50 AM

Lest ratings lag this week, Oprah announced on her show Monday - after her triumphant visit to Australia - that she has a half sister she never knew about.

Modestly billing it as "the miracle of all miracles," Oprah Winfrey said that she learned last fall about Patricia, her half sister who was given up for adoption by their mother shortly after she was born in 1963. Oprah and Patricia met on Thanksgiving Day.

Winfrey was just 9 and living with her father when her mother gave birth to Patricia and gave her up for adoption. Oprah told her studio audience this on the show in its final season of making her queen of syndicated daytime talk TV.

Oprah said she never even knew her mother was pregnant.

Winfrey made "home video" of her first meeting with her half sister; she and partner Stedman Graham drove to Milwaukee to finally meet Patricia, she explained.

Well, that could not have worked out more neatly if one of the pair had been some kind of queen of daytime TV.

And speaking thereof, Winfrey told her audience that she chose to make the announcement herself - so that the media would not exploit it.

We'll give you a minute to savor that one.

Here's how Winfrey says she found out about her half sister who, for years, had been trying to contact her birth mother and find out about other possible family members, including - as a possible Oprah connection began to dawn on Patricia - contacting Oprah's Harpo Productions offices via e-mail, Oprah mentioned oh-so-in-passing.

"Here's how I was told," Oprah told her stunned audience.

"I got an e-mail from [two nieces by another half sister, who was also named Patricia and who is deceased], saying, 'There's something in the family you need to know about, and your mother needs to tell you.' And Mother tells me nothing. . . . I finally said to my assistant, Libby, 'What is going on in this family?'

"And Libby says, 'Do you really want me to tell you - 10 minutes before coming down to do a show? . . . She said, 'You have a sister,' and I'm like, 'What!!!?!' So that is how I find out. I call my mother and literally confront my mother with the story: 'Is this true?' And she says, 'Well yes, I think it's true.' " Phew!

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