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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Posted by Commonwealth at 9:18 AM
On July 27, Oscar winning actress and mental-health advocate Patty Duke packed the house at The Commonwealth Club. In conversation with KCBS entertainment reporter Jan Wahl, Duke spoke candidly about her troubled childhood and shared some of her most personal moments with the audience.
She began by discussing her upbringing in New York City, and how at age seven she was sent to live with Doug and Ethel Ross, the couple who are in part responsible for her fame -- and also her misfortune. The Rosses changed her name from Anna Marie to Patty, and at age 16 she was cast to play Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” Duke spoke fondly of Anne Bancroft, with whom she worked with on the film. “Mostly what she did was that she allowed me to know she loved me unconditionally,” Duke said.
Though she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Keller, Duke’s life was beginning to fall apart. During filming of “The Miracle Worker,” the Rosses introduced Duke to alcohol, and she says she began drinking alongside them. Around the same time, she says she became a victim of sexual abuse at the hand of the Ross’. Though it wasn’t easy, in order to move forward with her life, Duke said she had to come to terms with that: “For my own health, I had to forgive them completely.”
On a lighter note, Duke discussed her experiences in Hollywood -- a place she said is very different today than it was during her time. She recalled her adoration for Gregory Peck, noting, “It was like God talking to me” when he spoke. She also offered her opinions on fellow childhood stars, like Michael Jackson, and said she felt a common bond with many others who started out as children. “Michael never understood what he was worth,” she observed.
Duke also spoke of her mental health, which she has openly discussed with the public for quite some time. At age 35, she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, a diagnosis that was “the beginning of being able to really sort things out,” according to the actress. The purpose of the subsequent books she has authored on the subject was to “shed some light on one person’s experience with mental illness who has had a very positive recovery.”
Though she has enjoyed a long and successful career in Hollywood, Duke said her happiest moment was meeting her husband of almost 24 years, calling him “her ultimate blessing.” When asked by Wahl what she hoped people would take away from the discussion, Duke again emphasized the importance of mental-health issues. She wants the issue “to be part of the march against mental illness, because mental health is what our lives are mostly about now.” When Wahl asked how she made it through it all, Duke replied, “Due to the kindness of the universe, and the kindness of many, many people along the way”.
A star from stage to screen, her credits run the gamut -- ranging from her first Academy Award winning role in “The Miracle Worker” (1962) to her character as “Madam Morrible” in the current San Francisco touring production of the blockbuster smash Broadway hit "Wicked." Duke, the second woman to be elected president of the Hollywood Screen Actors Guild, is perhaps best known and beloved for starring as herself in the 1960’s popular TV comedy series "The Patty Duke Show."
At age 16, Patty Duke was the youngest actor to win an Academy Award in 1962 for her portrayal of the blind and deaf Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” She has appeared in numerous movies and television series since then, including “My Sweet Charlie,” “Valley of the Dolls,” and more recently, “Judging Amy” and “Touched by an Angel.” During the 1960’s Duke also had a successful singing career, with several of her songs landing on the Top 40 charts.
In 2007 Patty Duke was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of North Florida for her efforts to advance awareness of mental-health issues. She has since become a role model for many individuals suffering from depression and openly discusses her struggles through her activism. It was in her first bestseller, Call Me Anna, in 1988 that Patty Duke revealed her long-kept secret – that she, in fact, suffered from a serious-but-treatable-mental illness called manic depression. In her second book, A Brilliant Madness, which she co-wrote in 1997 with medical reporter Gloria Hochman, she shed light on this destructive illness, sharing what it's like to live with the disorder and the latest findings concerning its most effective treatments.
The actress and mother has also become an ardent spokesperson and political advocate for various issues including the Equal Rights Amendment, AIDS, and nuclear disarmament. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband Michael Pearce.
--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department