Born Anna Marie Duke on December 14, 1946 in Elmhurst, New York, Duke’s acting career began early, under the influence of John and Ethel Ross, who became her managers/surrogate parents, . They renamed Anna Marie “Patty”, and got her started in commercials and a few bit parts in a few movies.
Young “Patty’s” first big break came in 1959 when she was chosen to portray the demanding role of the blind, mute and deaf Helen Keller in the Broadway production of “The Miracle Worker.” The play lasted almost 2 years, and both Patty and Anne Bancroft (her played Helen’s teacher/mentor Annie Sullivan) reprised their roles for the 1962 film version of the play. The Miracle Worker (1962) earned both actresses Oscars, with Duke winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. At the time Patty was sixteen years old, making her the youngest person ever to win an Oscar. (Since then actresses Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin have broken Duke’s record.)
After her film Broadway and film triumphs, in 1963 Patty conquered television by starring in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show.” She played identical cousins for three seasons and was nominated for an Emmy. In 1965 Patty starred in the movie Billie (1965) and that same year saw the teenager marrying for the first time. (Her marriage to Harry Falk lasted four years.) Patty then appeared in the so-cheesy-it’s-good classic Valley of the Dolls (1967 as the difficult but talented Judy Garlandesque “Neely.” In 1969 Duke got a part in an independent film called Me, Natalie (1969) which was a box-office flop but earned her a second Golden Globe Award. During this time Patty began a relationship with actor John Astin (Gomez on TV’s “The Addams Family”), whom she later married.
In 1976, Duke won her second Emmy award for the highly successful mini-series, “Captains and the Kings” (1976). Other successful TV-films followed, including ?A Family Upside Down? (1978) and “Having Babies III” (1978), receiving Emmy award nominations for both. Duke went on to win her third Emmy for the 1979 TV-movie version of “The Miracle Worker” – this time essaying the role of Annie Sullivan. In 1984 the actress became President of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and in 1986 married again — Michael Pierce, a drill sergeant whom she met while preparing for a role in the TV-movie “A Time to Triumph” (1986).
Having been diagnosed with manic-depression in 1982, the troubled, often misunderstood actress wrote a candid autobiography in 1987 entitled Call Me Anna, in which she candidly discussed her illness. Call Me Anna became a TV-movie in 1990 with Duke playing herself as an adult. In 1992 the actress wrote her second book, A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depression Illness.