Happy Birthday, “Patty Duke”!
Call her one of the most beloved actresses of her generation. Call her a mental heath advocate. Call her a survivor. Just don’t call her “Patty”.
Today, Anna Marie Duke, more famously known as Patty Duke, celebrates her 65th birthday. And though she set show business records and has won her share of major acting awards, Duke had to suffer through nearly a lifetime of misery to arrive at the happiness she knows today.
“I’ve taken a lot of detours, kind of like a myopic homing pigeon, but I’ve finally made it,” Duke told People magazine in 1999. “With my marriage and my children, and with those strangers who come up to me in the supermarket. When they say, ‘I love you,’ I think they mean it. And I get to say it back.”
Signed away to showbiz agents John and Ethel Ross as a child by a struggling single mother, the young actress was traumatized when she was told that “Anna Marie is dead” and that she’d be henceforth known as “Patty”. According to Duke’s website, “For a young girl who was extremely afraid of death, even having daily panic attacks for years about the subject, this news did not come easy to her-.The person Anna Marie, she thought, was now dead, and alive is this robot which belonged to the Ross’s, known as Patty.”
Though Duke rode high on the success of both the Broadway and film versions of The Miracle Worker – at 16 she was at the time the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award which she earned for her portrayal of Helen Keller – her personal life had become a nightmare. The Rosses became Duke’s primary caregivers and aside from being virtually estranged from her family the young actress lived more like a prisoner than a starlet. Aside from controlling every aspect of Duke’s life, the Rosses also fed the underage star drugs and alcohol, squandered most of her fortune, and reportedly attempted to sexually abuse her. It was in her early years as well that she started to feel the first effects of what would eventually be diagnosed as bi-polar disorder.
Through her years on the wildly popular Patty Duke Show to her film and television career (including successful turns in several made-for-television movies), Duke struggled with the trauma of her childhood, alcohol abuse, three failed marriages and, of course, her bi-polar disorder.
Now married to her fourth husband, former Army drill sergeant Michael Pierce, since 1986, Duke still acts while also working as an advocate for mental health issues and social security. As well, she’s passed the acting bug onto two more generations of performers. Her son, Sean Astin is a well-known actor and director who played Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King alongside his daughter, and Duke’s granddaughter, Alexandra Astin as Elanor Gamgee. Despite the happy life she enjoys today, Duke knows how lucky she is to have overcome the pitfalls from which some child actors never recover.
“One of the reasons I survived as well as I did was my genetics,” Duke told People magazine. “My mother and father both had very tough lives, and boy, were they survivors.”