He promised me a rose garden,” beams Patty Duke Astin, 30, “and I got one.” Although she might be speaking about her happy five-year marriage to 47-year-old actor John Astin, Patty has a specific rose garden in mind.
It is in back of the Bethesda, Md. home of John’s parents, where he and Patty were married Aug. 5, 1972 after being “together” for more than two years. The ceremony was performed by a renegade Episcopal priest, who wore an orange robe with a huge felt butterfly stitched on the back and the words “Happy Day” on the front. When the wedding guests were invited to speak their piece, 18-month-old Sean looked at Astin and cried, “Daddy!” Exclaimed the priest, “Well, that about does it!”
So began a marriage that united two television veterans of the early ’60s. While still a teenager, Patty (who is called Anna Marie, her real name, by her husband and friends) was busy shooting every scene twice as look-alike American and British cousins on The Patty Duke Show. Astin, meanwhile, was the ghoulish Gomez, patriarch of The Addams Family. John and Patty first met at an ABC-TV convention in Chicago in 1964 but did not see each other seriously for another six years. They met then at a wrap party at Universal and soon found themselves in a profound conversation about mortality and death. “We were able to communicate very quickly with each other,” John says.
Today their cramped five-bedroom house in West Los Angeles (with neighbors like Carroll O’Connor and Leonard Nimoy) resembles the set for a long-running series called The Astin Family. John and Patty’s brood consists of five sons—three from his 15-year marriage to former actress Suzanne Hahn. The house jangles to the sound of 14 telephones; the small backyard is strewn with toys, the graves of 11 hamsters and a plastic wading pool. “You have to understand,” says John, “that the family is more important than anything in life.”
The Astins’ careers are doing well anyway. John is playing the lead in ABC’s Operation Petticoat and shooting an original-cast Addams Family special for Halloween Eve. He has directed several episodes of his own show and the pilot of a new series called Rosetti and Ryan, which featured his wife. “I was very nervous,” Patty, a chain-smoker and compulsive nail-biter, says of the experience. “But he was gentle and kind. If he asked me to do more than one take, I was highly insulted. I argued to the death—then did it his way.”
Patty picked up her second Emmy this year as Richard Jordan’s dipsomaniac wife in Captains and the Kings. In addition to TV specials and films, she will appear in Storytellers, a TV movie about the effects of television violence on a teenager. She will also be featured in Irwin Allen’s next disaster flick, Swarm, 1978’s big Bee-movie.
The Astins are happiest when together on stage or set. “Working with Anna is special,” says John. “When I do, I’m a richer actor.” A Chicago Tribune critic even likened them to the Lunts for their performance in Rattle of a Simple Man. They also have toured in such plays as A Shot in the Dark and The Marriage Gambol.
The road to this state of personal and professional harmony was a meandering one—especially so for Patty. Born in Manhattan, she was just another 7-year-old with a New York accent when her brother, an amateur actor, introduced her to agents John and Ethel Ross. Intrigued by her potential, they changed her name to Patty (partly because of the success at the time of child actress Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed) and persuaded Mrs. Duke to let Anna come and live with them. “When I’m with my kids,” Patty says now, “I see how awful it must have been for my mother, missing all those hours together.” But Patty’s career came first and the Rosses lined up TV commercials and minor stage roles.
Her big break came at the age of 12, when she landed the part of Helen Keller in the Broadway production of The Miracle Worker. She rode the subway to the theater and made $350 for eight performances a week. Mrs. Duke would babysit backstage and she and Patty would sometimes visit each other on weekends. “I was frustrated about not having everyday experiences like other girls my age,” Patty remembers. “I was angry at all the restrictions.” But she went on to repeat the role for the movie and won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, the youngest ever until Tatum O’Neal.
Eventually the relentless work and the phoniness (“saying I loved peanut butter when it actually made me ill”) caught up with Patty. Shortly before her 19th birthday, she married Harry Falk, a 32-year-old assistant director on her show. The childless marriage lasted until 1970. “I just wasn’t old enough to marry anyone,” reflects Patty. “After the divorce I was 23 and I felt the need to explore the whys and wherefores of my behavior and the kind of person I wanted to be. That’s when I stopped trying to be 15 or 90 and tried 23 on for size.”
Patty’s behavior became erratic. She appeared onstage to collect her first Emmy (for My Sweet Charlie) and rambled incoherently. She was rumored to be having romances with, among others, Desi Arnaz Jr., 17 years old at the time. She married a rock promoter named Michael Tell and it lasted 13 days. “It was one of those silly things that kids do,” Patty tries to explain. “I didn’t even know the man. But I’m sure he was very nice.” Her first child, Sean, was born in February 1971. Another result of this period has been four years of analysis, “on and off.”
Astin’s background had all the stability that Patty’s lacked. His father was director of the National Bureau of Standards in Washington appointed by Harry Truman, and John intended to follow in Dad’s scientific footsteps. Instead, he fell in love with the theater and graduated in 1952 with a Johns Hopkins degree in drama (but just three credits shy of a math degree too).
After some off-Broadway work, As-tin went to Hollywood in 1960 and appeared in West Side Story and That Touch of Mink. One season opposite Marty Ingels in I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster led to The Addams Family, which ran for two years until 1966.
The Astins these days are a centrifugal family. All five kids are enrolled in different schools, Dad drives off to Universal Studios each day in his van, and Mom, who is between roles at the moment, does errands in the family sedan. “Comparisons ultimately pale,” John says of their separate careers. “But I feel complimented to be called Patty Duke’s husband. That’s when I know how damn lucky I am.”