Oprah Winfrey sets the record straight about her 'secret son'

Oct 29, 2015 at 7:12 p.m. ET
Image: Andres Otero/WENN

Oprah Winfrey does have a past with a man claiming to be her son, but it is not what he would lead us to believe.

Calvin Mitchell has been telling tabloids Winfrey wanted to adopt him but later cut him out of her life, and even tried to ambush her outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater earlier this month. But although Winfrey does admit she has a decades-long relationship with the man, it is nothing like what Mitchell would have us believe.

"I met Calvin around the early '90s, I think it was 1992. I was doing a film for television called There Are No Children Here," Oprah told Entertainment Tonight, adding that Calvin is not her biological child.

"We were shooting in the projects in Chicago and I was sitting on set during a break, and this cute little sparkly-eyed boy came underneath the yellow tape to hand me a soda. I was so charmed by him that I started talking to him about his family, his school life, and found out that he was in a situation where his mother didn't have a job and they were stuck in the projects."

More: Oprah Magazine fat-shames curvy women for wearing crop tops

Touched by the family's plight, Winfrey decided to help them move out of the projects, found a job for Mitchell's mother, and enrolled the boy in a local private school. Shortly after, she received a phone call from the school's principal to inform her that he had not been attending classes. Winfrey explained that when she questioned the family, she found out that they could not afford alarm clocks.

"We realized they don't have any clocks in the house," she said. "We went out, Stedman and I, went to K-Mart that moment, got a bag full of clocks, came back to the house, taught them how to set the alarm and all that."

But it didn't help. Mitchell was eventually expelled from the school.

"I had a long conversation with him about how disappointed I was but I was going to give him another chance," she continued. "I found a school in Mississippi that was a private boarding school because I thought if I could remove him from the environment that he'd been accustomed to growing up in, that maybe that would be helpful to him."

That didn't work either. He complained to Winfrey that he did not want to remain at the school because the "teachers didn't like him."

"I said, 'Calvin, this is the moment. This is a seminal moment for you. I know you are 16 and can't see the road ahead, but if you leave this school and refuse to get an education — I have tried to offer you an education twice — there isn't another school I can put you in. If you leave this school, I am done. There is nothing else I can do.' ... And that was my last conversation with Calvin in the early '90s."

More: Oprah is auctioning off crazy swag from her Chicago apartment

When Mitchell approached her outside of Stephen Colbert's studio this month, she said she didn't recognize him right away but did try to make contact after the incident, despite suspecting he was selling lies to the press.

"I could see the little boy in his eyes, even though time has changed a lot for him, and I said to him, 'What are you doing? Why did you go to the tabloids?'" Winfrey said. "When I realized the whole thing was a setup, I was no longer interested in speaking to him."

But her experience with Mitchell did teach her one thing: that you can't just throw money at a problem.

"I learned from that experience, if you really want to change somebody's life, you gotta be able to spend enough time with them to change the way they think about what their life can be," she said. "It isn't enough to give a person a new life or money or a new car, you have to teach them how to fish themselves."

Tagged in