Patty Duke was busy. She had been busy since the age of 5 and by the time her managers threw this television show at her, she had starred on Broadway and won an Oscar. She was so consumed by the characters she was playing she really didn't have much opportunity to find out who she was. Good fortune for the people making money off of her. A lot of money. The Patty Duke Show, in my opinion, is a triumph on this great lady's behalf. The behind-the-scenes activity is far more intriguing than any episode. She was abused, fed pills of any letter of the alphabet, controlled in every way imaginable, and little by little having to come to terms with the manic depression that was, by season 3, becoming a bigger deal than it had been when she was sixteen. But you never see any of that onscreen. Not once. When they told her to be Patty, she was Patty. When they told her to be Cathy, she was Cathy. Like a switch. Identical cousins, who, in Patty Duke's opinion, amounted less than a single human being. That's the magic of it all. Her performance is so startlingly believable that there was never a question of Yes, they are two seperate people with completely different personalities. She is that good.
Seasons 1 and 2 are very solid in the show's concept of identical cousins causing mayhem, getting along, riffing with one another, and the like. Mistaken identity is always fun for them and a clever tool they utilize sometimes, whether they planned to or not. The parents are logical, rational, and actually quite real for a 60's sitcom. The little brother is bratty and clever but is also given several moments of sincere tenderness throughout the series. Kind of impressive in the era of The Donna Reed Show and other shows that imitated it. It is during season 3 that the show takes a magnificent left turn. Against Patty's wishes, the show was moved (filming wise) from New York to Los Angeles. She submitted, but on her own terms. Everything is different, and I mean everything. The front of the house, the inside of the house, save Patty and Cathy's bedroom. Most of the episodes forget about Cathy, sometimes entirely. But there is suddenly a fire to this show that was never there before. The most noticeable difference is the relationship between Patty and Martin, her father. Natalie, the mother, while always a joy as portrayed by Jean Byron, also melts away a bit. The show becomes about Patty, her father, and her brother. Other people pop up often, of course, but they're more background than anything else. Even Eddie Applegate's Richard, Patty's boyfriend, dwindles a bit. One episode I highly recommend is towards the end of the series during which Patty and her father have a very intense disagreement regarding Patty's curfew. Bubblegummy as that sounds, it turns into something almost uncomfortable and heartbreaking to watch. The show stops being a sitcom and turns into a story about a father and daughter who are so disappointed in one another that they can barely look up from across the dinner table. William Schallert and Patty Duke always had strong chemistry, but this was Emmy worthy.
Sure, I gush about The Patty Duke Show, but it's personal for me in that I understand many of the actresses' struggles during its process. I found the show on Nick At Nite when I was eleven and, to this day, am ferociously impressed that, even with her difficult life backstage, when the director called "Action", she lit up like a Christmas tree. That's talent. The REALLY real kind.