Patty Duke, Family Theater, Sean Astin and Notre Dame …

Patty-Duke-Father-Willy-RaymondStrange threads connect people, both in the Catholic world and in Hollywood, and sometimes those threads cross.

Earlier today, Tuesday, March 29, Academy Award-winning film and TV star Anna Marie “Patty” Duke (her autobiography was titled “Call Me Anna”) passed away at the age of 69. A statement from one of her representatives, Mitchell Stubbs, read:

“Her cause of death was sepsis from a ruptured intestine. She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be missed.”

Duke was also a baptized Catholic. In a February 2015 story in St. Anthony Messenger magazine, she said:

As a child, though, acting remained the furthest thing from her mind.

“More than anything else, I wanted to be a nun,” Anna reveals. “My friends and I would play ‘nun’ all the time. We would wrap a piece of loose-leaf paper around our forehead and neck, put a dark scarf around our head, and we would play school, taking turns being the teacher or the mother superior.”


Attending Mass at Sacred Heart Church provided Anna with her first taste of theatre. “I loved all the ritual involved in Mass, what some people call the ‘bells and smells.’ It had such high drama with the mystique of Latin thrown in for good measure. I was the first one in my class who could perfectly recite the Confiteor in Latin,” she boasts.

Despite winning an Oscar at 16 for playing Helen Keller in the 1962 film version of “The Miracle Worker,” Duke had a rough time in Hollywood. She suffered from bipolar disorder, but wasn’t diagnosed until 1982. She often said that her managers, John and Ethel Ross, misused her and her mother when Duke was a teen actress, including supplying Duke with alcohol and prescription drugs.

Duke had more than one marriage, but her last one, to fourth husband Kevin Pearce, endured since 1986. Her sons Sean and Mackenzie Astin are both actors — with Sean having appeared in several Christian-oriented films, along with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. At the time of her death, Duke was also a grandmother, and had been living for many years in Couer d’Alene, Idaho.

Duke went on to become an advocate for people suffering from mental illness.

She hardly led a perfect Catholic life — true of many people today — but Duke never lost her connection to the Faith of her childhood.

And through her son, she became connected to Family Theater Productions. Sean Astin worked with FTP’s former head of production, Father Willy Raymond, CSC, on a documentary about a fellow Holy Cross priest and former president of Notre Dame University.

If you listen to this excerpt, you can hear Astin’s voice:

Wrote Fr. Raymond in an email today:

Sean Astin worked with me on the Documentary “God, Country, Notre Dame: the Story of Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C.” He was one of three narrators. Shortly after, he invited me to come to the unveiling of Patty Duke’s star on Hollywood Boulevard as a guest and to attend the reception afterwards for family and friends.

The picture above was taken at the reception.

The road to success in Hollywood is littered with broken souls and broken dreams, but Duke appears to have reached a place of peace in her life — and she was very happy with the election of the new Vicar of Christ.

From the same article in St. Anthony Messenger magazine:

[Duke] is thrilled with the pontificate of Pope Francis. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispers. “I have a crush on the pope. He’s going to do great things. I am very hopeful.”

Requiescat in pace, Anna Marie.

Image: Courtesy Father Willy Raymond/Holy Cross Family Ministries

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.