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Star remembers 'Patty Duke Show' as haven

  • Story Highlights
  • First season of "The Patty Duke Show" out on DVD
  • In program, Duke played identical cousins Patty and Cathy Lane
  • Duke remembers show as haven during tough times as teenager
  • Actress later was diagnosed as bipolar; she now helps people who have disease
By Patty Lane
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(CNN) -- For those of us who remember a time when many families didn't have color TV, a remote control or even video games, hearing the theme song from "The Patty Duke Show" -- "They're cousins / Identical cousins, all the way" -- takes us back to black-and-white television sets and split-screen special effects.

Patty Duke says she has many fond memories of working on "The Patty Duke Show."

Patty Duke says she has many fond memories of working on "The Patty Duke Show."

"Back then it was very crude, how we did split-screen," star Patty Duke said of playing the dual roles of Patty and Cathy Lane in the show, which was developed specifically for her. "Now with all-digital applications, it looks antique. But the show's values are still what we want to impart on our children."

The first complete season of "The Patty Duke Show," from 1963 to 1964, is now out on DVD. Duke told CNN that she's excited her five granddaughters will finally be able to see what "Nana did when she was a teenager."

"I am tickled, just tickled," she said.

In the sitcom, which ran for three seasons on ABC, Patty was a rambunctious teenager who always managed to find herself in some kind of trouble; cousin Cathy was a demure, worldly Scottish teenager who came to New York to live with the Lane family to finish her schooling.

Duke, who was not quite 17 when the series began, says it took a lot of energy to play two different characters. She preferred the quieter Cathy, "because I thought she was dignified and gentle and rational. When it was time to be Patty, I would have to deal with my embarrassment of her stupidity."

Duke was already a successful actor by the time the sitcom debuted, winning an Oscar for 1962's "The Miracle Worker" just months before the show premiered. But she describes herself as sheltered.

"I was a very isolated teenager. When it came time to do some of the school dances [on the show], they had to bring in real teenagers to teach me how," she says. "I didn't know the dances, didn't know the music."

She says, however, the show was a relief during what were troubled times for her. She wrote about her tormented childhood in her autobiography, "Call Me Anna," discussing her struggles with mental abuse at the hands of her managers, which she says led to alcohol and drug addiction. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she now helps others who have the disease.

"I believe that show [gave me] the tools that helped me survive through my youth until I got my diagnosis," Duke said. "I think 'tormenting' is one of the most perfect words for what you feel [with bipolar disorder], because you have no control over it. I did occasionally, very occasionally, hear voices, but mostly my instincts were messed up: If it was dangerous, then I should do it."

The show, she said, "was where I went for safety."

"It was a troubled time on the personal level, but the show was never troubled," she said.

She speaks fondly of her co-stars, especially William Schallert, who played her father, Martin Lane.

"He has always been able to make me laugh until I had to spit up," she said of the now 87-year-old actor. "He was also a solid, solid figure to me and still is. To this day, the relationship has grown, and he is always there for me."

She remains close to the other surviving members of the cast, including Paul O'Keefe, who played her brother. Jean Byron, who played mother Natalie Lane, died three years ago.

Duke was able to transition from child star to adult actor of stage and screen, and she even had a hit single, 1965's "Don't Just Stand There." After "The Patty Duke Show," she played a drug-addicted alcoholic singer in "Valley of the Dolls" and won an Emmy for the TV movie "My Sweet Charlie." To date, Duke has won one Academy Award, three Emmys and two Golden Globes.

Duke is also acting onstage in the musical "Wicked" in San Francisco, California. She plays the witch Madame Morrible, and though she finds the energy for eight shows a week a challenge, she loves the theater.

"To me, it is almost a religious experience, the exchange between those strangers out there in the dark and us," she said. "To me, that's communication at its best, and that's really what I enjoy."

Duke says she lets little faze her. "I've gotten to the age where I'm comfortable with just about everything -- except getting old!" she said.

Even there, she's willing to look at the situation without blinking. She teamed up with the Social Security Administration to do public service announcements encouraging seniors to sign up online -- using her old "Patty Duke Show" characters.

"On a positive side, I know about acceptance," she says. "What's negative for me is all very superficial. The incredible lines in my face."

But she says the wisdom that comes with aging -- and, of course, maintaining a sense of humor -- helps her deal with that.

"Without a sense of humor," she said, "I would have been gone a long time ago."

Patty Lane works for CNN Radio -- and yes, that is her real name.

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