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Entertainment News: Film, TV Star & Oscar Winner Patty Duke Dies at 69

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COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO – She was a lesson in duality. One of her most famous roles was as “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show,” and Anna Marie “Patty” Duke also made public her fight with bipolar disorder. She was also a talented actress, winning an Oscar as teenager for “The Miracle Worker.” Ms. Duke passed away on March 29th, 2016, at the age of 69, at her home in Idaho.

Anna Marie Duke (her friends call her “Anna”) became Patty Duke when she was only eight years old. She went on to fame in the role of Helen Keller in the original 1959-61 Broadway run of “The Miracle Worker,” co-starring Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan. The film version (1962) garnered Duke the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the youngest to ever win at the time at age 16. The next year she starred in “The Patty Duke Show,” with its familiar theme song beginning with “here’s Cathy who’s lived most everywhere…” Duke played the identical cousins opposite of each other. Years later, Ms. Duke noted the irony as she struggled with bipolar disorder, and became an advocate for mental health issues.

Patty Duke
Patty Duke in 2010
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

After that famous sitcom, Duke kept working, taking the lead in the infamous cult film “Valley of the Dolls” (1967), and turning back to television to win Emmy awards for “My Sweet Charlie” (1970), “Captains and the Kings” (1977) and for portraying Annie Sullivan in a TV remake of “The Miracle Worker” (1979). It was for that first Emmy in 1970 when Duke made a rambling, disconnected speech, which observers blamed on drug use. It was revealed later by Duke that it was part of a manic cycle due to her bipolar disorder. Her later career was distinguished through her presidency of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985-88, and she is listed as having a film (“Power of the Air”) set for release in 2017.

Ms. Duke was married four times, and is survived by her husband Michael Pearce, and three children. One of her sons is actor Sean Astin, who was born through her relationship with her third husband, actor John Astin. She died due to complications of sepsis shock.

In 2010, Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com got the privilege to interview Patty Duke, and there is no greater tribute to her than her own words…

HollywoodChicago.com: You famously entitled your biography ‘Call Me Anna,’ walking away from the stage name Patty. What does the name Patty symbolize to you now, and have you come to terms with the fact that you are both Anna and Patty?

Patty Duke: Yes, I have finally come to terms with the fact that all those names symbolize parts of me. I went back to my original name, Anna, or Anna Marie if you really want to be formal. If you’re mad at me it’s Annie Marie. [laughs] Because when I was a kid, the change of names came about in an odd way, and I’m sure the people didn’t recognize it as being cruel. The woman of the team who managed me came in one day and said, ‘Anna Marie is dead, you’re Patty now.’ I had no idea what an impact that had on me. So in my thirties I needed Anna to be alive. But I didn’t need to kill Patty Duke.

HollywoodChicago.com: That would be killing the golden goose.

Duke: I guess. It’s getting to be a silver goose now. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Since you have portrayed both Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan in ‘The Miracle Worker,’ which side of those portrayals do you think comes closest to the essence of your being and worldview on life?

Duke: I hate to give you a glib answer, but actually both. Helen’s wild need for attention and information is certainly a part of me, and the teacher’s discipline and determination is also a part of me.

HollywoodChicago.com: Did you think about Anne Bancroft’s performance at all when you took on the Annie Sullivan role?

Duke: I always think of Anne Bancroft and her portrayal. It was vital to me that I not do an imitation, and because it is such a part of my life, Annie Bancroft’s performance that was with me for almost 20 years, there was almost a degaussing that had to happen. When Melissa Gilbert and I finished our version of ‘The Miracle Worker,’ I went home and watched the original movie again, and I realized that indeed I hadn’t done an imitation of Annie, because no one can. It turned out what were Annie’s strengths were certainly in me, but I emphasized the vulnerability of the teacher.

HollywoodChicago.com: What kind of place was New York City for a young girl in the late 1950s, early ‘60s during your run on Broadway. Can you still conjure up images of those days?

Duke: Oh, of course I do, it was my oyster. [laughs] I’m not sure I realized it all the time. Yeah, it’s a very different perspective when you’re 12 in comparison to when you’re about to be [pause]…64. I’m telling you, that’s a shock.

HollywoodChicago.com: Having worked with Arthur Penn so closely on the stage and screen version of The Miracle Worker, and since he recently passed away, what do you think his greatest contribution to the arts or cinema culture was?

Duke: He intuitively knew how to get past a person’s B.S. And I think it’s evident when you watch the body of his work, that actor’s reached a different and more insightful level having worked with him. Anyway I had a crush on him when I was 12, and I have very good taste.

HollywoodChicago.com: You looked so beautiful at the Oscars when you won. Since you were a younger person amidst the fading glamour of the studio system and Old Hollywood, what memories do you cherish of that night, and which movie star amazed you the most that evening?

Duke: As much as I had a crush on Arthur Penn, I had a longer and much deeper crush in my life on Gregory Peck. Seeing Gregory Peck was like seeing God. [laughs] I will tell you something else, when I was President of the Screen Actor’s Guild [in the 1980s], we were in serious negotiations during a strike situation. I get a message that Gregory Peck was on the public telephone in the hallway. Of course I go there in a daze and there was the dangling phone, I picked it up and said hello, and God was on the other end of the line. And he explained to me that he was just to start a film called ‘Amazing Grace’ the next day, and were we going to strike? I had no authority, none, outside of the boardroom, to say to this man, ‘Greg, dear, you just go right ahead, you’ll be just fine.’ What was I going to say to Gregory Peck, no you can’t start filming? I’m not sure the board ever knew about that, and we didn’t strike so I was saved.

HollywoodChicago.com: Having gone through the rigors of series TV very early in your career, what pressure or expectations did you experience in the responsibility for the success of ‘The Patty Duke Show?’ And given your struggles with bipolar issues later in life, do you find it ironic that you played two personas at different ends of the spectrum?

Duke: I’m going to answer the second part first, most definitely, I noticed the irony. Thank goodness I was able to visit Sidney Sheldon [writer for the show] before he passed away, and I said to him, ‘Sidney, you have no idea how close you came to the proper diagnosis.’ [laughs] I didn’t know it when I was a kid at the time, my bipolar manifestations didn’t start until my twenties.

HollywoodChicago.com: You had the creme de la creme of the sitcom world at the time, William Asher, Sidney Sheldon, all the top people…

Patty Duke Show
Two of a Kind: Patty Duke in ‘The Patty Duke Show’
Photo credit: Shout Factory! DVDs

Duke: Absolutely, the people who had worked with Lucy and Desi, the people [Asher] who went on to work with Elizabeth Montgomery and ‘Bewitched.’ Again, I was a kid, so I’m not sure the full impact struck me then. It certainly has since. I always felt pressure as a child to perform, but again that came from the people who were managing my career. There was no such thing as halfway, I had to do it to the hilt.

HollywoodChicago.com: During your hit making phase of your singing career, you appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ ‘Shindig,’ ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘Kraft Music Hall,’ and more. What was different about those iconic shows that seems to be missing from our entertainment experiences today?

Duke: Oh my god, if I knew the answer to that I’d be a trillionaire. [laughs] I’m a TV viewer, and as a viewer I am constantly frustrated by the lack of human dignity and integrity in the current scene. I sit here in house and wonder how we can get it back. I don’t know. I’m just going to keep plowing my way through, and try to keep the type of entertainment I offer to be one that touches you as a person.

HollywoodChicago.com: What was backstage at the Ed Sullivan show like?

Duke: Of course I was terrified. If you were going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show, you had reached the pinnacle. I was not a trained singer. And nobody knew that better than me. [laughs] So the 15 seconds they counted down before you go on were 15 seconds of utter torture.

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