News Column

Divine duo

June 16, 2013


June 16--It seems that Joe Moore and Patty Duke were destined to act together. Moore, the longtime news anchor at KHON and an occasional actor, was asked to play a villain in an episode of the original "Hawaii Five-0" series in 1973 in which the award-winning actress was to be a guest star.

"('Five-0' casting director) Bob Bush said, 'How'd you like to be in one of our episodes as a bad guy in the Patty Duke episode?'" Moore recalled. "I said, 'I'm there.'"

A scheduling conflict, however, prevented Moore from playing the role. Now, 40 years later, he's having a dream fulfilled by appearing with the Oscar winner in "Heaven Forbid!" at Hawaii Theatre, a benefit for the historic theater. The play, written by British writer Michael Aitkens and inspired by a script by Moore, is an amusing but ultimately touching look at life in a retirement community. It's full of witty repartee between the two stars.

"I could just see her in my head working with this material," Moore said.

Having missed that earlier opportunity to meet Duke, he essentially made a cold call (an email, actually) inviting her to play the role.

"Who turns down a job in Hawaii? That's No. 1," Duke said. "No. 2, the play is funny, and I find some places that are terribly poignant. It gives me the opportunity personally to say things that Patty Duke can't say."

That third-person reference isn't made with the pretentiousness one might find in other celebrities. It's merely recognition of an all-American image that started in her youth and led to high expectations for her on and off the stage.

Her reputation is well earned. Duke has won an Oscar, three Emmys and a place among TV Guide's 50 Greatest Television Stars of All Time, and has had a series of appearances on stage and screen, especially during the heyday of "made for TV" movies in the 1970s and '80s.

Now 66, she continues to get a variety of acting opportunities, from appearances on the "Five-0" reboot (as an Alzheimer's patient) and "Glee" (as half of a gay couple) to a run of the stage musical "Wicked" (as Madame Morrible). In that production she wore a costume that "was so heavy I fell down."

"The audience members later, they stay around and talk, and said, 'That was really funny when you did that!' And I go, 'Oh, thank you, it's very difficult to do it so often!'"

Duke started acting at age 8 during the 1950s, working steadily through the Golden Age of Television with most of the transformative figures in the craft.

"I have been so lucky and so blessed," she said. "I have worked with the creme de la creme, and fortunately I was smart enough to go to school on them. I learned from everyone, and we're talking about Richard Burton, we're talking about Lord (Lawrence) Olivier -- he wasn't a lord when I worked with him, he was a lowly 'sir.'

"And the roles I got! A lot of attention goes to actors because of the roles they got. Certainly what they do with them is crucial, but it's the old saying, 'If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage.'"

Duke certainly put plenty into her first major stage role, portraying a feisty Helen Keller struggling to overcome deafness and blindness opposite Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker." It ran for two years on Broadway, and Duke's reprisal of the role on film won her an Oscar in 1962 at age 16 -- at the time, the youngest winner ever.

She then became a singular dynamic duo in American living rooms with "The Patty Duke Show," playing cousins who were identical in appearance but diametrically opposed in personality. (As the theme song goes: "Where Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballets Russes and crepes suzette, our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control. What a wild duet!") Even on one show she couldn't be typecast.

"Sidney Shelton, of the book fame, created the show," Duke said. "He wanted me to spend a week with him and his family. After that week is how he came up with the two characters. In his mind I wasn't a multiple personality -- but he was close -- but he felt there was enough to make into two characters."

THE REFERENCE to the split personality comes from bipolar disorder, which in Duke first manifested itself publicly when she accepted the Emmy for "My Sweet Charlie" in 1970 and gave a curiously disjointed speech. She was finally diagnosed in 1982 and now speaks frequently on the condition.

"The experience always turns out to be almost like a revival meeting," she said, describing how people eagerly share their experiences. "And so that is very, very satisfying."

She also gives credit for her recovery to her husband, Mike Pearce, a former Army drill sargeant she met on the set of the TV movie "A Time to Triumph." Formally, she introduces herself as Anna Patty Duke Pearce, a reference to her given and married names, though she's fully aware everyone knows her as Patty Duke. (She's also mom to Sean Astin of "Lord of the Rings" fame. Another son, Mackenzie Astin, has a long list of TV credits.)

Duke remains a consummate professional, spending time preparing for her "Heaven Forbid!" role by visiting a retirement community and "stealing little bits here and there." At the first table reading of the play last weekend, she brought a deck of cards to play solitaire, as her character does in the opening scene.

"For me it isn't about getting out there, curtain goes up and you deliver," she said. "It's the actual doing of it, the building of it, the process, as we say.

"Of course, there's nothing like hearing an audience laugh or chuckle at a line you've delivered. That's the difference between movies and ... communion."

MOORE, "HAWAII'S most-watched TV newscaster," is tickled to have Duke on stage for "Heaven Forbid!" "This is the lady I would love to have this role," he said in an interview.

He was instrumental not only in the casting, but in the development of the play itself, writing a script based on Aitkens' 1990 BBC comedy series "Waiting for God."

"I contacted Aitkens in London, got his permission to adapt my favorite material from the series, changed some of the British flavor to American, added a few things and sent him the script," Moore said in an email. "He liked it and updated and sweetened some of his original lines, and the result is 'Heaven Forbid!' the stage play.

"He calls it a collaboration, but with 95 percent of the material his, I consider my contribution to be more as an editor."

For past stage projects, Moore, 65, brought to Hawaii such stars as Richard Dreyfuss and George Segal, as well as his Vietnam War buddy Pat Sajak, host of "Wheel of Fortune."

"What's the worst thing they can do?" he said. "They can say no."

Sajak and Moore starred in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" at Connecticut Repertory Theatre a year ago and performed "The Boys in Autumn" together in 2010 at Hawaii Theatre. Moore also has written and appeared in plays about such diverse figures as Will Rogers, John Wayne and Mozart.

He said he makes time for stage work because he "doesn't spend a lot of time watching TV," likes "to write, to create" and because he wants to give back to the community. "I realize how lucky I am to have that platform to spring from that opens certain doors," he said.

IN "HEAVEN FORBID!" Duke portrays Elizabeth Fredricks, a retired photojournalist stuck in a retirement community run by administrators more interested in profit than care. The character recalls experiences like jumping out of helicopters with troops in Afghanistan and will have none of the administrators' cloying, condescending treatment.

Moore plays her new neighbor, Barney Winston, who slips into a Mick Jagger routine as an alter ego but soon blows through her tough veneer by manipulating the staff.

Director Rob Duvall said the play "has a great message" and that "it has something you don't see in modern plays especially, which is how we deal with people who are aging.

"It's about dignity, really, about being able to stand up for yourself when you have no one else around."

As for working with Duke, Duvall said he is elated. In their first phone conversation, she said, "I have to tell you one very important thing: I love being directed."


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