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In Memory of My Patty Duke Flip

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Meet Cathy, who’s lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square.
But Patty’s only seen the sights
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights –
What a crazy pair!”


Lois Rubin Gross

Lois Rubin Gross

I really wanted to be Cathy Lane, not Patty Lane. I definitely thought that Crepes Suzette sounded more interesting than hot dogs. Hot dogs didn’t make me lose control. They made me lose my lunch. I never did do well with seasoned deli meats.

I loved the theatre and the Ballet Russes was only a short jump from Agnes de Mille’s ballets for Oklahoma. Rock and roll? Meh! I know it makes me unbelievably weird, but even then, I preferred protest songs and idolized the folk princesses, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Mary Travers. I would strum my cello-sized guitar about ten beats behind them (I was left-handed. Guitar playing did not come easily). I wanted their ethereal sound and their longhaired, esthete look.

Unfortunately, my hair did not go along with my tastes.

Frizzy, wavy, uncontrollable especially in Philadelphia’s humid summer, that was my hair. My friends were already achieving straightness by ironing their hair, but my mother forbade it. I’m not sure if she was afraid I’d ruin my hair or her iron and ironing board. I suspect it was the latter. My mother was a stickler for perfectly pressed blouses and skirts.

With few choices left, I looked to TV. Cathy’s hair turned under in a shiny pageboy. Mine never did. So left with little choice, I opted for the Patty Duke flip.

Here’s how you achieved a bouffant flip. Rollers. Big, uncomfortable rollers. Some had sticky brushes in them. Others were made of pink sponge. You separated your hair (inexpertly, in my case) and rolled the top of your hair down over the rollers. The bottom of your hair, the flip part, was rolled up. The brush rollers were secured with bobby pins or pin curl clips. You did this in the evening so your hair would look good in the morning. It was, of course, a losing battle.

Tick, tick, tick. The clock on your bed stand moved forwards minutes, then quarter hours, half hours and hours. There was no comfortable position for your head with rollers in place. I would try sleeping on my face, my side, and my back. The rollers dug in or pulled at my scalp. Usually, by 11 o’ clock, I had had enough. I would rip the rollers out of my hair, sometimes with the hair still in it, and hurl them on the floor. Like Scarlet O’Hara, (I was a precocious reader), I would think about it, tomorrow.

In the morning, I would barely remember removing the rollers, but there they would be on the floor, the sad outcome of my restless night and lack of commitment to beauty. Therefore, I would struggle to achieve at least a passable hair-do.

Actually, it was not such a struggle. My coarse hair has amazing shape memory. I generally flipped perfectly, at least on the left side. The right side pretty much hung there. However, if I expelled at least half a can of Aqua Net, I could achieve something that would last at least until third period. Unless I had first period gym or it was raining. In that case, all bets were off.

Did I forget to mention the teasing? No, not teasing as in bullying but creating a cotton candy confection of hair “ratted” by rapidly combing your top hair in an up-and-down motion to create height. I needed height. I was permanently 4 ft. 11 in by the time I was eleven. Another inch or two of hair was a blessing. If you were not good at teasing, (I wasn’t. You get that I was a disaster as a stylist, right?), you hung your head down and sprayed underneath for between one and fifteen minutes. By this time the AquaNet can was empty so the result was what you got.

You notice that I’m wearing a Hellenca hairband, right? I had one in every color to match my clothes. You would buy them in packs of three, I think, and wear them always. Of course, they looked best if you had ribbon straight, bleached blonde hair. But I had a tight-as-a-spring flip. They were probably an unnecessary accoutrement. However, the girls in Seventeen Magazine (my fashion bible) wore them, so I wore them.

The death of Patty Duke at such a relatively young age stole another icon from Baby Boomer women. We didn’t know, at the time, that she struggled with mental illness or that she was being abused by her managers who took her from her fractured family. We knew she had famously played Helen Keller, both on Broadway and on TV. She was a person of our age on television with whom we could really identify. Despite her constant disasters, she and her cousin Cathy always had an ideal family to laugh with them and save them in their upscale Brooklyn Heights home. They went to the shake shop to “rock ‘n roll and lose control,” and to the prom with appropriately matched dates.

Lois R Gtoss - and her Patty Duke Flip

Lois R Gtoss – and her Patty Duke Flip

I hear that it took the actress years to come to terms with the bubble gum image that made her a  real household name. After more than the usual stumbles, she eventually emerged as a respected adult actress. I am not counting her performance as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls. It remains one of my favorite “camp” movies, and every time she lands, drunk and defeated in that New York alley, I scream with her, “Neely O’Hara, you stink!”

Ah, but that wasn’t the 1960s famous Patty Duke. That wasn’t the girl with the sleekly turned pageboy or the tightly curled flip. That wasn’t the bouncy teen with the doofus boyfriend, Richard (who I figure grew out of his goofy stage and became a lawyer or an accountant or something solid). The Patty Duke I will always think of is the one whose hair I  tried to emulate. Even now, friends I’ve known for decades ask me what ever happened to my Patty Duke flip and, for their benefit, it is preserved in that picture that I’ve memorialized on this page. Thank my mother for its preservation. I abandoned many of my memories when I left home, but she held on to them for me, along with her antique iron and old-fashioned ironing board.

Rest in peace, Anna Marie. You may have gone on to deny your TV creation but to many of your peers, Patty and split screen Cathy were peerless.

After Fifty Living™ was founded by Jo-Anne Lema, a genuine Boomer and member of the 50+ generation. As she likes to say, “Our enormous generation is charting new territory – we’re healthier, better educated, and more financially fit than any other generation at this time. And, as we march through history, 110 million strong – unique, new issues are developing. It’s exciting to be a part of the development and growth of This is a historic solution for a historic generation.”

Jo-Anne spent many years in the financial and operations side of higher education after having received a doctorate in education management and administration from Harvard, and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. Launching out on her own, though, has been the fulfillment of a life dream. Jo-Anne believes that “AfterFiftyLiving™ will delight its visitors, catalyze its partners, and will significantly benefit those who engage it.”

Residing in New England along with her husband of 35+ years, she never ceases to brag about her two children and 4 grandkids!

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