Duke's 'Call Me Anna' is classic life of a star

November 09, 1990|By Bruce Christian | Bruce Christian,Cox News Service

Pity poor Patty Duke. Her name really is Anna, but she can't get anyone to call her that.

She's written an autobiography asking people to "Call Me Anna." It didn't work. Everyone still calls her Patty.

Now ABC has taken the autobiography and made it into a TV movie.

Watching it, I felt like a voyeur.

The actress is uncompromising when it comes to exposing herself. Tear away all the glitz and glamour of being a major Hollywood star, and you get a naked, vulnerable woman who has had major problems.

How many times do we hear about the Hollywood child actor?

Duke is one who survived all those evils rumored or associated with the fast-lane living of a rising star.

She was taken from her home at a very young age. She was sexually abused as a teen-ager while living with managers John and Ethel Ross. Her early success as an actress -- winning an Oscar before she became a teen-ager -- allowed her managers to use her as bait for television networks.

As the star of her own 1960s TV sitcom, she went on to win an Emmy Award -- and then, two more of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences honors.

Off screen, her managers controlled every aspect of the shy, troubled girl's life. To cope with all of this, she took prescription drugs and downed them with alcohol.

She was moody -- not a very likable person. And as she strove to prove her independence, she would long for and then cling to any man who showed her love.

Duke's life is not a glorious picture. It's a depressing story, until she rebounds in true Hollywood fashion.

The actress finds out she is ill -- a manic-depressive. She learns that by taking lithium she can control her mood swings.

With the help of her doctor and others who believe in her, she conquers her problems in a fashion only imagined by the fertile mind of a Sylvester Stallone.

Ironically, "Call Me Anna" is the epitome of the Hollywood story. The ABC movie, which airs Sunday night, is scripted, produced and directed for that rousing kind of ending one would expect from a ''Rocky'' picture. Because "Call Me Anna" looks at the actor's life from childhood to the present, three women are called upon to bring Patty Duke to life.

Ari Meyers, Jenny Robertson and Duke herself all take turns.

It's fun watching and comparing the three. Meyers brings to the role a great sense of innocence and the moodiness of a teen-age girl longing for her real parents.

Robertson comes on strong as a self-centered star who has been spoiled along the way and expects to continue having it all -- no questions asked.

Duke relives the pain when she begins feeling her life is empty.

All three deliver powerful performances, but none is as strong as Howard Hessemen's portrayal of John Ross. He quietly steals every scene he is in. Viewers will hate him from the start, but they can't ignore him. After Duke broke free from the Rosses' domination, she experienced mood swings and attempted suicide.

What story of a Hollywood actor would be complete without a suicide attempt?

Duke was involved in the ABC project from start to finish. She wrote the autobiography with Kenneth Turan and advised John McGreevey on the teleplay, which capsulizes her story without missing a beat.

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