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“Sparkle, Patty, Sparkle!” – A Divine Evening

San Fran Bay Times
Patty Duke Sparkles at Show in Her Honor at Castro Theatre
By Sister Dana Van Iquity
Published: July 23, 2009

Patty Duke made an in-person appearance at the latest Mark Huestis fundraising production, “Sparkle, Patty, Sparkle!” on July 21 at the Castro Theatre. This was a gala tribute to the Academy Award winner as a benefit for New Leaf Services, NAMI Walk, and Mental Health Association of SF. Before screening the 1967 Jacqueline Susann flick, Valley of the Dolls, and before Duke was interviewed by comic Bruce Vilanch, we enjoyed clips of the actress’ film and TV appearances, dating back to her Remco toy commercial of 1958, and including various talk and variety shows from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her Oscar winning performance at age 16 with Anne Bancroft in the 1979 The Miracle Worker got a big hand from the audience.

After a narrator spoke the opening lines of Dolls: “You’ve got to climb Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls,” Connie Champagne reprised her stage role in the past as Neely O’Hara, in that green sequin and chiffon gown and O’Hara hair from the movie. Champagne sang live the theme song from the movie, while the Valley Girls danced next to her. She recited part of that stirring “Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle” monologue and her insane scene at the end. Matthew Martin as Helen Lawson walked in quoting, “The song goes, and so does the kid.” During the notorious catfight, Neely snatched off the aging star’s red wig to reveal the grey hair beneath. Later Martin would return to sing live “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” as Lawson, complete with that ridiculous mobile coming out of her backside.

With the jazzy theme song from her Patty Duke Show where she played identical cousins, La Duke descended the aisle to take the stage. “I’ve searched all my life for the writer of that song,” said Duke. “I’d show HIM how a hotdog could make him lose control!” She said, “For years I have enjoyed the support of the gay community, and I love them so much I began to fantasize what would happen if I were in a roomful of gay people, and tonight I got my wish.” She said, “I try not to give Neely much credit, but I KNOW that’s why everyone’s here.” She called Champagne’s interpretation of her Neely as “sensational.” She said author Susann was “always very sweet and very nice and very [long pause] conflicted.” Duke spoke of Susann’s first viewing of Dolls on a yacht with 70 industry people, when the film was too speedy and Susann fled from the screening room.

“We never saw her again,” said Duke. “Maybe she fell overboard.”

Vilanch related how the flushing of the wig was based on a true story when Miss Garland snatched a rival female star’s wooden leg while she was in a restroom stall.

He asked Duke about Judy Garland getting fired from playing the part of Miss Lawson, who was playing Judy. She called Garland “charming and very funny” on the set. “The director [Mark Robson] was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life,” she said. “He’s also passed on. He’s having dinner with the Rosses!” She said the director made Garland be on the set for Dolls and kept her waiting from 6:30 a.m. until 4 in the afternoon, and by that time she had imbibed quite a bit and couldn’t function well when finally called. “She was devastated,” said Duke. She said six months later Garland played the Palace dressed in her suit from Dolls.

Duke had been told Dolls was a serious movie about addiction. “I hated everything about the movie except Sharon Tate. I was always horrified when someone told me they had seen the movie,” she said. “But the gay community has brought me to not only LIKE watching the movie but also LOVE that it’s not serious.” She said she was “ecstatic and grateful” to be present on the Castro Theatre stage.

She spoke candidly about her mental illness diagnosis 26 years ago. She touted the power of medication and follow-up therapy. “I find it is really helpful to have someone to talk to who isn’t related to me,” she said. “I learned there is such a thing as a balanced life. Then I met Mikey [her current husband Mike Pearce] and together we live a nice balanced life.” She added, “He waits on me hand and foot, and I do nothing. THIS is balance!” She joked about all the movies and TV she did, saying, “I had thought I was unemployed, but after seeing all those clips, I think, ‘Holy crap, I DID work a lot!’” She noted that playing identical cousins on TV was like shooting a movie every week.

She talked of discovering her true self in her aQutobiography about her real person, Anna. Patty Duke was a creation by her adopted parents, the Rosses. They had seen her slightly older brother in a play and adopted him from their terminally depressed mother. Then they adopted her a few years later at age seven. “They said to me, ‘Anna is dead; you’re Patty now,’” she said. “Part of my 30 years on the couch was trying to bring back Anna.”

She added, “It became very important to me in my thirties to have the identity and the name that was given to me by my parents.” She joked, “I had people stuttering all over the world [when addressing her as] Anna-Patty-Ann-Pat-Ann-uh.” She said the more famous she and the Rosses got, “the more distorted things got, and eventually there was sexual abuse.” She said the latter began when she started filming The Miracle Worker. “I have forgiven them. They are now passed on,” she said. “And most importantly, I have now forgiven myself.” She said, “Another thing I have in common with the gay community is survival.” She said, “At the age of 62, I am able to look back on all that – certainly stay in touch with it – but I don’t live it.”

Vilanch complimented her on her “intensely physical and emotional performance in Miracle Worker. Duke then did her impression of the famous water pump scene, imitating, “Wa-wa!” She said a whole lot of her talented acting in the movie came from Bancroft, who respected her as a fellow actress and never talked down to her. “That allowed me to feel safe enough to do embarrassing things on the set,” she said. “I refuse to believe she is not still on the planet with us,” she said lovingly of the late actress. She said she had the good fortune to meet the subject of the movie, Helen Keller, on her 80th birthday in her home in Connecticut with just the two of them. She announced that in October a statue of Keller will dwell in the statuary hall in Congress. Originally it was to be Keller in her later years, but that idea got scrapped and now it will be an eight-foot statue of the little girl at the pump.

“Those two women had no idea I existed, but they became the ground-stone of my life,” she said. “I have learned from them generosity and giving back.”

Duke did a command performance from Huestis singing “It’s Impossible” from the fundraising scene in Dolls. She then revealed that in the notorious beads scene, when the strand accidentally outlined her breasts, they called “Cut!” and then the director wanted it to happen again for subsequent takes. Unfortunately the beads would not cooperate, so he had them SEWN to her dress that way.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sainted Huestis as “St. Pansy Visual Out of the Celluloid Closet.” Supervisor Bevan Dufty presented Duke with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proclamation making it “Anna Pearce Day in San Francisco.” She closed saying, “How very important it is to us who perform and go out into the community, trying to be of service. How very important it is that you continue to call upon us and that you continue to send us your love.”

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