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

By Lisa de Moraes
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!

Oprah showed the video of that Thanksgiving meeting. In it, she is seen walking into a room, hugging her newfound sibling and saying, "Nice to see you."

Over and over, with the "Nice to see you."

Patricia, meanwhile, is beside herself - she's meeting Oprah.

Who is family.

"So, after Thanksgiving dinner, Stedman and I . . . headed for the interstate," Oprah continued. "We didn't say a word, for miles and miles. Finally he turned to me and said, 'What was that?' "

The "new" Patricia looked so much like Oprah's other, deceased half sister named Patricia that "it was 'a "Beloved" moment, if you know what that means - a daughter who comes back from the dead in the movie 'Beloved,' " Oprah explained.

A movie that stars: Oprah Winfrey.

And which was produced by: Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah got choked up when she began to tell her studio audience about how this Patricia differs from the other Patricia, who, Oprah reminded the crowd, sold Oprah's teen-pregnancy story to a tabloid.

Oprah also got choked up as she told her studio audience how so many people have betrayed her since she became a celebrity, and that it really moved her that this Patricia kept the secret of her relationship to Oprah quiet all this time - until it best suited Oprah's final-season scheduling plans. Patricia "never once thought to sell this story" to the media, and mess up her show plans, Oprah said - the highest praise she can bestow.

So on Monday's show, Oprah is also seen in another "home video," having a "What the heck?" meeting with her mother, Vernita Lee, and her Newly-In-November-Discovered Half-Sister Patricia who had, so Oprah says, tried more than once over the years to meet Vernita and been rejected.

Oh, and: Oprah mentions to her audience before rolling the video that Mom has had a minor stroke, so her speech will sound slightly impaired.

"Why didn't you just own up to it?" Oprah is seen asking her mother.

Get it: O-W-N?

"Well, because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do, that I had done . . . gave up my daughter when she was born," Vernita answered, looking stricken.

"So you never mentioned it to anybody. Did you ever think" about the baby given up for adoption at birth? Oprah pressed on.

Which does not, in case you were thinking, qualify as being "exploited by the media."

Because it's Oprah.

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