Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rant #637: Patty Dukes It Out At 65

Actress Patty Duke is 65 today.

I find that hard to believe, but it is true.

In the world where people worship Lindsay Lohan, it is hard to believe that just about 50 years ago, people were holding Patty Duke in the same high esteem as they do Lohan today.

But it's like comparing apples with oranges, isn't it?

Duke was one of the younger stars of the pre-Beatles era who filled our minds just before we were going to get smashed upside the head by the four lads from Liverpool.

She was hot as a pistol. She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," and the world was literally her oyster.

She even had her own TV show, "The Patty Duke Show," and that is where I first encountered this young actress.

The show had not only one of the all-time great TV theme songs, but the theme song played off a gimmick: the versatile Duke played two characters on the show: a typical, nutty, fun-loving teenager, and her cultured, European cousin.

They would go to the same high school in Brooklyn Heights, but the fact that they looked so alike--heck, they could have been twins!--led to most of the show's comedy.

The show was funny in an almost subtle way. I know that I laughed out loud at this show when I was a kid, but now, the laughs are a little more subdued--especially when you know Duke's back story.

Duke suffered from mental illness, which was made worse by the fact that she didn't really know who she was until years later. She was mentally abused by many, and the realization that the Patty Duke everyone knew was not the real Patty Duke--her actual name was Anna--stifled her career after the mid to late 1960s.

Through all of this, she still acted, appeared on every game show there ever was, and continued to stay visible, especially during the 1970s when she was married to actor John Astin. She had several children, including actor Sean Astin, and the public persona pretty much took hold of the private persona.

She has come clean with her troubles, and, at 65 seems to finally be happy in the skin that she is in.

But as one of the first public personalities to come clean about her own mental illness, she was something of a pioneer.

So to Patty Duke, happy birthday, and many more.

And she is 65? I still can't believe it.

I guess she will always indelibly be in my mind as that wacky, crazy teen on "The Patty Duke Show."

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