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The Ripped-Off Lives of Child Stars : CALL ME ANNA The Autobiography of Patty Duke by Patty Duke and Kenneth Turan (Bantam Books: $17.95; 298 pp.) : SALLY FIELD by Jason Bonderoff (St. Martin's Press: $15.95; 159 pp.)

December 20, 1987|Meredith Babeaux Brucker | San Marino author Brucker teaches writing at UCLA and Pasadena City College. and

The two actresses are award-winners of the same age, both All American-types, with powerful acting abilities packed into their compact, energetic bodies. But their seeming similarities do not mean that analysis of their lives at mid-career results in equally readable books.

Screen Actors Guild president Patty Duke started acting when she was just 7. That's when personal managers Ethel and John Ross took her over--changing her name, making all her decisions and separating her from her mother and father. The coaching and conniving of the Rosses were successful. They pushed their little protege to Broadway stardom, an Academy Award for "The Miracle Worker" and her own TV series while still a teen-ager. And they lived so well off of her nearly $1 million in earnings that only an $84,000 trust fund was left for her.

From her own parents, Duke had inherited tendencies toward alcoholism and mental illness, and feelings of abandonment. The Rosses subjected her to constant criticism and tight control, introduced her to their own alcohol and pill habits, and caused her to be (in Duke's words) "about as molested as I ever want a little girl to get."

When she could finally rid herself of her self-appointed mentors, she found her years of helplessness had left her unable to fight a downward spiral of self-destruction, complete with tragic divorce, rash marriage, suicide attempts, hospitalization, and career disasters.

But then the reader watches a miracle happen. The actress begins to reclaim the lost identity of her childhood as symbolized by her real name, Anna Marie. As she slowly overcomes the massive handicaps of both heredity and environment, one cheers for her as she achieves a cure through the balms of medication, a loving--if chaotic--family life with John Astin, and self-understanding. She is now so forgiving she can say of the deceased Rosses: "It's obvious to me that had they not crossed my path, the likelihood of my becoming an actress was slim, and the joy of that far outweighs any of the pain."

Aided by established journalist Kenneth Turan, Duke has created a work both engrossing and cathartic. By contrast, Sally Field's biographer, with no input or approval from his subject, has put together a short and shallow account of her life. It is obvious that he never picked up the phone to find an original or insightful quote to add. His pasting together of information published in various magazines leads to obvious lapses such as, "Would she have agreed to do that scene if her film career had been on firmer footing? That's something we'll never know."

In an effort to pump some drama into a life that has obviously been blessed with average amounts of happiness and stability, he magnifies Field's one great anguish: being typecast early in her career in the sweet, simple, and highly successful Gidget/Flying Nun mold. Most readers would gladly take on Sally Field's troubles, except for that of enduring the trashing and trivializing of such a superficial biographer.

Patty Duke says of the childhood stolen from her by her ambitious managers, "My life was ripped off!" Sally Field might well say of her biography the same thing.

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