In Memoriam: Patty Duke, Actress & Activist

Patty Duke

Patty Duke, Actress & Activist

WomenArts mourns the passing of Anna Patty Duke Pearce, better known as Patty Duke, on March 29, 2016 at age 69.

Duke played on Broadway starting at age 12 as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and received rave reviews. She won an Oscar in 1962 at age 16 for her work in the film version of that show.

She followed that with 3 years on The Patty Duke Show, a popular television show where she played identical teen-aged cousins who became role models for millions of girls. During those years she was often forced to work extremely long hours in order to play both roles.

As an adult, she became a champion of labor rights. She was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1985, becoming the second female president of the union. In that position she oversaw the creation of a low-budget motion picture agreement that offered incentives to productions that hired women, minorities, seniors and disabled performers. She also led a six-week animation strike and a three-week commercials contract strike, and she fought the recurring threats of so-called “right-to-work” legislation and runaway production.

In addition to being an Oscar and Emmy-winning actress, Duke was an activist. She wrote about her own struggles with bi-polar disorder and did pioneering work to educate the public about mental illness and remove its stigma.

Thanks so much to Anna Patty Duke Pearce for her lifetime of excellent acting and leadership as a mental health advocate and unionist. We will miss her.