Johnny Gannatti
  Lunching with Anna in Spokane, 2003

 

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Anna, and I would like to share that experience with you.  In order to fully appreciate what it was like for me to meet Anna, one has to comprehend that she is and always has been my absolute favorite actress and person since 1968. 

When I was a kid in the summer of 1968, school was out, and I wasn't old enough yet to be working.  Bored, I went down to Klein's Department Store, and starting looking through the discount Record Bins.  There, I saw an album titled "TV's Teen Star: Patty Duke" on the budget Unart label.  Hmm, I thought, well I always liked her on The Patty Duke Show, so why not buy the album--heck, it was only $1.59!  I took the album home on my trusty bike (honest) and from then on, my family was inundated with many repeated playings of "Downtown" and "One Kiss Away."  I think they were seriously considering putting me up for adoption.  "I KNOW she isn't a polished vocalist," I would whine, "but there is something about her voice that I like!"  And that was that; I became a Duke nut, had to find all her other albums (no easy feat in those days, folks; this was many moons before the Internet or eBay) and singles, had to see ANY movie or TV show she was in (Anna was probably preparing for her role in Me, Natalie at this time) and HAD to save every quarter I could find to buy ANY fan magazines which had write-ups on her.

Ok, let us fast forward more than 30 years(!!)

I am now in my 40's and of course, have Internet access and via a young man named Billy Jankowski and a service called Yahoo!, I found a way to read what other fans were collecting and writing about.

I received a phone call from Billy, telling me that Anna was scheduled to perform in the show "Gypsy."  I could not believe it!  Of course, I had to go!  I didn't know if I could get off from work, but I decided I would cross that bridge when I came to it.  I called my friend Bruce, who collects all of Anna's records, and he said he would enjoy the trip, as well.

When the day arrived, we boarded our plane in wild anticipation--after all these years, would I FINALLY get a chance to meet her?  The flight went well and then we boarded a small, propeller plane (yikes!) into Spokane.  Now, try to understand that if the world was divided up into human parts, Spokane would be the armpit.

We arrived at the Howard Johnson's Hotel for the Homeless (ok, not really, but several people in the lobby did ask us for money) and there I met up with Billy and Carrie whom I had previously met in New York on a failed effort to see "Oklahoma!"  We greeted each other and I introduced Bruce, and subsequently met the legendary Leslie and the easy-going Jeff (whom I cracked up with my very accurate Grayson Hall impression) and the friendly, "always with a camera," Jamie. 

The first thing on the agenda was to see our luxurious suite at Howard Johnson's.   Since I am rich (yes, I'm kidding), I got the Deluxe Room which not only featured a VCR(!) but also included an ice bucket.  We had already gotten a brief tour of the town of Spokane, and viewed the many wondrous sights, which includes a Religious Harbor for Bums called "Beans, Rice & Jesus Christ" (in that order I presume), and a beautiful, popular eating establishment called, simply, Dick's.  The buildings there appear to have been constructed prior to World War II and there is certainly an air of History to the town.  Mind you, it's not necessarily an air I wish to inhale again, but nevertheless, it's historic in it's own unique way.

We were all huddled together in the luxury suite, enjoying an episode of The Patty Duke Show (which didn't track too well on the hotel's VCR but it was fun to watch together), when Billy got a phone call from Mike Pearce!  "Would we like to meet them tomorrow for lunch?"  Would we?!  It sure beats Dick's (no pun intended, I wonder if Carrie will edit this)!

The next day, it was off to the theatre where we were treated to a private backstage tour of Anna's dressing room and a display of her wardrobe.  We even got to see where Cricket hangs out!  We so enjoyed seeing the theatre but Leslie reminded us all that we had to get a move on to meet Anna and Mike.  There was no need to worry; with the way Leslie drives, we got there in no time.  The sight of seven fans speeding down a highway in a rented van was probably the most interesting thing the town of Spokane has seen in decades.

By now, my stomach was in knots, as I could not believe I would actually meet Anna.  This was ACTUALLY going to happen.  I was hoping I would not come across as mentally challenged when I met her.  But Carrie and Leslie kept holding me up and Bill assured me that everything would be all right, I would live through this.

The weather was pretty cool as we (Bill, Carrie, Leslie, Jamie and I) anxiously awaited their arrival.  I saw their yellow Bug pull up as Anna gave us a wave from the car.  She and Mike got out, greeted each fan, with yours truly being last.  Of course, I was a wreck, so Billy or Carrie (I honestly do not remember which) introduced me and I said something ingenious like, "It's an honor to meet you, I've been in love with you since I was 14,"  and Anna said, "Awww, thank you," and gave me a hug.  I could now die
happy, I thought.  Mike shook hands with me, and in his usual upbeat manner, said, "Who are you rooting for?" (the baseball games were on) as we followed Anna into the restaurant.

The waitress came over and took our order--Anna ordered a Cinnabun and several people echoed her.  Knowing I absolutely could not eat (this is known as "The Patty Duke Diet"), I ordered the salad bar.  Anna addressed everyone at the table and explained that she was battling an upper respiratory problem and thus was speaking softly.  I was given the honor of sitting right next to her(!) since I was the "first timer," so I was clinging to every word she said, just as I have through the countless TV interviews she has done.  She gave us an update on Sean and Mack, and thanked Billy for providing photos for the upcoming Biography special coming to television in December.  I can't discuss every single thing said, for she managed to spend private time with each of us and I wish to respect that privacy.  But Anna is such a sweet and generous person and is very quick with a joke and an easy laugh.

I told her, "I became a fan of yours first through your records, and my mom used to yell--would you please turn off that record!" and Anna let out a hearty laugh and said, "One of my kids used to play one particular album until I wanted to scream!"  We also discussed roles she had played, and how I was searching for a good video copy of The Goddess where Anna played the Kim Stanley character as a young girl.  We talked
of our mutual admiration for Kim Stanley and Anna told us a funny story of another time in 1982, where she worked again with Miss Stanley on the TV show It Takes Two.  By the way, Anna is a proficient story teller, which of course, emanates from her tremendous acting ability.  At no time did she appear bored with any of us and she and Mike were EXTREMELY generous with their time.

They stayed with us from 1:00 'til the evening--listening to our stories, laughing with us, and Anna even hit me (playfully) when I went to light her cigarette and my hand was shaking.  We each gave her a gift, and she hugged each one of us and thanked us individually.  I gave her a DVD of The Daydreamer, Billy gave her a beautifully framed photo of her holding Sean as a baby (which moved her to tears), Carrie gave her an "Oklahoma!" collector's plate depicting a scene her character was in, and Leslie gave her a framed photo of Anna's own Confirmation.  Jeff gave her a special pill box since Anna collects those, and Jamie gave her a quarter with a picture of Helen Keller on it.   Anna said, "You guys REALLY don't have to give me gifts all the time!"  She thanked us all again, collected the bouquet of roses we had chipped in to get, and we escorted her and Mike to their car.  Of course, we all had cameras and we clicked away to our hearts' content.  Anna is without a doubt, THE most gracious person when it comes to posing with fans (whom, it should be noted, she treats more like friends and family than "fans") and she posed with each of us near her car.  She kissed us all good-bye and signed "I love you" as they drove away.

It was an afternoon I will truly never forget--the dream of a lifetime come true--nothing can ever surpass it.  I have met many celebrities while living in Las Vegas and some are nicer than others, but NO ONE comes close to Anna as far as being genuine, friendly, and down-to-Earth.  She kindly wrote on my scrapbook, "Love to you dear John--see you soon!"  I hope so, Anna, I really hope so!