Lifetime Television will premiere the original movie Unanswered Prayers on Monday (November 29), based on the popular Garth Brooks song of the same name. Starring in the thoughtful film is movie and TV legend, Patty Duke. In a conference call, Patty opened up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her Academy Award-winning role in The Miracle Worker, the possibility of working with her sons Mackenzie and Sean Astin and the joys of being grandma to five granddaughters.
Also the author of two best-selling books revealing her struggles with bipolar disorder, Patty says she was suicidal prior to her diagnosis and thanks god for the dark unanswered prayers of her youth. In a candid discussion, Patty also opens up about the pain of losing a daughter and her mission to keep her memory alive.
Tell us about your experience working on Unanswered Prayers.
PD: “Garth Brooks has been a real hero in our family. We just love his work. When I met him, I was delightfully surprised by how funny and witty he is. He had me laughing the whole time we spent together. In his song Unanswered Prayers, it says a lot to those of us who wish for things that maybe it’s better off we don’t have.
The role is a supporting role, which is fine by me. The whole experience turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had in the workplace. From the top down – Lisa Anderson and Garth Brooks, the producers – set a tone of gentility. People were polite to each other and it just made it a lovely experience. This project was wrapped in something quite unique and graceful.”
Tell us about working with Garth Brooks.
PD: “I will tell you a very private thing that I mentioned to him and he was so lovely about it. We lost a daughter about 13 years ago and she was a huge Garth Brooks fan. She had a couple of songs in particular that were her favorite. At her funeral we played The Dance. When I told him that, he was so real. At first he said ‘Oh my god.’ And then he said, ‘It’s not supposed to be that way. That’s backwards – we’re not supposed to bury our children.’ I thought this was such a gracious way of him saying that he could relate. Many times when you say that to a person you’ve caught them off guard and then they don’t know what the hell to say. He nodded as if he was processing that and it was one of the only moments he wasn’t making me laugh hysterically.”
CBS: We’re so sorry to hear about your daughter. How old was she when she passed away?
PD: “She was technically my step daughter but we don’t acknowledge the ‘step’ in our family. One of our closest friends is her mom. She was 22. She went camping with a group of people, one of them being her boyfriend. Apparently they went back into town to get some refreshments – you can read between the lines – and on their way back to the campsite they missed a turn and went into the river. He got out which was terrific. He tried to get her out, but he couldn’t get her out because of the pressure of the water.
All my life I’ve said, “Oh my god I could never live through losing a child.’ You know what, you don’t have a choice. What you try to do is move on and with the energy that she brought to our lives, do what we can to make sure that that doesn’t happen to others. Whether that be speaking out to a parent about driving and drinking. No matter what it is. We don’t forget her. It’s funny how it pops up in ways. You’ll see a child who has the same coloring and all of a sudden you’re remembering how she was and how funny she was. We do survive, but I don’t recommend it.”
CBS: You’re mom to three sons and now you have five granddaughters! Is it nice to have some girls in the family?
PD: “I have 5 granddaughters! I had boys and now we can’t get a boy! It’s been great fun. Many things have changed about me because of them. The most obvious being that I have vocally hated pink forever, especially when it means girl. Well, now I don’t buy anything that isn’t pink! Two of our granddaughters live near us, so we’re the grandparents that take them to their dancing lessons and their gymnastics lessons and they spend time over here.
My son Sean [Astin] and his family live in Los Angeles and I don’t get to see them nearly enough. We do communicate with Skype and emails. But it’s not the same. There’s something about being able to have the child in your home that makes it so relaxed and easy. We get together for holidays – we take trips both ways. But it’s still not enough. And they are wonderful girls! They’re very much a combination of their mother and father. They’ve got the wonderful calm of their mother and they’ve got the energy and humor of their dad. When I do see them, it’s a glorious time.”
CBS: Tell us about the joy of being a grandma.
PD: “Well [laughs]… There are joys when they first get here. That’s great. Then around 4:30 you’re checking your watch every 2 minutes to see if mom’s ever going to pick them up [laughs]. It’s very tiring. Thank god they’re healthy and inquisitive children! But, ‘why’ is the word of the day! Particularly the 4-year-old has to know about everything. Every move you make has to be explained and detailed. Sooner or later she gets bored with her own questions and you get to come up for air!”
CBS: Like Garth’s song goes, do you ever thank god for ‘Unanswered Prayers’?
PD: “Yes I do. They were mostly in my youth. There came a time that I realized that god probably had better things to do than deal with my petty wishes. I’ll tell you a very serious one. Before I was diagnosed and treated for bipolar, I attempted suicide a number of times. I’m very glad that prayer wasn’t answered! I obviously had more to do here and thank god that the professionals in the medical world made it possible.”
Following the theme of the movie, do you ever kick yourself for the one that got away?
PD: “I married most of them [laughs]. I really don’t! What is astonishing to me on a daily basis about my husband – and we’re coming up on 25 years now – is the fate that would bring us together. He was a drill sergeant and I was the actress. I knew well enough to know that this was ‘the one.’ ”
Is there anyone in the business that you would be starstruck meeting?
PD: “Actually I have met him briefly: Anthony Hopkins. I went backstage very timidly and he was, of course, everything that I wanted him to be. He was so gracious and kind and good humored. I went away from there on cloud 9. My prayer about him has yet to be answered, but maybe it will in time. And that is, to work with him.”
What kinds of fans do you have?
PD: “It falls into a few categories. There’s those who come up and break out into the theme song of The Patty Duke Show. Some of them only do a few bars and some of them do the whole darn song! There are those who come up and tell me that they became a teacher of the disabled because of their experience in watching The Miracle Worker. That always feels good. There are those that come up and very quietly tell me that either they or a family member has the same mental illness that I do. They read my book and they finally decided to go and get it checked out. So far, it’s extremely positive and warm and loving, actually.”
Are you going to work with your sons in the future?
PD: “Oh god I hope so! I’ve worked with each of them individually. Each time it was…it’s hard to describe. Of course there’s the mother pride, but there’s also the mother scrutiny. I wouldn’t normally do that to anybody else. But I would love to find something for the three of us to do together. I could retire then!”
What if one of your granddaughters went into showbiz? What would your advice be?
PD: “It came up, actually. The eldest of Sean’s girls, Alexandra, she’s 14 now. A couple of years ago she decided that she would probably like to go into the ‘family business’ as we call it. First there was a glitch in me that said, ‘No, no never!’ And then I recognized that that ‘No, no’ comes from an old place in me. I was a child actor and I lived with my managers which did not go very well. So that’s my immediate response. But I have a difference response when I think that Sean and Christine will still be her parents and she will be guided very well. She did a couple of things – very small – and then she decided she’ll wait a while. So she’s smarter than all of us [laughs]!”
Tell us about your past involvement with SAG and how you’ve advocated for child actors.
PD: “I’m definitely an advocate. When I was the president of SAG, it was very important to me that we address how us adult actors behave when there are child actors working. When there’s something going on on that set and there’s a child involved, it must be dealt with. There needs to be a number to call anonymously and let it be known that there should be some oversight.”
Do you have any holiday traditions with your family?
PD: “We always buy our tree on my birthday, December 14th. That is a definite tradition and you can’t get out of it! By the time Christmas comes, the tree is in bad shape [laughs]. We always do the Christmas dinner together. Also, we do Christmas morning for opening up the presents. Then the kids try on their clothes or play with their toys while nana and the daughters-in-law make dinner. Also, I make a special pistachio salad – I think it’s grandma’s special recipe. It’s lime jello and whip cream and marshmallows and all the things that we shouldn’t have. But we get to have it on Christmas.”
Do you ever watch The Miracle Worker with your kids and/or grandkids?
PD: “Yes, and it’s a powerful experience. And not just because it’s me, but because it’s so far away now.”
Unanswered Prayers will premiere on Lifetime Monday, November 29, at 9PM ET/PT.