While we were all giggling to the antics of those identical cousins, a different scene was being played out inside the star, Patty Duke.
In her memoir “Call Me Anna” she speaks quite openly about her battles with drink, drugs, parents, and bipolar illness. Like so many stars of the mid-20th century, she was fed pills to increase productivity, then more pills to rest. Combine that with booze and you have a recipe for disaster, as we have seen with Garland, Taylor, and so many others.
Both IMDB and Wikipedia have her as being born in “Elmhurst, New York,” but in “Call Me Anna,” she tells us that it was Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan (Dec 14, 1946). So the mythmaking begins. Which version is correct? I don’t have enough access to records like that to verify, but let that be a lesson to all you who are tempted to write your papers from Wikipedia without checking.
With an alcoholic absent father, and a clinically depressed mother, it would seem genetically fated that she too might succumb. Her mother “gave her away” to John and Ethel Ross, a Svengali couple of talent agents, (also heavy boozers) who made her into the image we recognize today. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done in this period, when you read about the quantities of alcohol that were consumed at all hours of every day.
Nevertheless, she won an Academy Award at age 16 (Supporting Actress) for her devastating portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” (1962), after having done it on Broadway for nearly two years (1959-61) with co-star Anne Bancroft. She was at that time the youngest person ever to receive an Oscar.
Then for three seasons we all laughed to “The Patty Duke Show.” All the while, the Rosses were quietly spending all her earnings, and keeping her addled on pills and liquor.
For me, her greatest role was in the (now) camp-classic film “Valley of the Dolls” (1967), which was not a success for her, as her fan base couldn’t accept the radically bad image of Neely O’Hara compared to Patty Lane. We have Judy Garland to thank for her being in the movie at all, since Judy was too strung out to endure a film shoot, the producers selected Patty. It just seems the most autobiographical, even though fictionalized, and she was able to dig into some of her truth, which is what makes her over-the-top performance such a guilty pleasure.
She managed four marriages and three children, somehow. One of her sons, Sean Astin (b.1971), is a successful actor today. He is actually the son of her second husband, Michael Tell, to whom she was married for 13 days in 1970, during a manic phase. For years, Astin thought he was fathered by Desi Arnaz Jr., who had a torrid affair with Patty that was ended by a sternly disapproving “Lucy.”
Finally successfully diagnosed as bipolar in 1982 (!), Patty Duke was able to “quiet down” and become a forceful advocate for mental illness awareness. She was also president of the Screen Actors Guild for three years.
Moral: Don’t judge by exteriors alone. Now, go eat your Sabrett’s!
© 2012 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs