A conversation with Patty Duke in 1965 had me feeling like her big brother or even her father. Since I was neither – and because I didn't know the man in question and most of all because it was none of my business – I kept my mouth shut.
She was in the third and final season of "The Patty Duke Show," a sitcom about lookalike cousins. She was 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old, depending on the source of your information. Patty and ABC seemed to prefer 18, which made our conversation a bit more uncomfortable. The interview was set up to promote her career and her series, but it turned out to be mostly a discussion of her love life.
She was about to marry Harry G. Falk Jr., a 32-year-old director she had met when she was 15 years old. It was then she set her cap for him – forgive the quaint old expression, it's a favorite of mine, though I haven't a clue who came up with it . . . or why.
In describing her history and her relationship with Falk, she sounded like an immature 13-year-old. This marriage doesn't stand a chance, I thought, but, of course, I continued to listen as she rattled on how over time Falk began to see her as a grown-up. His feelings intensified after her program moved from New York City to Los Angeles, and he remained behind to take a job on a Peter Falk series, "The Trials of O'Brien."
"We talked five times a day on the phone," she told me, "and our conversations would last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. I'm not saying our bills were huge, but Harry might be marrying me just as an economy measure."
In September 1965 Patty Duke had an appendicitis attack and had to undergo an emergency operation.
"You know the first face I saw when I got back to my room after the operation?"
It was Harry's, of course. He had flown to California after he was told about her illness. He proposed two weeks later while she was recovering at home.
The marriage lasted four years. At the time of our interview I was unaware of many things in her background which might have accounted for her rush to get married. Her father, John Duke, was an alcoholic; her mother was clinically depressed. When Patty was 6, her mother and father separated; two years later her mother turned her over to John and Ethel Ross, who guided her into acting and became her managers. From what I've read, the Rosses treated the girl as their meal ticket and pocketed most of her earnings. She was heavily medicated because, it turns out, she was bipolar. Along the way Patty Duke became a Broadway star in "The Miracle Worker," then went to Hollywood and won an Oscar for the movie version.
At 18, Patty Duke was liberated, then quickly got herself engaged and married. After her divorce in 1969 she married a second time, to rock promoter Michael Tell. This marriage lasted 13 days. Before that she reportedly had an affair with Desi Arnaz Jr., this time reversing the age difference – she was 23, he was 17. Her third husband was the most famous, actor John Astin, who was 16 years her senior. This union lasted 13 years. In 1986, one year after her divorce from Astin, she married drill sergeant Michael Pearce. They moved to Idaho where he became a firefighter and she kept a low profile.
In the 1980s she starred in three short-lived television series, "It Takes Two" (1982-83), with Richard Crenna and Helen Hunt; "Hail to the Chief," in which she played the United States President Julia Mansfield (1985, canceled after seven episodes), and "Karen's Song" with Teri Hatcher (1987, canceled after 13 episodes).
During the 1960s he had a brief recording career. Later she starred in several television movies and had several short-lived series, including "It Takes Two" (1982-83), "Hail to the Chief" (1985), "Karen's Son" (1987), and "Amazing Grace (1995). She remained active until her death in 2016, at the age of 69. As she aged, she took on the look of someone confronted by a lifelong obstacle course. But I remember her best as a lovestruck teenager.