Apr. 4th, 2016

But Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see in Brooklyn Heights - what a crazy pair!

Patty Duke died last week at the age of 69. I admired the work she did in many different areas, but my first introduction to her was through the Patty Duke Show, which I started watching when I was in grade five and didn't stop watching until it went off the air three or four seasons later. I also saw both movie versions of the Miracle Worker: the one where she played Helen Keller and years later, the one where she took up the role of Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan. Still looking at her screen career, I also saw her in Billie and in Call Me Anna, based on her memoir of the same name.

Then there was her singing career. I still have two of her hit singles, released by United Artists: Don't Just Stand There, and Funny Little Butterflies.

But impressive though her acting and singing careers were, perhaps her most far-reaching accomplishment was the work she did in putting a human face to mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, and helping to destigmatize it.

I recently went through a couple of my scrapbooks from the sixties, where I came across an article by James Quig of Weekend Magazine (That was in the days when the Saturday paper came with several full-colour supplements!) The captions on the accompanying photos are interesting to say the least.

"Like any other teenager, Patty adores new clothes. Helped by a wardrobe assistant, she chooses a dress for her new film."

"From the sidewalks of New York: pert Patty Duke is riding high with three show business careers keeping her right at the top."

"It's work, work, work for Patty Duke but that's what she likes."

The reality, it seems, was rather different.

To be fair, it's possible that the author had little say over the layout or captions, as the body of his article is considerably less gushy and makes it clear that Patty Duke's life was not just about pretty clothes and adoring fans. Still, there's a stark disconnect between the carefully packaged image of the good wholesome American teen and the inner mental torment she was going through and that she was later to reveal in her books.

And the slings and arrows came not just from within, but also from without. Apparently she went from a less than ideal home life to an even more controlling life with the Ross family, where she was never allowed to go anywhere alone or please herself about anything, and where her identity as Anna was arbitrarily co-opted and she became "Patty" . When she was filming the Patty Duke Show, she was made to go back and forth between two different dressing rooms (one marked Patty, the other marked Cathy) as a bizarre publicity gimmick - even though everyone knew the two roles were played by the same person.

The Pepsi Generation is slowly dying out, and this is one member of that generation who will be sorely missed.

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