Four years ago, when I was writing a two-part article about the remarkable career of writer-director William Asher (whose birthday is on Monday), I had the chance to interview a number of Asher's colleagues. There were many to choose from. Asher is perhaps best known for his work on I Love Lucy and Bewitched, as well as the "beach party" films he made for American International Pictures, such as Beach Blanket Bingo. (Film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon credits Asher with "concocting what was practically a new genre" in the beach movies.) During his five-decade career, he did a lot more than those projects, however, and I didn't limit myself to the most famous ones. (For example, I interviewed the editor and the director of photography of his final feature, the underrated Movers & Shakers.)
One of the people I most enjoyed speaking with was Patty Duke. With Sidney Sheldon, Asher co-created The Patty Duke Show, and he directed the majority of episodes during the first season. I was eager to hear what Duke remembered about working with him on this very innovative series -- as memorable, in its way, as Lucy or Bewitched.
At the time of our conversation, I had only seen a handful of episodes of The Patty Duke Show. I admired Duke primarily on the basis of her dramatic work, most notably her truly iconic performance as Helen Keller in Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, as well as her Emmy Award-winning performance in the lesser known My Sweet Charlie, directed by Lamont Johnson. So when Shout! Factory began releasing all three seasons of The Patty Duke Show on DVD in 2009, it was a revelation -- at least as far as I was concerned. Playing the dual role of cousins Patty and Cathy Lane, Duke was clearly a born comedienne.
For Asher's part, the first season of The Patty Duke Show was just one of the many things that occupied his time in 1963 -- that same year, he had two movies in theatres (Beach Party and Johnny Cool), and he had two more (Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach) out the following year. "Our producer-director, Bill Asher, was a man who liked to be simultaneously involved in several different projects," Sidney Sheldon wrote in his autobiography -- and my research told me that was an understatement.
Though we only spoke for perhaps 15 minutes, Duke couldn't have been more helpful. When I called, she had in mind several points that she wanted to make to me, and I chose to let her guide the brief, highly enjoyable discussion that followed. I found her to be completely disarming, and full of enthusiasm for the show -- and for its director. In fact, everybody I talked to sang the praises of William Asher (and I plan to post more extracts from my conversations with his collaborators in the near future), but Patty Duke sang them especially well.
Some of this material first appeared in my article, "Up From the Cutting Room: The William Asher Story, Part 1," CinemaEditor, Volume 57, Issue 4, Fourth Quarter 2007.
Patty Duke: Sidney Sheldon actually created the concept and the story. But certainly Bill's work on the set, and what he brought to it as a director, was a major contribution to the creativity of it. On a personal level, one of the many things that Bill did for me -- and I don't exactly know how he did it, except by osmosis -- was to infuse me with a kind of confidence that I really didn't have going in. He got that going and then he kept it afloat for playing both characters. I always had more trouble with the Patty character, the supposedly more outgoing one. Oddly, the other character was more like me! Shy. Bill would run around, saying, "Come on, Chicky Baby! Come on, Chicky Baby! Chicky Baby, you can do this!"