You know how sometimes our celebrity crushes, if you will, come to us via osmosis? When we all fall in love with a celebrity, famous person, entertainer, and then discover someone in their life is just as awesome and talented? This happens to me all the time, usually with musicians but occasionally with other entertainers as well.
I’ll give you an example.
Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan launched their careers by starring in Step Up. Jenna had already been acting for 4 years when the movie came out. Channing, only for two. While his career went stratosphere, can’t grocery shop for himself, paparazzi chase down, hers continued without as much fan-fare.
She had plenty of credits to her name (more than her husband in fact) but the biggest credit probably came when she added the name Tatum to a hyphenated Dewan. Which kind of sucks but only kind of. All of a sudden there were tons of people who wanted to know her, to watch all of her past work, to hire her for future work, just because she and Channing got married.
That desire to know about the people in the lives of the celebrities we love is the reason I came to know Patty Duke.
I read every teeny bopper mag back in the 80s. All of them. Because all of them back then featured a boy who still remains at the top of my celebrity crush list all these years later, Sean Astin.
It was only a matter of time before I read enough about that cutie to find out he came from a very famous family. Hollywood royalty if you will. His dad starred on The Addams Family. His mom not only won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, but 17 years later she came back to that story playing Anne Sullivan.
Helen Keller was a woman we studied in school. Probably because her primary place of residence, and where Helen first encountered Anne, was in my home state of Massachusetts. And I grew up idolizing that woman’s story.
Deaf and blind. Not only learns to speak but goes on to become one of the most accomplished women in history. She spoke to huge crowds. She wrote numerous books. She was a leader and activist who helped change perception of deaf and blind people.
That woman, along with Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale, were my childhood heroes.
So when I found out that my celebrity crush’s mom played a woman I idolized, I knew I had to see the movie. But there was no Netflix, Amazon, or internet back in those days. If it wasn’t available on video I had to wait to watch it on television if it made the rounds.
I rented it. No way I was waiting.
I watched it and I cried. For the first time since I got interested in learning real stories about real people, I discovered an actress who left it all on the screen. All of those connections – her birthing of my favorite actor, portrayal of one of my favorite women in history – made her a permanent fixture in my brain.
Then I needed to watch, learn, read all about this amazing woman I’d discovered, Patty Duke.
Her book, Call Me Anna, was the first Autobiography I ever read. I found her journey to, through and out the other side of the Hollywood machine (somehow still intact as a person despite the bipolarity), to be so inspiring.
Back in those days I still had these delusions of grandeur that I’d become a world famous actress. So it was cool to read about a woman who not only did it but seemed to maintain some type of family values, teach them to her kids, and hold onto her soul in an industry that can, and will, suck it right out of you if you’re not careful.
She became a new hero to me. I bought her book and read it about 10 times. Tried to get my hands on everything she’d ever made so I could watch her performance of literally becoming a different person for the cameras. She told stories, some salacious and irreverent, others powerful and moving, but her resume is huge.
To learn of her passing yesterday hit me a lot harder than I would have expected considering I didn’t actually know this woman. Just her name, face, relations to the actors I liked, work she’d done starting back in 1954. She was about 12 years old, I wouldn’t even be born for another 19 years.
I couldn’t explain it, the reasoning for feeling so sad, but maybe the woman she embodied said it best:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.”- Helen Keller
To celebrate your life I will once again read your Autobiography. RIP Anna Marie "Patty Duke" Pearce.
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In addition to this drivel I also write books, both fiction and non-fiction.
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