The recent death of Patty Duke brought on a whole flood of memories. When I was in high school, I was the student director of a production of William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker," which was a wonderful experience. (High school drama is one of the things that helped me get through all kinds of high school drama.) I still remember the American manual alphabet signs that Anne Sullivan used to teach Helen how to spell "W – A – T – E – R" at the breakthrough moment.
"The Miracle Worker" is a very good play and movie. People often forget how fine a director Arthur Penn was: "The Miracle Worker," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Little Big Man," "Alice's Restaurant," etc. Gibson did a fine job of setting up the situation and letting it play out. And the performances of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke were simply sensational. They both won Oscars in 1962 against very tough competition. (Bancroft beat Katharine Hepburn in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and Lee Remick in "Days of Wine and Roses" among others, while Patty beat Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate." Hmmm....)
When I was young, "Helen Keller" was a very famous person, and not just because of the play and movie. She was a national figure.
(Is she even remembered these days? Do kids still make "Helen Keller" jokes? That would be considered "politically incorrect," -- i.e., cruel -- now. Do they read her autobiography THE STORY OF MY LIFE?)
Back in my youth, she was quite a figure of inspiration. Blind and deaf, she broke out of her isolation and achieved a life of fulfillment and real accomplishment. She was the first deafblind person to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. Radcliffe, Class of 1904. She published 12 books in her lifetime and led an active, engaged life as a lecturer and political activist.
She met every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson, and was friends with Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Graham Bell, and many other famous people. Early in her life, she was befriended by Mark Twain, who introduced her to the Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, who wound up paying for Helen's education at Radcliffe. In fact, Twain was the first person to describe Anne Sullivan as a "miracle worker."
Something that's been forgotten over the years is that Helen Keller became an outspoken proponent of left-wing causes. She was a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, campaigning for labor rights, women's suffrage, birth control, and other causes.
Because she was helped, she believed in helping others.
I'll be honest: I can't imagine what life would be like with a serious handicap, much less TWO of them. Helen Keller's triumph over her twin handicaps just boggles my mind and fills me with endless respect. I don't even want to think about it. Life is hard enough, "able-bodied."
That's why I am also filled with admiration for a friend of mine David Bernstein who runs HOPE HOUSE FOR THE MULTIPLE-HANDICAPPED, a non-profit organization in El Monte, California, that offers many important services to people with more than one serious developmental disability, just like Helen Keller.
Hope House has residential programs for children, adolescents, young adults, and adults with all kinds of complex developmental difficulties and behavioral challenges including autism. Hope House believes in providing a healthy social environment, emphasizing learning and individual development.
As their Mission Statement says, "In a world where being different used to mean isolation, we advocate for our residents to have a life full of personal, meaningful choices."
They offer other valuable services like Respite Reachout, which gives support to local families with loved ones in the home.
Hope House does extremely good work; work that I couldn't do, that's for sure. Look at their website, and count your blessings.
There are many ways to help Hope House. Money might not be a "miracle worker," but it helps.
Hope House – Home Page
Hope House – Support Us
Helen Keller speaks out
Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
The Water scene from "The Miracle Worker"
The Eating scene from "The Miracle Worker"
Patty Duke in "Valley of the Dolls" – the catfight with Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) – a camp classic
"The Patty Duke Show" theme song
"The Prisoner of Zenda" – a clip from another story about "identical cousins"