Saturday, December 1, 2007

Reflections from Call Me Anna Part II (Please Indulge)

In addition to the fascinating account of her involvement with the original play and movie of The Miracle Worker, later in Patty Duke’s fantastic autobiography Call Me Anna, she addresses the making of the television remake of her original triumph, this time taking on the role of Annie Sullivan to Melissa Gilbert’s Helen Keller. As elsewhere in the book, she provides an absorbing detailing of the experience, a role she had fantasized about getting since her original run in the supporting role. She also addresses her devastation at being passed up for playwright William Gibson’s stage sequel Monday After the Miracle, which was a project she set in motion.

Interestingly, her own critique of the second filmed version of The Miracle Worker was dead-on for one of the two reasons why I couldn’t sit through the third version—the Disney remake—for more than fifteen minutes, namely its inappropriate candy store colors (the Disney version also used a screenplay that was a more than slightly bastardized version of the original play).

Having now finished Call Me Anna (which I will say had me riveted even though I had not seen many of the television projects she mentions in the book), I was pleasantly surprised by how much Duke addresses the craft of acting. It’s not a handbook by any means, but it allows insights into her acting mind—her process, her working style, and her insights into the work. She shows us Patty Duke in film and Patty Duke on stage, with a particularly interesting few pages dedicated to her touring work with then-husband John Astin, providing insight to his process as well. I loved reading about her work and her perspectives on it.

Of interest to others will include the endearing telling of her experience on the set of Valley of the Dolls and her encounter with Judy Garland before the Legend was fired, her Emmy-Award winning turn in My Sweet Charlie (based on a stage part she was offered but was unable to take), plus her choices in raising two children in the business (very talented sons Sean Astin from Rudy and The Lord of the Rings and Mackenzie Astin from The Facts of Life and Iron Will).

Call Me Anna is a page-turner, but that is not to say that the book is an entirely pleasurable read. The problem is I love Patty Duke. I love Patty Duke as the actress in The Miracle Worker and The Patty Duke Show, but you can tell from her narrative style and how she portrays events (not to mention interviews I’ve seen of her) that she is an incredibly intelligent, funny, and warm person—someone you’d love to have over for Sunday dinner. Because of this, when she first heads down the road of bad choices spurned on by the onset of bipolar disorder, it’s as hard as watching someone you know personally about making/living those choices (or watching the Britney Spears segment on Access Hollywood on any given night, seriously). It’s riveting, but it’s very hard to experience her experiencing it.

However, I have to also add that I greatly admire her ability to move on from those painful times. She reflects on them with great honesty and humor. She acknowledges that she made the choices but that she wasn’t really making them of her own accord. So she doesn’t wallow in guilt. I love that. Perhaps it’s because there’s such hope and life at the end of the tale that you want her to move on in life unencumbered by needless guilt.

I do have to say that Call Me Anna also returns me to one of my soapboxes, which is the lack of roles for talented women over forty, particularly those who haven’t botoxed themselves into kewpie-dolldom. Patty Duke is the real deal. I wish she’d have more chances to shine. In the works I’ve written, I have consciously attempted to write meaty roles for older women. It’s not always possible, particularly when the plot requires the focus to be on young people, fathers, or something, but I have created my fair share of significant roles for women over 40 and 50 in a number of the projects I write. I wish other writers would do the same.

I’m surprised more producers haven’t called her to Broadway since her Aunt Eller moment in Oklahoma! several years ago. Not only does Duke have a sell-able name, she’s the genuine article. I’d love to see her take on Lost in Yonkers, The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, Doubt, or something entirely new. We can’t let such talented fall through the cracks.

the Broadway Mouth
December 1, 2007

No comments: