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This Reunion's Two of a Kind

Television: When cast members came together for a new TV movie of 'The Patty Duke Show,' working and personal relationships were renewed.

April 27, 1999|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One by one the stars of the old "The Patty Duke Show" entered a conference room at a Montreal hotel late last year to begin the first reading of the script for the CBS reunion movie "The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights," premiering tonight.

But there was so much crying and laughter among the five actors who were seeing one another for the first time since 1966 that the producers and other cast members of the movie let them spend an hour by themselves to get reacquainted.

"It was quite an emotional experience for everyone," recalls Eddie Applegate, who played Patty's fumbling high school sweetie, Richard. "The emotion unfolded as each member of the cast came through the door. I was the first one there and I could watch the whole thing."

William Schallert, who played Patty's loving, understanding father, Martin, remembers walking into the room and seeing a man standing by the door who looked vaguely familiar.

"I saw Anna [Duke's given name] and we hugged. Then I looked back at the guy at the door and I suddenly realized it was Paul O'Keefe, who played my son [Ross] on the show. He had changed quite a bit, since he was only 11 when he started the show."

Jean Byron, who played Patty's mother, Natalie, was the last to arrive. "When she came in, I remember, Anna burst into tears and ran over to her and said, 'Momma, momma,' " says Schallert.

"At that moment, we suddenly began to get the feeling of this family coming back together after 33 years. It was an astonishing feeling. Fortunately, we are still alive!"

Written by Neal Israel, "The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights" finds the ever-energetic Patty teaching drama at her beloved Brooklyn Heights High School. She's now divorced from Richard, who owns a successful construction company and still carries a torch for Patty. They have a 33-year-old journalist son (Alain Goulem) and a precocious 14-year-old granddaughter (Jane McGregor).

Ross, who is the same wisecracking baby brother, works as a musician in Broadway orchestras. Martin and Natalie are enjoying retirement in Florida. Patty's look-alike cousin Cathy is a widow who lives with her teenage son Liam (Kent Riley) in her native Scotland. The entire family reunites in Brooklyn Heights for a special surprise for Patty. Though she's suspicious about the real reason for this sudden convergence of relatives, Patty's too busy to worry because she's fighting her longtime nemesis, Sue Ellen (Cindy Williams), who is desperately trying to turn the high school into a shopping mall.

Duke says she always wanted to avoid doing a reunion movie of the series, which ran on ABC from 1963 to '66 and was created by best-selling novelist Sidney Sheldon of "The Other Side of Midnight" fame.

"I thought I didn't want to do it," she says. "Once again, I am wrong. I am telling you, I owe CBS for one of the most wonderful highlights of my life."

Duke says she is far more grateful for the series, which has lived on in syndication and on cable, than she ever believed possible. "In my early 20s, I sort of pooh-poohed the whole thing and pretended that it didn't happen," she says.

"It wasn't sophisticated enough for me. Now, I see the values of those 24 minutes [a week]. Total strangers at least three times a week come up to me in a gas station or department store or supermarket and sing the [theme] song. I have had a nun sing it to me in full habit."

In fact, the movie opens with baby boomers on the street singing the lyrics to the catchy title tune.

Stepping back into Patty's shoes turned out to be far easier than getting into Cathy's.

"Cathy surprised me," she says. "The difficulty in getting Cathy [was] the voice. I struggled and I can remember in the middle of a take stopping and saying, 'I don't have it. This isn't her voice. Somebody tell me what her voice was.' "

Just like any good parents, Schallert and Byron came to her rescue with some good advice. "They reminded me Cathy had gotten older and her voice wouldn't be the same," Duke says.

"I was then able to relax and then just play the part. In my opinion, Cathy looks older. The Patty character--she is 52 years old and running around like she was 11. It was so much fun."

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Applegate also found it difficult to re-create Richard three decades later. "I was told by the director and Patty to jump time and make Richard an adult and take away some of his bumbling, fumbling stuff and bring him up to a more sophisticated guy," he says.

"He's a different guy than he was before. But I didn't want to lose some of what the audience liked about my character; he was a fumbling but very vulnerable kind of guy. Patty said just play it and it will work."

"The two big surprises were Paul [O'Keefe] and Eddie Applegate," says Duke. "Eddie is a little older than me and . . . looks fabulous. Paul, of course, was my little brother. He's grown up and in his 40s and wise and funny and talented."

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