Duke, Anna Marie ("Patty")
DUKE, Anna Marie ("Patty")
(b. 14 December 1946 in New York City), former child star who was the youngest actress ever to win an Academy Award and the youngest person to have a prime-time television series named after her. Her 1960s work is dominated by stunning dramatic work, including roles in the theatrical and film versions of The Miracle Worker.
Duke was the third child of John Patrick Duke, a navy veteran who held a succession of jobs from cabdriver to handyman, and Frances McMahon, a cashier. When Duke was six, her father, a chronic alcoholic, moved out. From that point until his death in 1963, his presence in his daughter's life was shadowy at best. Duke entered show business at age seven. Her brother Ray was an actor, and his managers, John and Ethel Ross, took an interest in the young girl. Their first order of business was to change her name to the perkier "Patty." She was allowed no input in the matter, she recalls in her autobiography, but was simply told, "Anna Marie is dead. You're Patty now." It was more than a name that she lost; she later realized that her identity had been taken from her.
The Rosses did more than manage Duke's career; they controlled every aspect of her life, eventually wresting her away from her family home. Her mother's emotional and financial troubles, combined with the Rosses' assurances that they alone could ensure Duke's success, led to an unusual living arrangement in which Patty moved in with her managers, seeing her mother sporadically. True to their word, the Rosses propelled Duke to stardom, but the arrangement took a profound personal and psychological toll. "I was stripped of my parents, I was stripped of my name, I was eventually stripped of my religion, and they had a blank slate to do with as they wished."
By the late 1950s Duke was working steadily, playing stereotypical cute kids in film and television productions, such as Armstrong Circle Theatre and The U.S. Steel Hour.A 1959 appearance on The $64,000 Question, for which she and cowinner Eddie Hodges had been fed the answers that allowed them to split the top prize, led to her being called to testify before a congressional committee investigating the quiz show's fraudulent practices. The same year, she made her Broadway debut in The Miracle Worker, playing Helen Keller to Anne Bancroft's Annie Sullivan. Her name was raised above the title on the theater marquee in 1960, making her the youngest Broadway performer to be so honored. The 1962 film version, in which Duke and Bancroft recreated their stage roles, earned both actresses Academy Awards. At the time, Duke was the youngest person to win an individual Academy Award.
Curiously, on the heels of this achievement Duke's handlers decided to push her toward television, rather than pursue film roles. The Patty Duke Show's unlikely premise had Duke playing Patty Lane, a typical boy-crazy American teenager, and her identical cousin, Cathy, a prim and proper Scottish lass. Ironically, the actress whose fame derived from playing television's "typical teen" had such an aberrant childhood that she later admitted she did not know the first thing about how kids of her generation talked, danced, or dressed.
Duke developed familial relationships with the cast and crew and enjoyed working, but she disliked her characters, particularly the scatterbrained Patty. She wrote, "I hated being less intelligent than I was, I hated pretending I was younger than I was, I hated not being consulted about anything, having no choice in how I looked or what I wore, I hated being trapped." The Patty Duke Show scored big with fans, spawning a board game, a twelve-inch Patty doll, and record albums. No doubt its success derived more from Duke's vivaciousness and likeability than from its kitschy theme song or wacky plotlines. Not surprisingly, Duke remained unfazed by the show's success. She was not allowed to watch the series and was never told about its ratings or her earnings (which she later learned were squandered by the Rosses).
While working on the series, Duke attended Quintano School for Young Professionals, a high school catering to children in show business. She turned eighteen during the series' run and broke away from her managers. Her bid for independence was largely prompted by her relationship with Harry Falk, Jr., an assistant director on her show. Her managers' attempts to end the union were what finally sent Duke packing. On 26 November 1965 she married Falk. Her series was cancelled in 1966. The late 1960s saw Duke desperate to reinvent herself. Her first adult role, in the film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls (1967), was a calculated effort to shed her bubble-gum image. Duke played Neely O'Hara, a singer-dancer addicted to booze, pills, and sex. She continued to win accolades—a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a homely Jewish teen in Me, Natalie (1969), and an Emmy for the 1970 television movie My Sweet Charlie— but offscreen she was falling apart, her behavior becoming more and more erratic. Periods of deep depression led to multiple suicide attempts and brief stints in psychiatric hospitals. It was not until 1982, when the actress was in her thirties, that she was diagnosed as manic-depressive and began to understand the extreme highs and lows she had experienced since childhood.
Duke eventually became one of the reigning queens of television movies and miniseries, starring in more than fifty. Notable among them was a television remake of The Miracle Worker. This time, Patty enacted the Annie Sullivan role, and Melissa Gilbert played Helen. Duke's 1970 divorce from Falk was followed by a very brief marriage, from 24 June to July 1970, to the rock concert promoter Michael Tell, which was later annulled. She married actor John Astin on 5 August 1972. During her marriage to Astin, she was billed professionally as Patty Duke Astin. Duke and Astin divorced in 1985, and she married her fourth husband, the army drill sergeant Michael Pearce, on 15 March 1986. Duke had two sons with Astin and an adopted son with Pearce.
Duke's 1960s work is as dichotomous as her famous television counterparts. Her extraordinary stage and film characterizations of Helen Keller, still considered one of the most challenging roles ever written for a young actress, stand in stark contrast to those kooky sitcom cousins who looked alike but were different in every way. Perhaps her most extraordinary performance, however, was her public persona as Patty Duke, America's quintessential teenager, an image that masked a decade of private anguish.
Duke wrote her autobiography, Call Me Anna (1987), with Kenneth Turan. A follow-up book, A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness (1992), written with Gloria Hochman, chronicles her battles with the disease. As Patty Duke Astin, she wrote Surviving Sexual Assault, with the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (1983). Stephen L. Eberly, Patty Duke: A Bio-Bibliography (1988), includes Duke's professional credits, a brief biography, and a bibliography.
Brenda Scott Royce