1990s
  Anna becomes Queen of the small-screen

 

Call Me Anna (1990 TV)

 

 

Patty Duke, Jenny Robertson, Ari Meyers, Millie Perkins

 

Imagine how great it would be to co-star in a motion picture, win an Oscar for your performance in that movie, and have your own television show before the age of seventeen.  Now imagine being taken away from your home to live with managers who controlled not only your career, but your entire life; even going as far as to change your name.  All the while, you are living with the seemingly unexplainable and intense highs, and suicidal lows of bipolar disorder.  As outlandish as it may sound, this was all a reality for Patty Duke who tells her story of stardom and illness in her autobiography, Call Me Anna.  Co-written by Kenny Turan, it is filled with startling revelations and astounding candor; you would think you were listening to Patty tell you the story herself.  The memoir is a chronological look back on her unstable youth, turbulent young adulthood, and her triumph over a debilitating mental illness.

 

The childhood of Anna Marie Duke (Patty’s given name) was full of inconsistency and disarray from the start.  Her mother, who had bouts of severe depression, and her father, an alcoholic, separated when Anna was six.  She was brought to live with her managers, John and Ethel Ross, who taught her not only how to act, but also how to lie.  As she grew older and moved out on her own, leaving her hellish existence with the Rosses behind, her troubles were far from over.  Anna began to have full-blown symptoms of bipolar disorder.  Despite her ups and downs, she survived the duration of these awful experiences and found her way through the fog.  And unlike many others, she survived.

 

I was shocked by the sadness surrounding this bright, joyful woman’s childhood, and was in awe of how Patty wrote so openly about her trials and tribulations with bipolar disorder, despite the added stigma surrounding mental illness.  Her writing style, and the way in which she recalled her life with such humor and good will is to be admired.

 

The introduction to Patty shows a young, street-smart girl, who wants only to have parents who love and adore her.  Her earliest memory is that of standing on top of the bar where her father would take her and performing for the regulars.  “I loved being hoisted up on top of that bar, I just loved it” (Duke and Turan 6).  Did Patty’s love of acting perhaps really stem from the brief nearness she felt with her father?

 

This desire was brought to the surface again, when a few years later, John and Ethel Ross became the young girl’s managers.  However, the first signs that these people weren’t able to work compassionately with a child arose quickly.  Ethel viewed Patty as ‘plain,’ so a constant picking apart of her appearance began.  “There was a whole list of things I’d never do right, from the way I walked and the way I talked to the way I brushed my teeth or combed my hair,” Patty recalls (25).  This can be related to the way today’s media targets an average, plain audience, making them feel as though they are not good enough.  Could Ethel’s vicious tearing apart of Patty’s demeanor in fact be a defense mechanism for her own feelings of inadequacy?

 

The title of the book, Call Me Anna, comes from an incident that would have Patty questioning her true identity for many years.  One day Ethel announced, “Anna Marie is dead. You’re Patty now” (23).  I can only imagine how confusing it would be for someone’s name to be changed, but for a person you barely know to say ‘you’re dead and this is who you will be’ is worth, as she put it “twenty years on a psychiatrist’s couch” (23).

 

Fresh from the success of The Miracle Worker, when Patty was around sixteen-years-old, she was given her own television series, The Patty Duke Show.  In it, she played two very different, yet identical, cousins.  However, things in her own life became less and less typical as time went on.  Patty spent entire weekends in her room sleeping.  “No food, no nothing. Occasionally I got up to go to the toilet, but rarely. My whole body just shut down” (134).  Was this symptom of her illness finally making its appearance, or was it just the result of a teenager overburdened and exhausted from working more hours than the average adult?  I know I find myself eager to sleep as much as possible on weekends, but certainly not the entire forty-eight hours.

 

In 1982, Patty was diagnosed as bipolar, after many years of struggling with an illness still foreign to her.  During what is known as “mania,” Patty would spend days on end without sleeping or eating, wild with energy.  In this state, she once married a man she hardly knew.  I suppose that Patty being pregnant (and Catholic) at the time, with the added lack of reasoning skills that go along with mania, made getting married to anyone seem like a very clever, simple solution.

 

There was a particular story that truly communicated exactly how much of an impact Patty’s illness had on her children. One night, Patty caught someone whom she thought was a burglar, climbing into Sean’s (her son) bedroom window.  She ran around the house screaming until she recognized the intruder to be one of his friends.  On her way to yell at Sean, she ran smack into her other son, Mackenzie, who began to howl in pain.  Patty “turned to him and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, I thought it was a burglar” (276).  And he said “A burglar?  Oh thank God!  I thought you forgot to take your lithium” (the medication she used to treat bipolar disorder) (276).

 

I liked the way Patty chose to organize her book in chronological order, beginning with when she was a young girl and leading to the present time.  She wrote vital stories from her life with little bias, and then gave her view on the matter afterwards.  I felt that this was an excellent choice as I was able to look at the entire situation for what it was, form my own opinion on it, and then be able to compare my opinion to hers afterwards.

 

Something I greatly admire about Patty is her ability to make the best of a bad situation, whether it’s through humor or focusing on what can be learned from it.  One example of this which stood out in my mind is in her reflection of the Rosses.  “One of the most lasting positive legacies I have from my time with the Rosses, aside from the great gift of acting, is an obsession with the truth” (255).  I think Patty’s fixation on the truth comes from her early life being so surrounded with the Rosses’ lies, and realizing how hurtful they can be.

 

Call Me Anna reveals both many upsetting and many uplifting stories of Patty Duke’s life.  From her childhood struggle with the Rosses, to her first twenty-some years of adulthood being plagued with a mystery illness, Anna came through it all.  At times, her life mirrored something straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, while at others, it reminds me of the triumphant and memorable “wah-wah” scene in The Miracle Worker, when Annie finally makes the pivotal connection with Helen.

-- Written for The Official Patty Duke Website by Katie Kerr

 

 

Family of Strangers (1993 TV)

 


 

Patty Duke, Melissa Gilbert, William Shatner, Eric McCormack.

 

Family of Strangers is a docudrama that centers around Gilbert's character blacking-out behind the wheel of her car only to need brain surgery.  Before she can have it, however, her doctor asks if there is a history of stroke in her family.  If there is, Melissa cannot have the surgery and will die.  When Gilbert asks her father, he stuns her by admitting she was adopted.  The remainder of the movie centers around Gilbert's attempts at locating her birth parents to find out if she is eligible for the necessary surgery. 

Duke plays Gilbert's birth mother, Beth Thompson.  It seems as though she enjoys her work as a beautician and comes across as someone who is very caring and whom one would love to have as a friend.  However, appearances can be deceiving.

 
Family of Strangers is one of my favorite movies.  Both Gilbert and Duke give wonderful performances; the dramatic scenes are brilliantly acted.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this movie a 10.

--Written for The Official Patty Duke Website by Millie Tirk.

 

 

A Christmas Memory (1997 TV)

 

 

Patty Duke, Piper Laurie, Jeffery DeMunn, Anita Gillette, Eric Lloyd.

Poignant retelling of Truman Capote’s touching Christmas-themed memoir.  Perhaps best known for his incisive endeavor into literary journalism with his best-selling book, In Cold Blood, and his public denouncement of Valley of the Dolls author, Jacqueline Susann, Capote’s story proves a warm and touching look at family life during 1930s America .

The movie begins with seven-year-old Buddy (Lloyd) and his almost eldery and slightly learning disabled cousin, Sook (Duke), cooking in the family kitchen.  Immediately, one is able to witness the chemistry shared not only by the two characters, but by the actors who portray them.  Eric Lloyd’s conveyance of emotion is spellbinding, while Patty Duke’s depiction of Sook’s childlike naiveté should have captured the Emmy Award.

Thoroughly encapsulating all aspects of Depression-era living in the Deep South , A Christmas Memory follows the misadventures of Buddy’s childhood.  With Sook, he shared a bond so strong, he feared death if ever separated.

While on Christmas vacation, Buddy and Sook spend their days baking holiday fruit cakes to send to those most important: friends and family, Eleanor Roosevelt, and beloved movie star, Joan Crawford.  Because neither has the money to spend on ingredients or postage, they saved spare pennies all year, and bartered with Mr. Ha Ha, the town bartender, for a low price on whiskey—Sook’s secret ingredient.

According to Duke, Sook remains one of her favorite roles.  Additionally, she turned to the memory of her mother, Frances, for her character’s stylistic idiosyncrasies.  And perhaps in no film since The Miracle Worker, has Duke’s portrayal been so compelling, so believable.

Although critics did not look favorably upon this adaptation, the collective experience of pathos produced by the ensemble is extremely powerful.

This story was originally released on television in 1967, in which actress Geraldine Page won the Emmy.  However, Duke’s version embodies the emotion and audience’s devotion and loyalties, reducing Page’s version to a mere narration.
-- Carrie Smith, The Official Patty Duke Website  ****

A heartwarming new holiday drama starring Patty Duke and Eric Lloyd, based on Truman Capote’s short story of that title about a young boy’s special friendship with his much older cousin as they prepare for their last Christmas together.
-- CBS Television Network

 

The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights

Patty Duke, Jean Byron, William Schallert, Eddie Applegate, Paul O'Keefe

Simply put, this is an amusing, charming, and overall very good film for anyone who was a fan of the 1960s “The Patty Duke Show.”  It’s also great to see Anna playing two separate halves that seem to finally equal a whole.  Cathy Lane returns to Brooklyn Heights to pay the family a visit and viewers are introduced to the rest of the clan that we became so acquainted with in the original series.  A bitter challenge ensues as Patty and the gang try to save their alma mater from disappearing at the hands of Patty’s nemesis, Sue Ellen.  There is lots of humor, drama and the same jokes that made the original series a hilarious classic.  With this movie, it becomes clear—if there was ever any doubt—that Anna has not lost her spunk no matter how many years have passed since the show first began.
--Written for The Official Patty Duke Website by Charles A. Blake