Friday, April 1, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Chockfull of Goodies

Patty Duke with her Oscar for best supporting actress in "The Miracle Worker."
by Liz Smith

Remembering "Miracle Worker" Patty Duke ... a Pre-"Hamilton" Musical with the Missing Founding Fathers ... Chockfull of Goodies from The New Yorker.

"WHERE CATHY adores a minuet, the Ballet Russes and crepes suzette/Our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control, what a wild duet! Still they're cousins, identical cousins ..."

That, as almost anybody of a certain age knows, was the theme song to "The Patty Duke Show" which ran from 1963-66. The show, which was charming, if typical of its era, would have probably made her a star, if she'd come to it as an unknown.
But Patty Duke was already an Oscar-winning mini-legend by the time she signed on for her TV series. (She had won her best supporting actress Oscar — at age 16 — for her shattering performance as Helen Keller in the screen adaptation of "The Miracle Worker" which she had played for three years on Broadway.)

Over the course of a sometimes-tumultuous career, Duke won two Golden Globes, three Emmys (out of nine nominations) and also served as President of the Screen Actors Guild.
Patty Duke as Helen Keller, with Anne Bancroft as her teacher Annie Sullivan.
The announcement of her death, at age 69, from sepsis, came as a complete shock. Duke was a genuine survivor — a traumatic childhood, her battle with a bi-polar condition, four marriages (in her last, to Michael Pearce, she finally found contentment) and "Valley of the Dolls."

Over the years I met Miss Duke on a number of occasions and she was always funny and wry and with a fine sense of the inevitable absurdities of show biz and life in general. She had seen the best and worst of both, and had landed — not without great pain — on her feet.
Patty Duke and Michael Pearce in 1987.
My most vivid memory of Patty Duke was attending a screening of "Valley of the Dolls" some years back. After the movie, Patty and two of her co-stars, Barbara Parkins and Lee Grant sat on stage for a Q&A. Grant and Parkins were fine, but Patty was a riot. She totally embraced the camp elements of the movie and hilariously described her "commitment" to the role of Neely O'Hara, one which everybody assured her would result in another Academy Award. (Alas, the film gave her the worst reviews of her career.)
Patty as Neely O'Hara in "Valley of the Dolls."
But, she recovered, and went on to have a long, successful career, mostly on television, with big screen roles scattered in. In fact, she recently completed a movie titled "Power of the Air" which will be released next year.

Duke wrote two books, "Call Me Anna" and "Brilliant Madness: Living With Manic Depressive Illness." Both give a powerful look at the often-suffering real woman behind the cheerful — and long-lasting — image created for her by "The Patty Duke Show."

RIP Patty Duke, condolences to her husband, three sons and friends.
Patty Duke with her granddaughters Elizabeth Astin and Alexandra Astin.
IT seems you're nobody if you haven't seen "Hamilton" on Broadway. In what I considered one of my personal tragedies, I had to turn back my opening night tickets because of an unexpected illness. "Hamilton" has gone on without me to be the biggest hit on Broadway. Now, comes the April 4th issue of The New Yorker with an insight by Michael Schulman referencing a line in "Hamilton," where Hamilton publishes a retort to John Adams, declaring, "Sit down, John, you fat mother fucker!"
This takes me back to remembering the opening number of the musical "1776," written by Sherman Edwards and my good friend, Peter Stone (You see it pays to go to the theatre in whatever decade you can.) Edwards and Stone had written their musical about the birth of this nation in a song simply called "Sit, Down, John." I remember Peter Stone nagging me to go to see his historical musical, which ran from 1969 through 1972. It starred William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard and Betty Buckley. I thought at the time it wasn't my cup of tea. And I recall being chastised by Peter Stone at the coat check in Sardis for not having paid him his due by seeing it. (He was a Tony winner and a widely and much cherished celebrity in the theatre.) I eventually saw "1776" and loved it.
Original 1969 Broadway cast members of "1776" (clockwise, from left): Rex Everhart, Ken Howard, William Daniels, and Clifford David.
Writer Michael Schulman reminds us that "1776" includes certain Founding Fathers that are not seen in "Hamilton" — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock. "The plot revolves around the overbearing Adams," Schulman writes in The New Yorker. "I'm obnoxious and disliked," Adams sings as he tries to goad the Second Continental Congress into signing the Declaration of Independence.

I am thrilled that the "Encores!" series is reviving "1776" at City Center. It plays until April 3rd. The cast is as racially diverse as "Hamilton." I wish for Peter Stone's and memories sake that somebody would bring "1776" truly back to Broadway. It would be an interesting foil to the "Hamilton" smash hit.
Encores! revives a pre-"Hamilton" musical, from 1969, also about the birth of our nation.
ILLUSTRATION BY DADU SHIN
THIS issue of The New Yorker I'm referring to is chockfull of goodies. From the "Talk of the Town" to the Editor David Remnick's long dissertation on why Aretha Franklin is non-pareil.

What would We the People do without The New Yorker?

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.