Associated Press February 6, 2006
Mobile, Ala. -- Jean Byron, an actress who played Patty Duke's mother in the 1960s television series and appeared in dozens of TV shows over three decades, has died at age 80.
Byron, who was born Imogene Burkhart in Paducah, Ky., but was mostly known by her stage name through a long career that included movies, died Friday at a Mobile-area hospital from an infection following hip replacement surgery, family members said. She had moved to Mobile in the late 1980s to be closer to her family.
Byron had more than 80 credits in film and television over a long career, but was likely best remembered for her role as the mother, Natalie Lane, on "The Patty Duke Show."
"She truly lived a life of love and giving," Duke said Monday in a phone interview from her Idaho home. "She was indeed a mom to me. We used to laugh that she was no longer childless."
Duke remained in touch with her after the series ended, even spending Christmas together three years ago.
"I was always proud of the show," Byron said in a 1999 interview with the Mobile Register, which reported her death Monday. "It was wholesome. It was family entertainment. Not only that, but we had a brilliant, brilliant star."
The show centered on identical cousins Patty and Cathy Lane, both portrayed by Patty Duke.
"We were a very close, tight company," she said of the cast. "There was much love between us."
Burkhart's final acting appearance was the "Patty Duke Show Reunion" movie in 1999.
During her television career, which covered a period when the medium was becoming a fixture in American homes, Burkhart appeared in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" and episodes on a wide range of series, including "Science Fiction Theater" and "Cheyenne."
Her movie career, beginning in 1952 with Voodoo Tiger starring Johnny Weissmuller, mostly involved B-grade science fiction films such as Jungle Moon Men and Invisible Invaders.
According to the Register, she was briefly a singer and entertainer on a radio show before her high school graduation, at age 16. She moved from Kentucky to California with her family and studied acting while appearing on stage and radio. When she signed her first contract with Columbia Pictures, she adopted Jean Byron as her stage name.
In the 1950s, she was briefly married to actor Michael Ansara.
"Jean was a wonderful and outstanding lady," said Carrie Smith, co-president of "The Patty Duke Show" Fan Club. "She had an extraordinary breadth of talent."
Smith will deliver the eulogy at Burkhart's graveside service.
She is survived by her cousins, David Hancock and John Hancock, both of Mobile.