Well, here is my number 1. To determine this position, I just asked myself the question: if, of all the winners in that category, only one could keep her Oscar and I could decide that – who would it be? And my answer was very simple.Actually, Patty Duke may seem like such an unlikely choice for the number 1. The character of Helen Keller does not really allow a lot of depth, the performance stays on one note almost all the time and also does not present any change. But sometimes, all these things aren’t necessary especially when it comes to a character that is such a physical challenge. The inexperience of Patty Duke and her willingness to let herself completely go in this role create one of the most overwhelming performances ever.
Helen Keller is a deaf and blind girl, caught in a world of silence, unable to communicate with those around her and also unable to understand what they expect from her. From a technical point-of-view, Patty Duke is truly flawless – her vocals, her wild temper, her violence, her facial work all comes across as both believable and captivating. She found exactly the right balance to make Helen a character you care about while never trying to get any sympathy for her. She makes the struggle of Annie Sullivan believable – she loves Helen but also denies her any pity.
And even though I said that Helen Keller is a character that lacks depth, this is not true for Patty Duke’s characterization – because she shows that there is actually much going on inside her head. She learns very quickly, she understands that her parents will never punish her for her behavior and so she has mastered the technique of manipulating them. Everybody always assume that she is dumb and Patty Duke shows how Helen uses this to her own advantage, even without truly realizing that does it.
The scenes between Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft are certainly masterpieces of acting – especially their fight at the dinner table. Nothings seems rehearsed, everything appears to be spontaneous and real. When Helen is crying for her mother, Patty Duke is incredibly touching but again she never tries to get our sympathy but shows Helen as what she is – ‘a badly spoiled child’.
And then there is the ‘water-scene’ – more than ever, Patty Duke’s vocal works blows the audience away and it’s one of the most touching and at the same time most cheerful scenes ever.
Even though most people today would give the award that year to Angela Lansbury, I thank Patty Duke for delivering one of the few performances that totally and without any hesitation satisfy me as a brilliant piece of art.