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Patty Duke, here promoting a play she directed, died March 29 at the age of 69.
Associated Press File Photo, 2011
Ron Onesti: The Miracle of Patty Duke
Posted Apr 1, 2016 12:00 AM
Wow, Patty Duke! A huge smile automatically came to my face when my friend Rick Kautz brought an idea to me regarding the showbiz legend touring with a screening of her 1962 film “The Miracle Worker.”It was in recognition of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the film, and I said “Absolutely! Let’s do the screening, and let’s bring her in!” It was one of the most memorable presentations I had ever done at the Arcada Theatre, and now, after her recent passing, that night has become all the more special to me.When she arrived, I was as excited as I usually am with any rock star I meet at the theater. She was part of that black-and-white television generation I had grown up with, and just seeing her and that all-too-familiar smile was like a cup of hearty minestrone soup on a blistery fall day for me. She was as warm, and gave me a great hug upon our introduction.After going over the plan for the evening, she remained at the theater, approachable and humble, welcoming any opportunity to talk about her career with her adoring fans.After getting to know her, it was somewhat hard to believe and, frankly, quite a bit disheartening that this sweet, small-framed, yet big-smiled lady had a lifelong battle with mental-health issues, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. What was even more painful to hear was that it wasn’t until she was almost 36 years old when her condition came to light. This was a condition she battled with since she was a successful child actor, and her personal situation didn’t help.Her father was an alcoholic who, along with her clinically depressed mother, brought regular mistreatment and violence into their home. Her parents split up when she was just 6 years old, and at the tender age of 8, she was sent off to be cared for by “talent managers” John and Ethel Ross. They were already working with the family as they were trying to promote Patty’s brother, Raymond. Their methods were horrible, possibly indicative of the time, but still, unforgivable.Alcohol, prescription drugs, sexual advances and money pilfering was commonplace for the young actress, all at the behest of her “caretakers.” They lied about her age and even forced her to lie to a grand jury investigating rigged game shows on television. They even changed her birth name of Anna Marie to Patty in an effort to capture residual fame from the popular teen star of the time, Patty McCormack (who also played Helen Keller in the original 1957 stage play of The Miracle Worker).Duke appeared on Broadway in the stage adaptation of “The Miracle Worker.” She played Helen Keller in this compelling autobiographical story about a young deaf and blind girl and her frustrations with life. Her performance was so compelling, Duke was selected to reprise the role on screen opposite Anne Bancroft as her tutor.The young actress won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, catapulting Duke to national stardom. As a result, famed television producer Sidney Sheldon was assigned the task of giving the 16 year old her own TV show.“Sidney invited me to stay with him and his family for a week so he could get to know me better,” Patty told me. “He had no idea of what to make the show about. But he was such a genius. He noticed my two sides and came up with the idea for ‘The Patty Duke Show.’ ”The show was about two identical cousins, one mischievous and forthright, and the other prim and proper. The show ran for three seasons, until Duke turned 18 and started making her own decisions.“Didn’t it seem a bit ‘out there,’ ” I asked her. “I mean, identical cousins?”
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