Patty Duke titled her 1987 autobiography Call Me Anna because she was born Anna Marie Duke. After seeing the TV adaptation of her book, though, I’m surprised she didn’t call it Hoo Boy, I Gotta Lie Down Now.
As depicted in this overwrought production, Duke’s career has caused her great pain and suffering. As a child actress, she was virtually kidnapped by her managers (played by Deborah May and an excellent, low-key Howard Hesseman) and forced to live with them, with only occasional visits from her mother (Millie Perkins, even weepier here than she was in Elvis).
Duke triumphed on Broadway in The Miracle Worker and became an early-’60s TV star with The Patty Duke Show, but we’re shown that she also grew up to be variously troubled. John McGreevey’s melodramatic teleplay makes all of Duke’s habits seem equally horrific: She wasn’t just a pill popper, a heavy drinker, and an overeater — she was also a compulsive shopper! And as if that weren’t enough, the poor woman ran for president of the Screen Actors Guild and won (just trying to collect dues from Sean Young must have been hell). Duke also goes through a succession of bad marriages here; we’re told she has found some present-day happiness by taking lithium, which apparently helps to keep her manic-depression in check.
Ari Meyers (Kate & Allie) is plucky in the role of Duke as a child; Jenny Robertson (Bull Durham) is shrewd as the teenage Duke. The actress-writer herself takes over as the adult Duke, and gives as unsentimental a performance as can be imagined when you’re playing yourself constantly on the verge of a breakdown. Call Me Anna is florid and full of trite dialogue (”Why does life get so complicated?”), but it does leave you hoping fervently that Patty Duke is a contented person now, because she certainly seems to deserve it. C