[Theaterfacultystaff] Patty and Me
condee at ohio.edu
Thu Mar 31 20:01:51 EDT 2016
Please forgive an old theater historian engaging in a bit of personal theater history.
Patty Duke’s death brings back memories of when I stage managed for her at the Falmouth Playhouse, a Cape Cod theater on what was then known as the “straw hat circuit,” doing one-a-week star packages. This was the late ‘70s, and she was co-starring in a show with her then husband, John Astin (Gomez Addams on TV). I think it might have been a murder mystery, or even a comedy murder mystery, recently performed on Broadway.
Every Wednesday night we had a big party, and Ms. Duke was there. Somehow it came out that we had both won jitterbug contests as children, and I then jitterbugged with Patty Duke. (My life has all been downhill since then.)
I don’t know whether what happened next was related or not. On Thursday night, she called me down to her dressing room at intermission. She was feeling very sick, but felt she could go on with the show. She did request, however, that we position a bucket offstage left and right. Sure enough, every time she exited, and with a few unplanned exits thrown in, she puked into one of the buckets. She was white as a sheet throughout the act, and had to be helped down the steps after the show, but she was an astonishing trouper. I doubt the audience noticed a thing.
We got her to the hospital that night, and she had viral meningitis. Everything had to be disinfected or thrown out, but the producer did not want to cancel on sold-out run. In the pre-cell phone, pre-internet era, it took all day to reach her understudy from the Broadway run. She was flown from New York to the Cape on a private plane and rushed to the theater. The poor woman had never performed the role and hadn’t understudied it in a year. I had time just to show her around the stage, focusing on light switches and doors, before the curtain went up.
I was offstage on one side and had an ASM with the book on the other, but we never had to throw her a line. John Astin was masterly. He would give his line, wait half a beat as he looked into her eyes to see if she knew her place, and then he would say, “I imagine you must be thinking…” or, “I’ll bet you’d say…” Most of Act 2 was an Astin monologue. But the understudy did an amazing job, getting through the night with no embarrassment, and she then shined for the rest of the week. Alas, I don’t remember her name, but I do recall following her career in the next few years as she went on to a strong career on the New York stage.
All told, it was theater people at their best and most heroic, and proving the essential truth of the cliché, “The Show Must Go On.”
Post Script: With all the compassion of a backstage crew, for the rest of the summer Ms. Duke was known as Patty Puke.
Post Post Script: Ms. Duke died following complications from a ruptured intestine. This hit too close to home, as my darling Kathleen nearly suffered the same fate a year ago.
Post Post Post Script: If you’re too young, ask your parents who Patty Duke was.
With happy memories of a life well-lived in the theater,
William F. Condee
J. Richard Hamilton/Baker & Hostetler Professor of Humanities
Professor of Theater
School of Interdisciplinary Arts, Ohio University
31 S. Court St, #061
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