Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Godspeed Patty Duke

Today, March 29 2016, Anna Duke-Pearce, better known by her stage name Patty Duke, died at the age of 69. The cause was sepsis from a ruptured intestine.

Anna Marie Duke was born in Elmhurst, Queens, New York on December 14 1946. Her father, John Brock Duke, was a taxi driver and a handyman. Her mother, Frances (née McMahon), was a cashier. Her father left the family when Anna was only six years old. Anna started acting at age 7. Her care would be turned over to talent managers John and Ethel Ross, who had represented her older brother Ray. John and Ethel Ross immediately changed her first name from Anna to Patty. Sadly, John and Ethel Ross's style of management was often exploitative and often unethical.

Patty Duke's television debut would be an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre in 1956. In 1957 she appeared in episodes of  Kraft Theatre and The Dupont Show of the Month. She appeared in an episode of Rendezvous in 1958. That same year she had recurring roles on the short lived show Kitty Foyle and the soap opera The Brighter Day. She appeared in a television adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson. It was also in 1958 that Patty Duke made her film debut in Country Music Holiday and that same year she appeared in the movie The Goddess.

It would be 1959 that would be the year that established Patty Duke as a star. She guest starred several more times on Armstrong Circle Theatre. She appeared in a television adaptation of Meet Me in St. Louis. In 1959 Patty Duke appeared on The $64,000 Question where she won $32,000.  Unfortunately the game was rigged and Miss Duke was called to testify at the United State Senate's investigations into television quiz shows in 1962.  She appeared in the films 4D Man (1959) and Happy Anniversary (1959).  It would be her role as Helen Keller in the Broadway production The Miracle Worker in 1959 that brought Miss Duke to national attention.

By the early Sixties Patty Duke was then a household name. She reprised her role as Helen Keller in the film adaptation of The Miracle Worker (1962), for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In 1962 she also appeared in the Broadway production Isle of Children, which only ran a few days. Miss Duke guest starred on the TV shows Ben Casey, The United States Steel Hour, and The Wide Country. It was in 1963 that she made her debut in her own sitcom, The Patty Duke Show. The show was created by William Asher and Sidney Sheldon and starred Patty Duke as "identical cousins". Patty Lane was the typical American teenager, interested in rock 'n roll, clothes, and boys. Her Scottish cousin who came to live with her family, Cathy, was urbane, studious, and serious. The show proved to be very popular and is still rerun to this day. For The Patty Duke Show, Miss Duke was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead).

While the series was still on the air Patty Duke starred in the 1965 comedy Billie. After The Patty Duke Show left the air Miss Duke appeared in the films Valley of the Dolls (1967) and Me, Natalie (1969). She guest starred on the TV shows The Virginian, Journey to the Unknown, and Matt Lincoln. She appeared in the TV movies, The Cliff and My Sweet Charlie.

In the Seventies Patty Duke guest starred on such shows as Night Gallery, The Sixth Sense, Hawaii Five-O, Police Story, Police Woman Marcus Welby M.D., Insight, and The Streets of San Francisco. She starred in the mini-series Captains and the Kings. She appeared in several TV movies, including Deadly Harvest, Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, Curse of the Black Widow, and a television adaptation of The Miracle Worker for which she won an Emmy for her role as Anne Sullivan. She appeared in the movie The Swarm (1978).

In the Eighties Patty Duke starred in the TV shows It Takes Two, Hail to the Chief, and Karen's Song. She starred on the mini-series George Washington She guest starred on the shows The Love Boat, Hotel, It's a Living, and J. J. Starbuck.  She appeared in such TV movies as Something So Right, September Gun, Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace, and Call Me Anna (an adaptation of her autobiography). She appeared in the films Willy/Milly (1986) and The Hitch-Hikers (1989).

In the Nineties Miss Duke starred in the show Amazing Grace. She guest starred on the shows The Torkelsons, Touched by An Angel, Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Fraiser. She was the voice of Lady Morgana on the animated show The Legend of Prince Valiant. She starred in the Patty Duke Show reunion movie The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights. She appeared in such TV movies as Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive, A Matter of Justice, A Christmas Memory, and Miracle on the Mountain: The Kincaid Family Story. She appeared in the movies Prelude to a Kiss (1992), and Kimberly (1999).

In the Naughts Patty Duke guest starred on the shows Family Law, Hallmark Hall of Fame, First Years, Touched by an Angel, and Judging Amy. She appeared in the films Wrong Turn (2003) and Bigger Than the Sky (2005). She appeared in a revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway. In the Teens she guest starred on Hawaii Five-0, Drop Dead Diva, Glee, and Liv and Maddie. She appeared in the film Amazing Love. Her last appearance will be in the film Power of the Air, set to release next year.

From 1985 to 1988 Patty Duke was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. She was only the second woman to hold the position (former Real McCoys star Kathleen Nolan was the first).

In 1982 Patty Duke was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was one of the earliest celebrities to go public with her diagnosis. She became a mental health advocate and lobbied tirelessly on behalf of those with mental illness.

Anna Duke-Pearce was a most remarkable actress. Her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker remains among the most impressive of any Oscar winning performances. That she was so convincing as a blind and deaf girl is made all the more impressive by the fact that she was only 16 when the movie was released.  Of course, as well known as the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker is, Mrs. Duke-Pearce might be better known for her work on The Patty Duke Show. The show was extremely popular in its first run and has continued to be rerun for the past fifty two years. While playing the dual roles of Patty and Cathy Lane was probably not nearly as difficult as playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and the material was much lighter, Anna Duke-Pearce did a fine job of playing the identical, yet very different cousins. If The Patty Duke Show remains popular to this day, it is largely due to Anna Duke-Pearce in the lead roles.

Of course, Anna Duke-Pearce did much more than The Miracle Worker and The Patty Duke Show. She regularly appeared in television movies throughout the Seventies and Eighties. In the 1970 TV movie My Sweet Charlie she played a pregnant runaway. In the 1983 TV comedy Western September Gun she played a nun who finds herself allied to an over-the-hill gunfighter (played by Robert Preston). In the 1979 television adaptation of The Miracle Worker she was impressive as Anne Sullivan, playing opposite the role of Helen Keller that she had originated. She was easily the best thing about the feature film Valley of the Dolls, playing alcoholic, drug addicted star Neely O'Hara.

Although she had become famous under the name "Patty Duke", Anna Duke-Pearce preferred her given name of "Anna Marie". Those people I know who had the fortune to meet her always said the same thing. She is one of the most down-to-earth and nicest people one could ever meet. Anna Duke-Pearce always had a kind word for her fans and she seems to have truly appreciated them. That makes her death at such a relatively young age all the sadder. Anna Duke-Pearce was both a very talented actress and a truly nice person.

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