At the young age of sixteen years old, Anna Marie Patty Duke became the youngest person to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker". She followed that with becoming the youngest to ever have a Television show named after her "The Patty Duke Show". Her many years of triumphs on the screen were only disguising the troubles she was having in her personal life with manic depression. Today, she is a real survivor who continually helps others facing the same problems through her heartfelt work all over the country. Patty and her husband live quietly in Idaho these days with her large family around her. I had the great pleasure and honor to speak with Patty from her Idaho home....
MICK: How is life for you these days?
PATTY: Life for me these days is too quiet! I would love to be working but I guess with us older actresses, there are a number of us in line. And I think also since I moved to Idaho it gives the impression that I am retired. Please tell everyone that I am not!
MICK: Are there any films for you in the near future?
PATTY: Not that I know of! I have a couple of plays coming up. One is a very funny play and it is in Hawaii. A month's paid vacation in Hawaii! The other is in very early stages and we don't know what will happen. It's a one woman show about Mary Lincoln. It's wonderfully written. I'm already memorizing the lines because there won't be anyone out there to save me!
MICK: Wow that's great because Lincoln is very much into the mainstream now!
PATTY: That's right! There is much depth to Mary Lincoln's story and the things she did after the assassination.
MICK: Would you consider coming back to Broadway?
PATTY: Sure! Do you have a play for me? I have come, in my later years, to just love the theater. We have a number of regional theaters where we live
and every time I can, I play on their stages. It is so good for me working with young people who are not professional actors. They are as professional as anyone out there. I learn so much from them! It's been a lot of fun doing that.
MICK: Your work with mental health has been well documented in your books
"Call Me Anna" and "A Brilliant Madness: Living With Manic Depression" and the tremendous work you've done for the cause. Would you consider this your greatest achievement?
PATTY: No I think my greatest achievement was choosing my husband! But it certainly has been right up there as one of the most significant things that have been a part of my life. When someone says that my book has flipped the switch for them and they realize what's going on with them. How much more could you ask for in life? To help a stranger like that! I still travel and speak on the topic and that has become a wonderful way to relate to people who are so eager to demonstrate their love. It turns out to be a love fest! I get at least as much out of it as they do.
MICK: In your illustrious show business career, what would you consider to be your favorite moment?
PATTY: That's hard because I've had a lot of favorite moments. Certainly playing Helen Keller has to be right up there on the list. And mostly because of working with Anne Bancroft. We were a terrific team and I miss her terribly.
MICK: Was she your favorite costar?
PATTY: Now I don't want to insult anyone else! She was such a decent person. I wouldn't have known those words back then. She was very generous of her spirit with me. For instance, "half hour" as we talk in the theater, is a sacred time for people to get ready to go on stage. She always allowed me into her dressing room. We would kid around and tell jokes because Mel Brooks was there too! I knew as a child that she was real generous to let me do that but now as an adult who does theater, I know even more how precious that time is.
MICK: Did you ever get to meet Helen Keller?
PATTY: Yes I did! I was 12 years old and an actress, Katherine Cornell, was a neighbor of Helen Keller's. She came to see the play "The Miracle Worker" on opening night and said "Would you like to meet Helen Keller?".
I was tempted to say "No I am busy" but I didn't! So she arranged it.
I went to Miss Keller's house in Arcan Ridge, Connecticut. We had the most delightful day! It was awesome to watch her come down the stairs in her beautiful blue dress. She never touched the railing. She had a thread on the opposite wall and she would put her pinky on that thread and walk down the stairs in such a stately manner. After the great stately walk down the stairs, she became like a giddy girl! We had the best time. We must have spent the whole day there. She was eager to know how much I loved playing her. She wanted to come to the show but she had recently lost her second "Annie Sullivan", Polly. She was in mourning so she didn't want to leave her house. But our meeting was truly magical, mystical. I treasure those moments.
MICK: Do you keep in contact with your TV dad William Schallert?
PATTY: I sure do! He is 91 years old now and sharp as a tack and philly as he always was. I look very much to him for fatherly advise and comfort. He is always there to give it!
MICK: Do you still get lots of fan mail?
PATTY: I get lots of emails and Twitter and Facebook. I don't know how to do that so my husband tells me what comes in and I tell him what to say in reply! Someday I'm going to come into the Twenty First Century but not right away!
MICK: Are you a religious person?
PATTY: Not formal religion. Occasionally I find myself needing to go back to the Catholic Church almost for a booster shot. I consider myself a really good person who likes to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ but not necessarily be part of a congregation. It works for me!
We have a lot of nieces and nephews here and they are very Catholic. They always pray for me!
MICK: Which of today's actors and actresses do you admire?
PATTY: Anne Hathaway just took my breath away in "Les Miserable" and I sure hope she wins the Oscar. What a performance! She certainly deserves it! You have to run, don't walk, to see that movie. It is one of the most stunning times I ever had watching a movie or anything else for that matter.
MICK: Are you close to your children?
PATTY: Oh yes! The only problem is the distance geographically. But we are certainly in touch at least two times a week with the older boys. We have our daughter here and she has two little girls and Sean has three little girls. They're not so little anymore! The oldest one will be seventeen soon, the next one is eleven and seven. It's a nice big family and I always know that on the holidays. I never have enough table space or chairs!
MICK: What advise would you give to an up and coming actress?
PATTY: On the negative side, I would like to prepare them as much as possible for what eventually will become a constant line of rejection. It's very hard to keep your energy going when that happens. You don't know why when you go in and audition and you don't know if you will get the part or not. Nobody ever tells you why you didn't get it. You spend a lot of time beating yourself up for what you do not know. The other thing I would say id be true to yourself. One of the most important things any actor has to do is to really listen, not just to the director but to what's going on around you. Even if you don't have a job at the moment, just observe people and observe the human condition. It's like putting money in the bank. It will be there for you when you need it.
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