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Remembering Patty Duke, Hollywood's 'Miracle Worker'


Actress Patty Duke died early this morning. She was 69 years old. She played an adolescent Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" and played identical cousins in her own TV sitcom in the early 1960s. Here's NPR's Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: She's best remembered as those adorably different identical cousins on TV - sophisticated, minuet loving Kathy, down to earth, rock 'n' roll crazed Patty - on "The Patty Duke Show."


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) They're cousins, identical cousins all the way.

MONDELLO: But she was almost feral when audiences first met her. That was three years earlier in "The Miracle Worker," initially on Broadway and then in the Oscar-winning film version. Patty Duke, still a child herself, was utterly convincing as a blind, deaf, mute, uncomprehendingly wild Helen Keller, struggling against every effort to tame her. She'd broken dishes, smashed windows, all but throttled Anne Bancroft's teacher, Annie Sullivan. But finally, when Annie held her hand under a pump and spelled out the word water in her other hand, something clicked.


ANNE BANCROFT: (As Annie Sullivan) W-A-T-E-R, water, it has a name. W-A-T...

PATTY DUKE: (As Helen Keller) Water, water.

BANCROFT: (As Annie Sullivan) Yes.

MONDELLO: Audiences wept and a star was born. Anna Marie Patty Duke had survived a rough childhood - father an alcoholic, mother depressed. At an early age, she was put in the care of talent managers who'd been looking for a girl to add to their stable of child actors. They got her small parts on television, bits in soap operas, game shows. Then, when she was just 12, she was signed for "The Miracle Worker" on Broadway. It wasn't until halfway through the run that her name was put up above the title on the marquee. A couple of years later, her name was also inscribed on a best supporting actress Oscar for the film version.


ANDREW PRINE: (As James Keller) She wants her doll back.

BANCROFT: (As Annie Sullivan) When she spells it...

PRINE: (As James Keller) Spells - she doesn't know the thing has a name even...

MONDELLO: After that, she returned to TV, first in dramatic roles and then in the sitcom that bore her name and that was created especially for her about identical, often boy crazy cousins with contrasting personalities.


DUKE: (As Kathy) I'm doing you a favor. Kyle's not your type.

DUKE: (As Patty) And exactly what type is he?

DUKE: (As Kathy) Well, he's dark and dreamy looking.

DUKE: (As Patty) That's my type.

DUKE: (As Kathy) He needs someone who can teach him American customs. That's me. I'm as American as apple pie.

DUKE: (As Patty) Oh, and what am I?

DUKE: (As Kathy) A wet crumpet.

MONDELLO: The producers had noted that off the set Patty Duke had two sides to her own personality. Only much later would she be diagnosed with what was then called manic-depression. In her 1987 autobiography "Call Me Anna," she went public with the diagnosis, one of the first celebrities to do so. And she spent much of the last 30 years working to help destigmatize bipolar disorder.

She also continued her acting career, though her success as a child star made it hard at first for her to be taken seriously as an adult. Her first grown-up film role as drug addicted Neely O'Hara in "Valley Of The Dolls" was rejected by critics about as firmly as that film was.


DUKE: (As Neely O'Hara) I've got to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning - sparkle, Neely, sparkle.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know it's bad to take liquor with those pills.

DUKE: (As Neely O'Hara) They work faster.

MONDELLO: She recovered, though, largely in TV parts, several of which earned her best actress Emmys. There was also a TV movie based on her autobiography in which she played herself from her 30s onward.

Off screen, she was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, married four times, became a grandmother six times and was even name-checked in two Beastie Boys songs. Patty Duke, a child star who had a substantial, varied and influential post childhood career. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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