Actress Patty Duke was born Anna Marie Duke and was taken from her parents at a very young age to be raised by a theatrical agent couple, the Rosses, who developed a young girl into a meal ticket. Miss Duke won an Academy Award at sixteen for her portrayal of Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker", a film shot during the day while she played the role nightly on Broadway. "The Patty Duke Show" is an icon of the bubble gum sixties; its long run made her a household name. Her career in TV and films has continued since then, with a number of ups and downs, notably a diagnosis of bi polar disorder over twenty years ago. Today, Patty Duke has reclaimed her name Anna. She's the author of two books, "Call Me Anna" and "A Brilliant Madness".
Her TV and film roles run from Martha Washington to Neely O'Hara in
"Valley of the Dolls" to Annie Sullivan in a TV remake of "The Miller Worker".
Today, Anna Marie Pearce aka Patty Duke is happily maried to Mike Pearce, and is the mother of 17 year old Kevin. One of her older children is movie star Sean Astin.
She lives in Idaho. We spoke by phone on June 14, 2006 for a planned broadcast special on mental health issues.
CP: In one of your books you wrote that as a young child you were told by your guardians, "Anna is dead. You're Patty now." To say that to a child made my flesh crawl...
PD: Isn't it astonishing, no matter how stupid somebody is, they gotta go pretty far to come up with that one!
CP: The thrust of my program, which I hope will air later this fall is the lack of any kind of safety net or any kind of care for a kid with mental illness after he ages out of his parents coverage. You're on your own.
CP: At least you are here in Ohio...
CP: That's what I want to dig into...
PD: It seems to be that in the 17-18-19-20 area, it seems to be the most intense and with the least available help.
CP: Do you mean the disorder becomes more intense then?
PD: I think so. In my twenty three years of being what I call an expert patient, its just been my personal observation. Its also the toughest time to make the diagnosis, in the teenage years, because when we're teenagers we do outrageous things
..so to sort it out from being a wacky teen to being a chemically imbalanced person, is really tough.
CP: In reading about your life and your own childhood, there was a lot of horror that went on, and at the same time you won an Academy Award at sixteen..so I'm trying to make sense of that level of accomplishment coming out of that much horror-
PD: ...I know that I was born with a chemical imbalance. I didn't know what it was until much later, but I was also born into a family with at best severe emotional problems, in New York, in the lower class neighborhood, and there's almost a street fighter in me, which I notice when I watch The Miracle Worker...
CP: That's interesting because when you have been written about about as an actor, the word "powerful" is usually attached to your name. She's a powerful actor.
She's a strong actor
PD: Honest to God I think it is that incredible spirit to survive, whether it takes anger or charm, or ocassionally grace, whatever it takes not go down. I think that those things might have existed without the illness...
CP: Do you think you would have been the same powerful actor with a safer Mom and Pop type upbringing?
PD: No, I don't. But that bothers me because then I'm saying that you have to have some torturous life in odrer to be creative and powerful. And I don't really believe that. I've worked with people all my life who didn't grow up in dysfunction and severe rage in their lives, and they're really solid and inspired. But I've also worked with at least as many who come from my kind of background.
CP: You write very poignantly of how when you were very young you were cast in a film with Judy Garland, and you wound up taking care of her. And the irony of that was not lost on you, even then
PD: No, it was not. And again, I had yet to be diagnosed. But there was a simpatico.
First of all she was JUDY GARLAND. Also, that fragile wounded bird like character that she was, it was like the strongest magnet I've ever felt
CP: Was she attracted to you in the same way?
PD: I believe so. Yet neither of us would drop our pride long enough, or knew enough about ourselves to know that we were two peas in a pod.
CP: You were born with a chemical imbalance, you came out of the web with a physical problem, but you also had that street fighter smarts, were you born with that or did you learn that as a survival technique as a little kid?
CP: They do go hand in hand. That may be why you're still here and still working.
PD: Exactly. Yes, because who was my own worst enemy all those years?...the self sabotage was at least as bad as the cruelty as I experienced.
CP: Did you ever have a light bulb moment as a kid when you said, Not everybody lives this way?
PD: I don't know if I'd call it a light bulb moment..because for that the light goes on and you see in the light and you move in a direction. I do remember when I was about 16 realizing that hey, this isn't how people live. How come I don't see other kids like this? And unfortunatley I turned it in, because the fear was still greater than anything else. The fear of this unknown that the Rosses held over me over all those years...
CP: And until you were a legal adult it was in noone's best interest to get you help.
You were earning money. You were a big star. So by the time you didn't legally need to be attached to anyone any more it was totally up to you to get help for yourself, or to know you needed help, and that's a problem hat persists today. A lot of these kids turn 18 or 21 and you are on your own even if you have the best parents in the world in terms of The System....
CP: ...but just he money to pay for the medications...
PD: One of the great tragedies of these illnesses and whether or not people get care ie economic. People tell me things. My response is You know there are people that have studied these illnesses who can be helpful, and just beause they are psychiatrists doesn't mean we should avoid them. And I go into this whole long soulful thing...describing help that is available and by the time I get to the end of it the person says, I have no money. I have no insurance.
It stops me in my tracks. I am beginnig to learn through my travels, that there are indeed some frail systems available for people without money, but its the best kept secret in America...
CP: Well its been kept from me, this is good to know.
One of my goals for this program is to piss people off so they turn on their elected represetives and demand some changes
PD: I have been deficient. In all of my work and it hads been really diligent,
I have not gone to-probably because of fear-I have not gone to the most powerful resource, which is-piss 'em off. To actually gather folks, and remember we are allegedly by the people, of the people, for the people...
CP: Do you think pissing them off is what its going to take, both the people affected and our legislators, to get some laws enacted to protect people who can't protect themsevles?
PD: I'm afraid we're going to need a healthy portion of that. The other thing is to turn on the light bulb and show that we've been in the dark and we've been terrified. And I firmly beleive ...fifty percent of our crime would stop.
CP: Pete Earley, you blurbed his book, "Crazy"..
PD: Oh! I'm telling you...!
CP: Here's this man and the authoriites say to him well, if your son tries to kill you or kills himself, bring him back...they literlly said that to him!
Because he's past legal age and they can't admit him involuntarily
PD: That book had for some of the missing elements we've talked about this morning. It had for me that impetus that rage can give you. That you can use in a healthy way. It was also such a source of information. I'm someone who thinks I live in the mental health community, and there was so much I didn't know about legislation, about care, about the lacks thereof!
CP: Does that get tired for you, to be know as the mental health advocate rather than the the actor, the mother, the wife?
PD: No. You know I'm about to start a low budget film. A friend of mine wrote it. We're going to get some drapes and paint the barn and make a movie. So I have an emotional investment. And yet, the closer the time comes to starting the more it seems alien to me. It's been true for a while. As uncomfortable as I was when I started publically talking about mental illness and mine in particular, it is now where I live. It's where I'm comfortable. It's where I get the most satisfaction. There isn't glory all over it, and nodody rolls out a red carpet
CP: The payback-spiritually-must be intesne.
PD: And it takes so little for me. It take sme telling my story, telling what I'v e learned over these twenty some odd years and being willing to be truly naked so that others can say, Oh she has the same thing I have..Its strange to me about our society that celebrities can have such an impact and when it dawned on me
I siezed the moment...
CP: Well, I went to school with litle girls who had Patty Duke lunch boxes
CP...they went out AS you trick or treating. The boys would go as John Glenn.
The girls went as Patty and Cathy and the boys went as John Glenn...
PD: Oh my God! You have just tickled me so!
CP: You've said you've been taking lithium twice a day for years.
A lot of people don't get a drug cocktail that works. Did you luck out?
PD: Number one I lucked out. I don't have any noticeable side effects.
Other people unfortunately may over long term use have very severe side effects. Kidneys, liver, weight gain...Nowadays there are a good 60 to 150 types of drugs available, each very specific and each an alternative for something that was prescibed that doesn't work. But I also say to people, sometimes we do not give it a chance. One of the things we're working with is that we're new to the idea that we have this illness and we're new to the idea of side effects, and sometimes we program these. I urge people to please give whatever medication they're prescribed a chance and know that there are alternatives. And sometimes its a hunt and peck...
CP: Lithium takes time to kick in...Do you remember the first day you woke up and felt different after being on lithium?
PD: I do. I remember there as nothing dramatic. I just remember after being up for a couple of hours I actually noticed an absence of the motor running, and the fidgety kind of behaviors that I had besides the behavioral crazies. I noticed it but I didn't trust it. It took a couple of days more for me to really start to believe, maybe its these pills I'm taking. The building of the trust in it takes a while.
CP: It's a long habit to feel bad, so you have to learn to feel good.
PD: You develop certain habits that you are now accustomed to, and when the feelings that provoked those are gone, you have to relearn habits. You get to invent
new habits, positive and negative!
CP: That's a a gift of getting older. You can screw up in a different way
PD: It is! Its a compensation. I'm going to be sixty this year...I have found when I stop the superficial railing at aging, there really are compensations-separate from a clinical diagnosis. There are differences that happen and the wisdom really does come!..I'm vey lucky. I accidently on purpose surround myself with young people.
We have a 17 year old son. He has about six buddies who are habitiual weekenders here, and now one of them has a girlfriend and now she's become part of the group.
And I'm just, I try really hard not to be obsessive and possesive but I find that there energy is tremendously helpful...
CP: There are a couple of websites for you and there's a fabulous blog on it www.pattyduke.net
PD: I read every single e mail. They all get answered by me.
CP: It doe sa lot of good, and I thnak you again for your time and your enoristy
PD: Oh Chrisotpher,I've had so much fun
CP: And I wish I had that lunch box to send you...it'd be worth a lot of money now on EBAY!