Patty Duke Resigns SAG Presidency

Times Staff Writer

Actress Patty Duke resigned as president of the Screen Actors Guild Wednesday to produce a television movie based on her autobiographical book “Call Me Anna.”

In resigning, the 41-year-old movie and TV actress cited guild rules that prohibit an officer from holding any production interest.

Barry Gordon, a 39-year-old character actor and a guild vice president, was appointed to fill the presidency until the union’s board elects a permanent replacement in December.


Mark Locher, a spokesman for the 70,000-member guild, said Duke planned to form her own company to produce the film for a major TV network. Locher said he didn’t know which network would air the movie.

Duke was on tour promoting the paperback edition of her book, which was published by Bantam Books and co-written by journalist Ken Turan, and couldn’t be reached for comment.

She had been elected to her second two-year term as head of the actors’ guild last November, after reversing an original decision not to stand for a second term. According to Locher, the actress had planned to avoid the second term because guild politics were a drain on her career, and because most of her agenda at the union had been accomplished.

Duke is best known for her Oscar-winning role as Helen Keller in the 1962 film of “The Miracle Worker” and her lead in the long-running “The Patty Duke Show” TV series. She originated the role of the young Helen Keller in the Broadway production of the play in 1959 which, like the film, featured Anne Bancroft as teacher Annie Sullivan.

Duke was first elected guild president in 1985 in a hotly contested election in which a liberal faction led by Ed Asner opposed a conservative faction backed by Charlton Heston. Duke was backed by Asner, but worked to defuse political tensions at the guild during her initial term. She also led the guild through a major contract negotiation in 1986, which was resolved without a strike despite tense bargaining and a strike authorization vote by the union.

In her book, Duke, a child star whose first name was changed to Patty from Anna Marie, detailed her exploitation by Hollywood managers. She also wrote of a tragic personal life that included self-described tendencies toward alcoholism and mental illness, suicide attempts, hospitalization, divorce and other problems.

Gordon, Duke’s interim successor, co-starred with Jason Robards in the movie version of “A Thousand Clowns” and won a Tony nomination for his role in a Broadway production of the play. Also a child-performer, he had a major hit record in 1955 with “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas,” which he recorded at the age of 7. He has since performed in a number of TV series, including “Archie Bunker’s Place” and “The New Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Gordon said his succession was mandated by the guild constitution and the major issue facing the guild during his interim presidency was a possible merger between SAG and the American Federation of Radio and TV Artists, which is expected to be discussed AFTRA’s July convention. Gordon said he wasn’t yet prepared to take a position on the possible merger.

The guild said Duke planned to produce the TV show after resolution of the Writers Guild of America strike, now in its 15th week, but was resigning immediately to avoid “any possibility of conflict of interest.”

In a statement issued by the guild, Duke said: “Thanks to the Screen Actors Guild, I will be an enlightened producer.”