I was in third grade when the reruns of The Patty Duke show was on Nick-at-Nite, and after my parents put me to sleep, I would sneak watch the show. When my teacher asked me what my favorite show was I proudly responded Patty Duke, but she thought I meant a Disney cartoon called Patty Duck because what eight year old would be watching a black and white sit-com from the 1960’s? Like many people, I can still sing the entire theme song to the show! So obviously as soon as I discovered Patty Duke had written an autobiography, I got it from the library and was absolutely enraptured by her life story.
I liked her from the first paragraph! Patty, or Anna, as she would prefer to be called, took a straightforward approach in telling her life story. It was clear that she tried very hard to be honest about everything in her life. That honesty was refreshing, but also heartbreaking.
At a young age, Patty was taken in as an acting student of married couple, John and Ethel Ross. Her parents’ broken marriage led her mother to basically relinquish Patty to the Rosses, which would be Patty’s undoing until she turned 18. They were effective in getting her work in commercials and television shows, but the success came at quite a price. They renamed her without so much as discussing it with her; they just informed her that she was no longer Anna, but was Patty. To secure their place in her life as her agent, they withheld praise and constantly put her down to make her feel that her success was not because of her, but was solely a result of them.
Patty’s big break came when she starred on Broadway as Helen Keller opposite Anne Bancroft. Although the show and Patty received high praise, her success was not acknowledged by her mother or the Rosses. Even her Academy Award winning performance in the movie version of the story was a negative event as her mother wasn’t with her at the awards, Patty wasn’t permitted to even select her own wardrobe, and the Rosses took credit for her success.
Her experiences were plagued with negativity and in turn, those stories plagued the book with the same somber tone. Patty suffered depression and attempted suicide multiple times. Honestly, by the end of the book I’d had enough of reading about her medical and emotional drama.
My favorite part of her story was when she described her interactions with her fellow actors. I enjoyed hearing how she approached a role and how she befriended those around her. Her love affairs were also highly entertaining. When she wrote this book she had been married four time and even became pregnant out of wedlock – the ultimate scandal for a good girl of her era!
I just wish that she would have talked about a few more positive events in her life rather than relaying what felt like every discouraging experience. I was also surprised to learn about the number of times she was nominated for awards for her performances and how many ones she won. Although this had a rather serious tone to it, it was very enlightening and I was glad I read it.