The Miracle Worker
Actress Patty Duke achieved stardom as a child thanks to her Academy Award wining portrayal of Helen Keller in the film adaptation of “The Miracle Worker” (1962), for which she also received a Golden Globe nomination. At age 16, she became the youngest actress ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category. Duke originated the role of Helen in the Broadway play “The Miracle Worker” when she was 12 years old, and took home a Theatre World Award. She later won an Emmy Award for playing Helen's teacher, Annie Sullivan, a role originally played on Broadway by Anne Bancroft, on a 1979 TV film version of the play. After her Oscar win, Duke starred in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show,” which appeared on ABC from 1963 to 1966. She received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work on the show. She won Emmy Awards for her work in the TV film “My Sweet Charlie” (1970) and the TV miniseries “Captains and the Kings” (1976) and a Golden Globe Award for the film “Me, Natalie” (1969).
In 1982, Duke was diagnosed with manic depression (now called bipolar disorder), a fact she revealed in her autobiography in 1987. She has since dedicated much of her time to supporting and educating the public on mental health topics.
Duke has been married to present husband Michael Pearce since 1986. Together, they adopted a son named Kevin Pierce (born 1988). She was previously married to Harry Falk (together from 1965 to 1970), Michael Tell (together from June to July 1970, the marriage was annulled) and actor John Astin (together from 1972 to 1985). She has two biological sons, actor Sean Astin (father: Michael Tell; adopted by John Astin after the couple married in 1972) and Mackenzie Astin (father: John Astin).
Childhood and Family:
The youngest of three children, Anna Marie Duke, who would later be popular as Patty Duke, was born on December 14, 1946, in Elmhurst, New York, to John Patrick Duke, a handyman and cab driver, and Frances Duke, a cashier. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was manic depressive. Her father left the family when she was six and two years later, her mother put Patty under the care of John and Ethel Ross. Recognizing her talent, the Ross’ launched her as a child actress and managed her career. She attended the Quintano School for Young Professionals in New York and received her Equity card at age 7.
Patty has been married four times. On November 26, 1965, she married director Harry Falk, who was thirteen years her senior, but the marriage ended in divorce on March 24, 1970. During their marriage, Patty attempted suicide, became anorexic and addicted to alcohol and drugs. After the divorce, she made headlines with her affair with 17 year old Desi Arnaz, Jr., the son of Lucille Ball. Patty then dated actor John Astin, who was sixteen years her senior, but around the same period also began a close relationship with rock promoter Michael Tell. After realizing she was pregnant, she married Tell on June 26, 1970, but the marriage was annulled on July 9, 1970. She gave birth to her first child, son Sean Patrick Duke, on February 25, 1971, and married her former lover, John Astin, on August 5, 1972. John adopted Sean after the couple's marriage. On May 12, 1973, the couple welcomed a new addition to their family, a son named Mackenzie Astin. They divorced in 1985.
On March 15, 1986, Patty married drill sergeant Michael Pearce. They moved to Idaho and adopted a son, Kevin Michael Pierce (born in 1988). She also has a stepdaughter named Charlene Pearce.
For years it was believed that John Astin was Sean's biological father, but through a genetic test in 1994, it was revealed that Sean's biological father is Michael Tell. Sean, however, considers John his real father. Sean is married and has three kids. He starred as Sam in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.
My Sweet Charlie
Patty Duke began her career as a child actress. When she was 9, she made her feature debut as an extra in the 1955 biographical film “I'll Cry Tomorrow,” starring Susan Hayward as Lilian Roth. Two years later, she branched out to the small screen with a part in “The Prince and the Pauper” (1957), an episode of the series “The DuPont Show of the Month.” She went on to appear in various TV shows, including “Kraft Television Theatre,” “Rendezvous” and “Kitty Foyle.” From 1958 to 1959, she portrayed Ellen Williams Dennis #1 on the CBS daytime soap opera “The Brighter Day.”
However, Duke did not enjoy her first break until she was chosen to play the blind and deaf child Helen Keller on the Broadway version of “The Miracle Worker,” opposite Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan. The play, adapted by William Gibson from his 1957 “Playhouse 90 Teleplay” of the same name, opened at the Playhouse Theatre on October 19, 1959, and closed on July 1, 1961, after 719 performances. It won four Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Direction, Best Actress (Bancroft) and Best Stage Technician. Duke won a Theatre World Award in the category of Best Debut Performance for her performance in the show.
In 1962, “The Miracle Worker” was adapted into a highly acclaimed film with Duke and Bancroft reprising their noted stage roles of Helen Killer and Annie Sullivan, respectively. The film version, also directed by Arthur Penn and scripted by Gibson, was nominated for five Academy Awards and won Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Bancroft and Duke, respectively. At the time she won her Oscar, Duke was 16 and became the youngest actress ever to do so. Duke also picked up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance for her performance in the film.
Her popularity was confirmed again the following year when Duke was asked to star in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show,” where she played twins Cathy and Patty Lane. The show ran on ABC from September 18, 1963, to May 4, 1966, and brought the actress an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead, 1964) and a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Star - Female (1966). She later won a TV Land in the category of Favorite Dual Role Character (2004). Costars of the show included William Schallert, Jean Byron, Paul O'Keefe and Eddie Applegate. Meanwhile, in 1965, Duke also starred in the comedy musical “Billie” and was nominated for a Golden Laurel in the category of Musical Performance, Female for her work on the film. “Billie” was a success and became the first film ever sold to a television network.
In 1967, after the cancellation of her TV show, Duke made a try at adult film stardom with “Valley of the Dolls,” in which she starred as Neely O'Hara, opposite Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson and Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles. An adaptation of the 1966 novel of the same name by Jacqueline Susann, the film, directed by Mark Robson, was a commercial success despite being panned by critics. She closed out the decade starring as Natalie Miller in the Fred Coe directed “Me, Natalie” (1969). Although the film was a flop at the box office, it won the actress a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy. She also received a Golden Laurel nomination for Female Dramatic Performance for her work on the film.
Opening the 1970s, Duke delivered a remarkable portrayal of Marlene Chambers, a pregnant teenager on the run, in the NBC television film “My Sweet Charlie” (1970), an adaptation of the novel of the same name by David Westheimer. The film received eight Emmy nominations and won the awards for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama, Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Entertainment Programming - For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television, and Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Duke's first Emmy Award.
Duke remained on the small screen throughout the 1970s with work in a number of TV films, including “Two on a Bench” (1971), “If Tomorrow Comes” (1971), “She Waits” (1972), “Deadly Harvest” (1972), “Nightmare” (1974), “Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby” (1976, as Rosemary Woodhouse), “Fire” (1977), “Curse of the Black Widow” (1977), “Killer on Board” (1977), “The Storyteller” (1977), “Women in White” (1979), “Hanging by a Thread” (1979) and “Before and After” (1979). She also had guest spots in “Matt Lincoln,” “Night Gallery,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Ghost Story,” “Wide World Mystery,” “Police Story,” “Police Woman,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Rosetti and Ryan.” She netted her second Emmy Award for her performance as Bernadette Hennessey Armagh on the NBC miniseries “Captains and the Kings” (1976), where she starred with Richard Jordan and Harvey Jason. She also received Emmy nominations for her work on the TV films “A Family Upside Down” (1978, as Wendy) and “Having Babies III” (1978, as Leslee Wexler). In 1979, Duke was cast as Annie Sullivan in the TV film remake of “The Miracle Worker” (NBC), opposite Melissa Gilbert as Helen Keller. Under the direction of Paul Aaron, she won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special. She also starred in the 1972 drama “You'll Like My Mother” (with Rosemary Murphy and Richard Thomas) and the 1978 horror film “The Swarm” (opposite Michael Caine and Katherine Ross).
Duke continued to give notable performances in the early 1980s. In the ABC made for TV film “The Women's Room” (1980), she costarred as Lily and was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special for her performance. She picked up another Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement - Children's Programming for her work on the syndicated TV film “The Girl on the Edge of Town” (1981), opposite Sherry Hursey and Brad Wilkin. She next starred as Barbara Reynolds in the ABC Afterschool Special “Please Don't Hit Me, Mom” (1981), where her real life son, Sean Astin, played the role of Brian Reynolds, appeared as Molly Quinn in the ABC sitcom “It Takes Two” (1982-1983), opposite Richard Crenna, and received her next Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Martha Washington on the CBS TV miniseries “George Washington” (1984), which starred Barry Bostwick. In 1984, she received a Daytime Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement in Religious Programming - Performers for her work on “The Hit Man,” an episode of the syndicated series “Insight,” and a Bronze Wrangler for Fictional Television Drama for her work in the western “September Gun” (1983, with Robert Preston). She returned to features with a starring role in the Canadian produced drama “By Design” (1982), from which she was nominated for a Genie in the category of Best Performance by a Foreign Actress.
In 1985, Duke was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild and became the second female to hold the post. She resigned after three years in 1988. During her stint at SAG, she remained active in the world of acting. She was cast as President Julia Mansfield on the ABC sitcom “Hail to the Chief” (1985), reprised Martha Washington in the sequel “George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation” (CBS, 1986) and starred as Karen Matthews in the short lived sitcom “Karen's Song” (Fox, 1987). She also appeared on the TV films “A Time to Triumph” (1986), “Fight for Life” (1987) and “J.J. Starbuck” (1988) and had a role in “Willy/Milly” (1986), a film directed by Paul Schneider. Duke next appeared in the TV films “Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace” (1988, as Althea Sloan), “Fatal Judgement” (1988, as Anne Capute), “Amityville: The Evil Escapes” (1989, as Nancy Evans) and “Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure” (1989, as Carolyn Henry) and in the 1989 feature “The Hitch-Hikers,” by Alan Bergmann.
In 1990, Duke's autobiography “Call Me Anna” was made into a TV film, where Duke played herself from her mid 30s onward. She also served as co-producer under the name of Anna Duke-Pearce. The same year, she starred in the TV film “Always Remember I Love You,” alongside Stephen Dorff and David Birney. Following work in the TV films “Absolute Strangers” (1991), “Last Wish” (1992) and “Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive” (1992) and in the animated series “The Legend of Prince Valiant” (1991-1992, as the voice of Lady Morgana), Duke was cast as the mother of Meg Ryan in the film adaptation of the play “Prelude to a Kiss” (1992). She did not appear in another feature until 1999's “Kimberly,” starring Gabrielle Anwar. He son, Sean Astin, also appeared in the film as Bob.
In between “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Kimberly,” Duke could be seen in such TV films as “A Killer Among Friends” (1992), “Family of Strangers” (1993), “No Child of Mine” (1993), “A Matter of Justice” (1993), “One Woman's Courage” (1994), “Cries from the Heart” (1994), “When the Vows Break” (1995), “Race Against Time: The Search for Sarah” (1996), “Harvest of Fire” (1996), “To Face Her Past” (1996), “A Christmas Memory” (1997) and “When He Didn't Come Home” (1998). She also served as executive producer and starred in the short lived series “Amazing Grace” (NBC, 1995) and had the same duty for the reunion TV film “The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights” (CBS, 1999). In 1999, she nabbed an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Nancy on the “Touched by an Angel” episode titled “I Do” (1998).
In the new millennium, Duke gradually decreased her work schedule but still occasionally did TV and film work. She played Anne Kincaid in the TV film “Miracle on the Mountain: The Kincaid Family Story” (2000), Sunny Andrews in the CBS movie “Love Lessons” (2000) and Sylvia in CBS' “Little John” (2002). She also guest starred in episodes of “Family Law” (2001), “First Years” (2001) and “Judging Amy” (2004). She returned to “Touched by an Angel” for the 2003 episode “I Will Walk with You,” this time playing Jean, and revisited the New York stage in a revival of “Oklahoma” (2002), playing Aunt Eller.
After successful bypass surgery in 2004, Duke costarred with her
son, Sean Astin, in the 2005 comedy feature “Bigger Than the
Sky,” for director Al Corley. The same year, she also narrated
the short “Take Me Home: A Child's Experience of Internment.”
She next teamed up with Crystal Allen in the TV movie “Falling
in Love with the Girl Next Door” (2006), with her son Mackenzie
Astin, in the film “The Four Children of Tander Welch”
(2008) and in Hallmark Channel's “Love Finds a Home”
(2009). She then appeared with Lolita Davidovich and Caroline Néron
in the Canadian TV film “Throwing Stones” (2009) and
replaced Carol Kane as Madame Morrible in the San Francisco
production of the musical “Wicked,” a role she played
from March 2009 to February 2010. Recently, in 2010, Duke portrayed
Irene in the TV film “Unanswered Prayers,” opposite Eric
Close, Samantha Mathis and Mädchen Amick.
In addition to being an actress, Duke was a successful singer in the 1960s. She had two Top 40 hits in 1965 with “Don't Just Stand There” (#8) and “Say Something Funny” (#22). She also released such singles as “Whenever She Holds You” (1966, #64), “Little Things Mean A Lot” (1966), “The Wall Came Tumbling Down” (1966), “Why Don't They Understand” (1966), “Come Live With Me” (1967) and “Dona Dona” (1968). Her albums included “Don't Just Stand There” (1965), Patty” (1965), “Patty Duke's Greatest Hits” (1966), “TV's Teen Star” (1967) and “Songs from Valley of The Dolls and Other Selections” (1967).
TV Land: Favorite Dual Role Character, “The Patty Duke Show,” 2004
Temecula Valley International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002
Bronze Wrangler: Fictional Television Drama, “September Gun,” 1984
People's Choice: Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program, 1983
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special, “The Miracle Worker,” 1980
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, “Captains and the Kings,” 1977
Emmy: Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, “My Sweet Charlie,” 1970
Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy, “Me, Natalie,” 1970
Golden Globe: Most Promising Newcomer - Female, 1963
Oscar: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, “The Miracle Worker,” 1963
Golden Laurel: Top Female Supporting Performance, “The Miracle Worker,” 1963