Mar 29, 2016

The Patty Duke Show

I was saddened to hear of the death of Patty Duke today, at age 69.

The actress was a long-time friend of the gay community, supporting gay rights and AIDS research, and appearing in a number of gay-friendly productions, such as By Design (1982), in which she played a lesbian fashion designer, and Hail to the Chief (1985), about the first woman president of the U.S., with a gay Head of the Secret Service ("The deadliest fairy you'll every meet").

Two of her sons, Sean Astin (born 1971) and Mackenzie Astin (1973), are actors.  They have also appeared in gay-positive productions.  Mackenzie is bisexual.

Of all her memorable performances on tv and in the movies, Baby Boomers remember her most fondly for The Patty Duke Show (1963-66).  It was before my time, but I've seen episodes on youtube.

Patty Duke plays Cathy Lane, a sophisticated, urbane Scottish teenager "who's lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Barclay Square," but comes to America to live with her uncle.  She has a cousin, Patty Lane, a typical American teenager who "loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control."

Guess what: Patty Duke plays both girls!  They're identical cousins!

Ok, there's no such thing.  They must be sisters -- there's more going on in that family tree than meets the eye.  Better not to ask.

We also shouldn't ask about what happened to Cathy's parents.  Better leave it open, like Mike and Carol's exes on The Brady Bunch.

Cathy sets in to become Americanized, and the standard sitcom complications ensue:
Patty gets a crush on her French teacher.
Cathy tutors a basketball star.
Patty becomes the editor of the school paper.
Cathy gets a date with Sal Mineo.

Looking through the episode synopses on Wikipedia, I find few instances of the girls masquerading as each other.  I guess the novelty of seeing Patty Duke playing two characters at once was enough to fuel the plots.

The family was rounded out with a mother and a father (William Schallert, Jean Byron), a kid brother (Paul O'Keefe), and a series of boyfriends and crushes, notably Eddie Applegate (Richard, who appeared in 88 episodes), but also just about every young adult in Hollywood: Ronnie Schell, Steve Franken, James Brolin, Frank Sinatra Jr., Bobby Vinton, Richard Gautier, and Daniel J. Travanti.

Celebrities like Frankie Avalon, Sammy Davis, Jr. Troy Donahue, and Robert Goulet played themselves.  Chad and Jeremy and the Shindogs performed.

No gay specific characters, obviously, but the show was memorable for not trying to push people into a heteronormative box.  Patty and Cathy's classmates included science nerds, movie buffs, artistic types, athletic types, boys who weren't interested in girls, girls who weren't interested in boys.

William Asher, who co-created the program and wrote most episodes, went on to the gay-subtext filled Bewitched.

In 1999, 33 years after the series ended, many of the cast reprised their roles in The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights.  The family reconvenes to prevent the destruction of the old high school.

Patty is a drama teacher, divorced from Richard, with a grown son (Alain Goulem) and a granddaughter, and Cathy is a widow with a teenage son (Kent Riley. left).

Neither of them is immersed in the heterosexual nuclear family box.

See also: Mackenzie Astin; Sean Astin