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The miracle called Patty Duke

| May 29, 2021 1:00 AM

At age 16, Patty Duke became the youngest person to win an Oscar from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She played the part of the young, blind and deaf Helen Keller, first on a Broadway stage, then in the 1962 film, "The Miracle Worker."

In her book, "Call Me Anna," she described in detail the night she won the award for being the best supporting actress. The ceremony was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, Calif., April 9, 1963, and was hosted by Frank Sinatra.

Her mother was unable to attend due to the demands of an overly controlling manager who insisted that mom remain on the East Coast. However, her manager did insist that his dog, Bambi, attend wearing a dress with a mink stole. The dog was carried to the event in a pyramid-shaped black leather bag. “Only in Hollywood,” Patty quipped.

Patty said she hated the dress she wore, and described her hair as making her look like her grandmother. She felt like “little Miss Goody Two-Shoes and just wanted to die.” She decided to just sit down, be quiet, and not care about the outcome.

Her lack of interest in being named the awardee ended as the music swelled and George Chakiris started to read the names of the nominees who were Patty’s competition – Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate), Mary Badham (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Thelma Ritter (Birdman of Alcatraz). At that point she knew she really wanted the coveted statue.

She wrote that she wasn’t sure she had actually heard her name because she was wishing so hard. She found herself immobile in her seat long enough for John Ross, her manager, who was sitting behind her, to lean forward and whisper, “They’re not going to bring it to you, honey, you better go get it!”

She has little recollection of what followed, but she does recall saying “Thank You.”

In 1986 she married Idaho-born and raised Mike Pearce. The last 20 years of Patty Duke’s life were spent as Anna Pearce, a resident of Coeur d’Alene.

She was active in many charitable causes. Most notable was her commitment to aid for those with mental illness.

She performed in numerous movies and TV programs up to her death. She died March 29, 2016, in Coeur d’Alene, a community she deeply loved for its diversity and talent.

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The Museum of North Idaho (MNI) is grateful to Patty’s family for allowing us to display her Oscar in our new exhibit spotlighting Hollywood’s impact on our region. Mike Pearce knows she would be thrilled that her Oscar was being used to promote the new MNI.

You can purchase a copy of her book "Call Me Anna," the sole source material for this column at the MNI. If you become a MNI member you can receive a discount on all books sold in the museum. "The Miracle Worker" can be seen on the internet in its entirety. The acting is spellbinding!