Bipolar Actress Anna Marie "Patty" Duke

Lithium was her savior

Patty Duke Bipolar
Patty Duke. Getty Images - Archive Photos - FPG

Anna Marie Duke was born in New York into a troubled household. Her father was an alcoholic, her mother an undiagnosed manic depressive. The first six years of her life were shadowed by her parents' fighting; after her father was kicked out or walked out (reports vary), though, her mother's violent rages still made home a fearsome place.

Her older brother Raymond's interest in acting brought the attention of managers John and Ethel Ross to the Duke family and, ultimately, it was young Anna who became their client.

The Rosses recognized in 8-year-old Anna the talent that could make them wealthy, and they took over the child's life in an effort to capitalize on their find. It was the Rosses who changed her name, telling her, "Anna Marie is dead. You're Patty now."

Anna - now Patty - was not yet 13 when stardom came in the form of the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, which also starred Anne Bancroft as Helen's teacher Annie Sullivan. In 1962 the two recreated their roles on film, and at 16 Patty Duke became the youngest person (at the time) ever to win an Oscar (before that time, child actors had been given only special child-sized statuettes). Patty remembers that John and Ethel Ross took their dog to the Oscars, but did not allow Patty's mother to attend the ceremony.

From 1963 to 1966, Patty starred in her own TV series, The Patty Duke Show, in which she played two parts - a "normal American teenager" and the teen's identical cousin from England.

But behind the scenes, Patty was the Ross's puppet. She was sexually abused by John Ross, had access to prescription drugs and alcohol, and had to do their housework and cooking to boot. She has said that it took years of therapy for her to recover repressed memories of the sexual abuse. And she hated "Patty" - yet the other cast members had no inkling of the misery that hid below the surface of the hard-working, talented child.

In 1965, at the age of 18, she escaped from the Rosses by marrying Harry Falk, an assistant director on her TV show. He was 32. After the show was canceled, Patty's severe depression signaled the start of an odyssey of mental illness that also included bouts of mania, suicide attempts, dangerous anorexia, drug abuse and alcoholism. She and Falk were divorced in 1969, and in 1970 she had an affair with actor John Astin that left her pregnant. In a manic mood she married Michael Tell, whom she barely knew, later that year; that marriage was annulled after 13 days. Sean Astin (lately of Lord of the Rings fame) was born in February of 1971.

John Astin eventually divorced his wife, and he and Patty were married in August of 1972, when Sean was 18 months old. John had three sons from his first marriage, and he and Patty had another son, Mackenzie Astin, in 1974, so at 25 Patty found herself the mother of five boys. The entire family spent a great deal of time traveling in a station wagon from one theater job to another. Patty hated it. Also, she later characterized her emotional relationship with John as one based mainly on her dependence and need for a strong father figure.

Patty also continued her work in films and TV during these years, including the 1976 miniseries Captains and the Kings for which she won an Emmy.

In 1982, after she and John Astin had separated, Patty was finally diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. She said receiving the diagnosis was a huge relief - that she never heard two better words than "manic depressive." Lithium became her savior.

In 1985 she and Astin were divorced, and in 1986 she married Michael Pearce, a military man who had been hired to prepare her for a role. Her autobiography, Call Me Anna, was published in 1987, and a book on bipolar disorder written with medical reporter Gloria Hochman, A Brilliant Madness, in 1993. In 1999 she even was able to star in a TV-movie The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights, bringing together again the cast of the series of the show she had hated making in childhood.

Anna Marie Duke is finally in charge of her own life.

Books by Anna Marie "Patty" Duke:

Call Me Anna

A Brilliant Madness by Duke and Gloria Hochman

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