The Patty Duke Show was one I always enjoyed, but it was never a “must watch” for me. I think I viewed it as a show that was “good” because it wasn’t “bad.” I decided it was time to give it a more in-depth exploration.
Patty Duke began her television and movie career in the mid-1950s. She appeared on a handful of shows in that decade. In 1962 she took on her Oscar-winning role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. The following year she received her own television series at age 16. The show would continue until 1966, producing 105 episodes.
Patty not only starred in the show as Patty Lane, but she was also Cathy Lane, Patty’s identical twin. The girls’ fathers are not only brothers but identical twins, hence the look-alike cousins. Although they look the same, they have very different personalities. You can tell them apart because Patty’s hair is usually flipped up while Cathy has a more sophisticated hairdo, usually curled down. Patty was chatty and a typical New York teenager who loves rock and roll. Cathy is more cultured and loves the ballet and classical music. Patty gets herself into some big misadventures and Cathy usually bales her out.
The plots were situations that were likely to happen to a teenager in the sixties. For example, Patty wants to buy a new dress, so she starts a babysitting service that goes awry; Patty falls in love with her French teacher; or after school the kids eat a cake, only to find out it was for a contest. The three of them bake a replacement without their parents realizing what happened. There were also episodes that could only involve twins. In one show, Cathy accidentally is given a shot for Patty. Cathy has a bad reaction to it and must miss the school dance. Patty decides to go to the dance with Cathy’s boyfriend as “Cathy” so her relationship with the boy continues.
Patty’s double is Rita McLaughlin Walter. She usually was seen only as “the back of a head” and at times you can see her as a background character. Rita continued her acting career and was seen in As The World Turns from 1970-1981.
Having a star with a dual role was challenging at the time. Special effects were not very high-tech in the mid-1960s. When Duke played both characters in the same frame, a split screen was used.
With Cathy’s family in Europe, she is sent to New York to live with her aunt and uncle, Patty’s parents are Natalie (Jean Byron) and Martin (William Schallert). Martin manages a newspaper. Patty has a younger brother Ross (Paul O’Keefe) and a boyfriend Richard (Eddie Applegate).
ABC wanted to feature Duke in her own show but didn’t have a concept. The show’s creators were Sidney Sheldon and William Asher. (Sheldon would go on to create I Dream of Jeannie and Asher would was the producer for Gidget and Bewitched with his wife Elizabeth Montgomery.) Patty spent a week with the Sheldon family so Sidney could observe her. Sidney said he felt she almost had a dual personality and that gave him the idea to have the identical cousins. Asher and Sheldon wrote most of the episodes.
Because Patty was a minor, the show was filmed in New York City where child labor laws were more liberal than in California. The taping took place at Chelsea Studios in Manhattan. When Duke turned 18 in the last season, the entire production was moved to California, even though Duke preferred to stay in New York.
The theme song, “Cousins,” was sung by the Skip Jacks, the same group that sang the theme for The Flintstones. At the time, Stella Stevens, a future actress, was part of the group. The lyrics captured the opposite personalities the cousins had. The song was composed by Sid Raimin and Robert Wells. The lyrics are:
Meet Cathy, who’s lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square
But Patty’s only seen the sight
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights
What a crazy pair!
But they’re cousins,
Identical cousins all the way
One pair of matching bookends,
Different as night and day
Where Cathy adores a minuet,
The Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette,
Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose control
What a wild duet!
Still, they’re cousins,
Identical cousins and you’ll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike
You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind
When asked what she did to give each cousin her own personality, Duke said, “it was to eliminate certain behaviors for each character. For instance, Cathy never talks with her hands. Patty always talks with her hands. Cathy would never wear ruffles, because they weren’t dignified. Patty would wear anything that was hot for a minute. But it was hard to get a whole person for each of them.”
Patty said although she played a typical Brooklyn teen, she was not one. She lived a very isolated life. Her managers were very strict and may have been abusive. She lived with them and worked most of her childhood. When she had to do a teenage dance, they needed to bring in regular kids to show her.
The show did well in the ratings every year it aired. However, ABC decided to get rid of all their black and white shows and replace them with color production. United Artists asked for a lot of money to make the change and the network decided it would be cheaper to acquire a new show rather than spend a lot of money moving from black and white to color on this show, although there may have been more factors to the decision. Patty was trying to terminate her relationship with her managers once she became a legal adult. Patty also suffered from mental health issues but at this time didn’t realize what was going on. Later she would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The series went into syndication almost immediately and continued into the 1970s. In 1988, the show debuted on Nick at Nite where it stayed until 1993. Currently it is on and off ME Tv’s schedule. DVDs were released in 2009 and 2010.
Although the show ended in 1966, in 1999 a tv movie was filmed, The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin’ in Brooklyn Heights. All the original characters returned. We learn that Patty and Richard had gotten married and had a son who is also married with a daughter. Patty and Richard are divorced when the movie begins but reconcile at the end. Cathy lives in Scotland with her teenage son; she is a widow. The plot is a standard one. Patty is a drama teacher at Brooklyn Heights High School and her old nemesis Sue Ellen wants to raze it and put up a mall.
The 1999 movie was not Patty Lane’s last appearance, however. In 2009, Duke starred in a Social Security public service announcement (psa) as both Patty and Cathy. Though Jean who played her mother passed away in 2006, Schallert and reprised his role for a second Social Security psa.
Duke always remained close to her “father” and “brother.” She said Schallert was the “dad I never got to spend time with.” “He has always been able to make me laugh until I had to spit up. He was also a solid figure to me.” She also revealed that “the family we created in the show was very much a family. That was my safety zone.”
The Patty Duke Show was a solid show. Like The Donna Reed Show, it captured a slice of life in the 1960s. Patty received an Emmy nomination in 1964 and a Golden Globe nomination in 1966.
Sadly, Patty told a story later in life that she was not able to watch the show when she was acting on it. One day when she was visiting her husband at a military base, she was in the waiting room, clicking through tv channels for something to watch and there she was on the screen. It must have been a very strange feeling to see yourself looking happy and normal at a time that was sad and confusing.
Since the cast was so close, they provided Patty some normalcy and security in a life that was anything but most of the time. The show is about a typical teenager played by a teenager. It should have been Duke’s easiest role, yet it was one of her toughest, because she had never experienced a normal life. While that is sad, I’m happy she was able to find a safe haven for a time with the Lane family.