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TV Preview: Patty Duke pairs off again as 'Identical cousins'

Tuesday, April 27, 1999

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Despite what you may think, knowing all the words to the theme song of "The Patty Duke Show" is not an exclusive skill.

    TV Preview: "The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights"

When: Tonight at 9 on CBS

Starring: Patty Duke and William Schallert.


"I hear that song, a cappella, from total strangers at least three times a week," Duke says, by phone from her home in northern Idaho. "There was a time when I decided I was a serious actress and didn't deal in that kind of stuff, but I love it now. It's just another little bit of contact with another human being," she says of the singing fans, who invariably say nice things about the 52-year-old actress and her 1960s television series.

Duke, whose name off-screen is actually Anna Pearce, returns to TV tonight as identical cousins Patty and Cathy Lane. As baby boomers may well recall, Cathy was the one who'd lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Berkeley Square. But Patty had only seen the sights a girl could see from Brooklyn Heights....

Oops, got carried away there for a minute.

Patty is now a drama teacher at her alma mater, Brooklyn Heights High School, which is in danger of being turned into a mall by her arch-enemy, Sue Ellen. Patty is divorced from Richard (Eddie Applegate), her high school sweetheart, and is the grandmother of a 14-year-old girl. The recently widowed Cathy, meanwhile, has been living with her teen-age son in Scotland but comes to America for a visit.

"The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights," airing at 9 tonight on CBS, reunites Duke with William Schallert and Jean Byron, who played her parents. Also back is Paul O'Keefe as Patty's younger brother, Ross. Kitty Sullivan, who played the original Sue Ellen, was busy, so Cindy Williams from "Laverne & Shirley" stepped in.

The idea of a reunion movie had been floating around for years, but Duke always said no.

She resisted, in part, because she associated those years with the controlling managers Ethel and John Ross, who took her real name, her childhood, her relationship with her family and an unknown amount of her earnings. She may have chafed under their control, but she warmly remembered her co-stars.

TV Listings

"But I let so much time go by that it was beyond awkward to call, I thought. Turns out I could have called at any moment and they would have happily been there for me."

Staring the big 5-0 in the face made the difference.

"When I was 49, besides being panicked about 50, I started looking back over time and what was the good, what was the bad, what was the boring. I realized I did have a strong connection to those people and that because of 'The Patty Duke Show,' I had a strong connection to a good portion of the public, and they can't be all wrong. Thank God I was asked the question one more time before I turned 50, and I said yes."

It took two years to secure the rights to the project and Duke gave up at one point, but producer Jim Green persisted. Stepping back into the Patty-Cathy shoes was a little tentative but "stepping back into the relationship with the family was like stepping into your old slippers. It was wonderful," she says, drawing out the last word with enthusiasm and warmth.

"I had a little trouble feeling comfortable with Patty and Cathy, not only because it had been so long but because I didn't watch the show very much and, others, like the people who come up and sing to me on the street, they know it really well. So I felt a very big obligation to them to get it right."

In her 1987 autobiography, "Call Me Anna," Duke writes that she never had any idea of the size of the show's audience. "More than that, I honest to God don't remember any of the episodes, largely because to prevent my head from being turned I was never allowed to watch it. That was a flat-out edict from the Rosses.... Except for watching 10 minutes of it in Japanese when I went to Japan on a publicity tour, I never saw any of the shows until just a few years ago."

Duke knew enough about the series, though, to jot a note to writer Neal Israel about a scene that she felt was missing from the TV movie. "There was always a Poppo-Patty moment, the moment that made her come out of her reverie and acknowledge there has to be some logic in life, so that's what he wrote. It was truly lovely ... it sort of puts a lump in your throat."

Anyone who was a regular viewer of the old show remembers those back-of-the-head shots when Patty and Cathy were conversing. There are a couple of those tossed in here, for old time's sake, but the technological ability to make both women appear on screen has advanced greatly in three decades.

"We couldn't afford what you can see on the big screen 50 times a week now, but for our show, it was pretty astonishing to be able to have the characters see each other and then embrace and see both faces. And the split screens are smoother. They're not quite as crude as they used to be."

Although it seems that Duke is always working, usually in TV movies, she had a dry spell -- not unlike other actresses her age. "Before I did the reunion show, I hadn't worked in two years, which was really a life exercise for me."

She began to wonder if perhaps she shouldn't have done "A Christmas Memory," in which she played an elderly woman forced to part with the young boy she's grown to love. "I had to recall something I had said a few years ago when someone asked me about my run in television movies and I said I've had a great ride and I was aware at any moment, it could stop. That was great hyperbole.

"So now we've done the reunion show and, once again, six months have gone by," without another job. Given statistics released last week by the Screen Actors Guild, which Duke once headed, her slowdown isn't surprising.

Two out of three acting jobs last year went to performers under 40 years old. Men had an easier time finding work than women 40 and older who were "significantly underrepresented on television and in films," the Guild said.

Duke recently returned to her stage roots in Spokane, Wash., playing Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" at the Spokane Civic Theatre, where tickets for the four-week run sold out in a single day. "I had a ball. It is the drug that keeps you coming back for more," she said of the theater.

Fans of "The Patty Duke Show" aren't the only strangers who approach the actress on the street.

"As many strangers who come up and sing the 'Patty Duke' theme song to me, there are at least as many who come up and say, 'Could I talk to you for a minute about manic-depression?' Sometimes I think, oh my God, these people have a very inflated idea of what I can do for them, but simply connecting and telling them how it feels from my point of view seems to be helpful."

Duke detailed the story of her struggle with manic-depression and successful treatment with prescription drugs in her autobiography. "I'm really just an advocate. I don't diagnose folks and I don't treat them, but we like to know we're not alone."

With candor and humor, she adds, "I remember saying the last thing I ever expected in my life was to sit in front of the Congress of the United States and say I am mentally ill. You know what? Once you've done that, there's a tremendous amount of freedom. There are no secrets anymore."

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