The Inevitable Death of My Childhood

First it was Davy Jones. Then it was Lesley Gore. Now Patty Duke is gone.

I guess I am getting old because the people who absolutely defined my childhood existence are dying off. I was too young when the first two Beatles passed away, but reflected how sad it was that the group would never be able to play together again in my lifetime.

I have had a few icons from my youth that either played the soundtrack to my childhood, or represented what I wanted to be, pass away.

Davy of course was my first teen idol crush – big time crush. I was a bit too young but I loved Paul McCartney, and all of the Beatles first, but again, the intensity was that much greater when the Monkees came along because I was in junior high and prime for the big crush. When he passed away, I wrote a blog about him – linked above, and my experience getting to spend a day with him.(the thrill of a lifetime even though I was much older) As much as I adored him, I was still surprised at how much his death affected me for months and even years later.

Lesley Gore was someone who I listened to all through my youth and teen years and even though she started with the silly, un-empowering “It’s My Party” about crying over a boy, she later came out with a feminist battle cry with “You Don’t Own Me.” In between she had sensational hits such as “She’s a Fool” and “The Look of Love.” When she died, I felt like Don McLean’s song, “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” (subtitled “The Day the Music Died.”) She represented young ladies, pop music of the sixties, and much more for me. I played her greatest hits until it wore out. There went another piece of my childhood.

Now with the passing of Patty Duke, I again felt a piece of my childhood chipped away. She was a STAR! A triple threat in that she could act, sing and dance, she loomed large in my youth. (Check out these You Tube videos including her singing her top ten hit on Shindig here and a singing and dancing performance here)

Patty Duke to me, aside from her brilliant acting ability as shown in her performance in The Miracle Worker, and other movies, was a role model.

The reason, is that from fourth grade through sixth grade (for three school years)- a very impressionable time, I was a pre-teen and watched The Patty Duke show, a very popular, highly rated television show at the time. For three seasons I watched Patty Duke, a typical American teenager with a loving but sensible father and a supportive, loving mother – along with a bratty, bothersome brother. This perfect teen dressed adorably, acted effervescently and oozed enthusiasm for just about everything, was outgoing and friendly to all, (but had her rivals) danced to rock and roll, and demonstrated popularity and leadership in her high school. In other words, she was what we all aspired to be as teens. She even had a devoted, if a bit goofy, boyfriend, something I definitely emulated later on.

Patty Lane, as her character was called, was involved in just about everything, (in fact one episode I watched on a retro channel last summer was about her over-involvement and not having enough time to do everything)–something else I emulated, winning the highest service award at my high school at graduation.

She warned about teen angst, but each instance of that was resolved before the end of the 30 minute episode, something I never learned to resolve despite watching her religiously.

Yes, it was just a sitcom, a television show, but it was a hallmark of the mid-sixties era. We girls all watched it and wanted to be Patty Lane, or Patty Duke. (I was already in High School when Marcia Brady filled this role for many.)

Later of course, we all found out the truth, that her perfect life as depicted on the sitcom, was just made for the cameras. Her real life was a living hell, with sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs at a young age – all at the hands of her management, and included a bout of anorexia along with bipolar disorder. (And may I say that she was a true hero in coming out with her private battles and doing so much for the public perception of mental illness.)

My own teen life was in reality less than the perfect one I envisioned while watching this television series, but all the adversity I overcame only made me stronger.

And now this talented, and formerly troubled, star of my youth is gone. It really gives a reality check on my true age (I am really getting old) and on mortality, as my idols fall, one by one. I guess I can’t keep denying my aging despite feeling youthful.

Rest in peace Patty Duke – who preferred to be called her real name Anna Marie. And rest in peace Lesley and Davy. Thanks for all the great memories and giving me so much pleasure through my childhood.

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