Patty Duke was abandoned by her parents and forced to live with her managers for her career's sake. She kept trying to please them to avoid being sent off again.
Most people knew Patty Duke as an impressive actress, recipient of many awards. But before achieving fame and fortune, she was just Anna Marie Duke, a child actress abandoned by her mom and abused by her managers.
Patty Duke as a child and an adult | Photo: Wikipedia.org/United States Steel - YouTube.com/PBSNewsHour
PATTY DUKE’S TOUGH CHILDHOOD
Duke was born in December 1946 to Frances, a restaurant cashier who struggled with depression, and John, a taxi driver, and handyman addicted to alcohol.
When the actress was just six years old, Frances kicked John out of their home in New York City and raised her daughter independently. It didn’t go as planned.
One year later, Duke and her mom met John and Ethel Ross, a married couple who worked as child actors’ managers and noticed Duke's talent.
Patty Duke filming "The Patty Duke Show" in the mid 1960s | Photo: Getty Images
Shortly after, they took her as a client and started controlling every aspect of her life, including when she slept and what she wore and ate. A while later, the Rosses convinced Frances that her daughter should stay with them.
They gave Frances some money and asked her to stay in the background as Duke would cry uncontrollably or harm herself when her mom was around.
The “Touched by an Angel” star pointed out that it was probably a “horrible, heartbreaking decision” for Frances. Still, she gave her daughter to the Rosses, hoping that they would improve her life even though she got cut off from her life.
Once Duke was an adult, she described Frances as an insecure and lonely orphan from a low-income family, separated from her husband, “Catholic, and guilty for breathing.” She added:
“To me as a child, it was a clear case of abandonment. I thought, ‘What did I do wrong? Now how do I please these folks so that I don’t get sent off someplace else?’”
Unfortunately, the Rosses were far from role models foster parents as they would give her alcohol and “happy pills” – Thorazine, Stelazine, and Percodan – as a teen.
BECOMING PATTY DUKE
When Duke was eight years old, Ethel told her they would change her name to Patty for the sake of her career. Under that name, Duke booked parts in TV ads, shows, and soap operas, but she hardly ever spent her own money.
In 1963, she started working on “The Patty Duke Show” and earned about $3,000 a week. Since they shot over 100 episodes, she probably made over $300,000 with her TV series alone.
Ethel’s mom told Duke on her deathbed that she needed to get away from the Rosses.
Adding up the rest of the money she made as a child and teen star (including the income for her hit music album “Don't Just Stand There”), her trust funds were supposed to have between half a million and a million dollars.
When she turned 18, she only had $84,000 in saving bonds. Duke pointed out that nobody controlled how the Rosses spent her money, so she basically supported their expensive living.
The Rosses and Duke’s relationship began deteriorating when she was 17 years old as she fell in love with Harry Falk, a 31-year-old assistant director on “The Patty Duke Show.”
The Rosses moved the series’ production from New York to Los Angeles, trying to break that relationship. Duke was evidently angry, so she moved into her own apartment in Los Angeles.
Apart from that, Ethel’s mom told Duke on her deathbed that she needed to get away from the Rosses as they were crazy. The actress believed those were the last words of wisdom from a guru as they were good friends.
In 1970, John passed away, and Ethel died in 1978. Eventually, Duke forgave the Rosses and acknowledged that they were in part responsible for her successful career.
Duke shared the details of her upbringing in her 1988 book “Call Me Anna,” which was adapted for a TV film two years later. In March 2016, Duke passed away. She was 69 years old.
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