Bruce Vilanch To Interview Patty Duke

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Patty Duke
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Patty loves to rock ‘n’ roll!
Legendary Oscar-winner Patty Duke comes to the Castro
by David Alex Nahmod

Those of a certain age will no doubt recognize the title of this story. It’s a line from the theme song to The Patty Duke Show, which aired on ABC from 1963-66. The actress was on quite a roll at the time – she had just won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. The TV series was her follow-up. She was the youngest performer in history to have a weekly show named after her.

In the years that followed, life offered many ups and downs for Patty Duke. Valley of the Dolls, her 1967 foray into adult roles, wasn’t quite the serious film she’d hoped it would be, instead becoming a camp classic. But she admits to having since made her peace with the character of Neely O’Hara.

“Sometimes when I’m out and about, people will come up to me and tell me how much they love Valley of the Dolls, ” she said in a recent interview. “It had its impact.”

At Sparkle, Patty, Sparkle! on July 20, Duke will appear for an onstage Q&A with gay bon vivant Bruce Vilanch, and pose for photos with fans. Then Valley of the Dolls will screen on the Castro Theatre’s giant screen. It’s the latest extravaganza from Marc Huestis, our own local show-biz legend.

For more than a decade, Huestis has presented classic Hollywood films at the Castro with stars in attendance. Sparkle, Patty, Sparkle! is a rare double-feature for the entrepreneur. At Noon that afternoon, Huestis and the Castro will present The Miracle Worker, free to seniors and children under 16. Duke was delighted to hear of this, as Helen Keller remains her favorite role. In October, she’ll be attending a ceremony in Washington, DC, when an 8-foot-tall statue of Keller will be unveiled in Statuary Hall.

“I’m not sure The Miracle Worker is still a big draw,” she said, “so I’m glad it’s getting a screening.” She extends her personal thanks to Leo Madrid, owner/curator of Gallery 560, who is the matinee’s sponsor. Candid about her battles with bipolar disorder, Duke was moved to hear that Gallery 560 offers mental health-care benefits to their employees.

“I still do a lot of mental-health activism,” she said. “After 25 years of activism, I’m no longer spitting in the wind. I’ve seen mental illness become destigmatized. People are now more likely to talk about it.”

Duke is currently living in town while appearing for an extended run as Madame Morrible in the touring production of Wicked. She reports that many in the show’s sold-out crowds greet her at the stage door, expressing their delight to see and meet her. Quite a few said they had no idea she was in the show until they opened their Playbills. B.A.R. asked why her famous name wasn’t on the Orpheum Theatre marquee.

“Because Wicked is an institution,” she said cheerfully. When she agreed to do the show, she told the producers not to change anything. “Nobody’s on the marquee. But I’ve made myself available for PR.” She’s greatly enjoying her run in the play, and her time in SF. And she’s well aware of the city’s standing as an LGBT mecca. Her support for gay rights has been steady and strong.

“I’ve been in show business most of my life. Show biz has always been a safe haven for gay people. To me, they’re just people, they’re my friends. I was born loving all people.”

These days, any talk of gay rights leads to Prop 8, for which Duke had strong words. “I’m appalled by it!” she said. “How can anyone regulate who someone else loves? It’s disheartening to see that people buy into it.”

Duke says that she looks forward to the Castro Theatre event – she enjoys meeting fans. She’ll be staying with Wicked for a while, and was thrilled when son Sean Astin brought his family to the Orpheum to see her. She also spoke proudly of son Mackenzie, who now works with his Dad, John Astin, at a theatre company in Maryland. She beamed with pride as she spoke of her other children, and her five grandchildren. “My grandkids are all girls.”

She was also excited to hear that Paul O’Keefe, who played her brother on The Patty Duke Show, was coming to town, performing in the orchestra of Rent at the Curran. They’re looking forward to hanging out together.

Patty Duke says she hopes to continue working. She has one unfulfilled career goal: she’d like to do Shakespeare one day.

Sparkle, Patty Sparkle!, Mon., July 20, Castro Theatre, 420 Castro St., SF. ($60: 6 p.m. meet-and-greet, 8 p.m. onstage show & film; $30 show & film.) Tickets: A Different Light Books,, or (415) 863-0611. Proceeds benefit New Leaf Services, NAMI & the Mental Health Association of SF.

The Miracle Worker, Mon., July 20 at Noon, Castro Theatre. Free to seniors and students under 16. General admission: $5. Note: Duke will not appear for the Noon movie.

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