It’s hard to believe it’s been roughly six years since Love Comes Softly, the first of Janette Oke’s Love series of romance novels set in frontier America, was adapted for Hallmark Channel. In the intervening years, the films have become highly anticipated events, full of pathos, romance and Americana. This month brings the finale in a double shot of wholesome family entertainment with Love Takes Wing and Love Finds a Home. And Oscar- and Emmy-winning Patty Duke was thrilled to find a place in the final film of this beloved series.
Playing a character in a period piece was a large part of the draw for the veteran actor, who says she has been away from film altogether for roughly three years. Just the opportunity to get dressed up was a major incentive. “That’s one of the lures, for me,” she says. “To wear the clothes — the old Western costumes. The crazy hats and things like that? Just tickled me to death. You really feel, as an actor, when you put on those clothes, they bring at least 30 percent to the performance.”
There’s a youthful exuberance in Duke’s speech, and it’s not hard to imagine her like a little kid who doesn’t want to get out of her Halloween costume even when common sense might dictate otherwise. “It was hotter than hell in the Simi Valley [where filming took place],” she recalls. “The young girls, of course, would take off their costumes after every take to air out. And the prude, me, would stay buttoned up the whole time. But I think part of that was … that I love it. I didn’t want to take it off. I wanted to stay and play.”
At 62 years young, Duke is fully aware that she’s still a kid in many ways — even professionally. While shooting Love Finds a Home, she began to notice something peculiar in the habits of her costars like Haylie Duff, Sarah Jones and Jordan Bridges. “[They] were much more savvy than me about the world of show business now,” she admits. “They were going on auditions while we were shooting. One would have an afternoon off, and off she’d go to two or three auditions. I learned that that’s the way it is, and that’s what we have to do. And I’d better grow up about it!”
As she continues to grow and evolve, Duke is more content now than she ever has been. “I’m more interested in all sorts of things now than I was, say, 10 years ago,” she says, sounding for all the world like a teenager whose eyes have just opened a little wider for a broader look at life. “That includes politics and just things going on in the world around me. A little less totally self-absorbed. … It’s a rediscovering of life, and I didn’t even know that I wasn’t discovering it before,” she laughs.
At present, Duke is keeping busy with a number of projects, the most recent of which has her departing her adopted hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for San Francisco, where she’s taking on the role of Madame Morrible in the stage production of Wicked. It’s a far cry from another recent gig — the public service announcement she did on behalf of the U.S. Social Security Administration that had her reprising the roles of those identical cousins, Cathy and Patty, who she played on TV so many years ago. “I had such a good time doing that,” she exclaims. “When they asked would I do a public service announcement, I assumed it would be, stand in front of a blue background and state the case. But they were so creative, and they very hesitantly but eventually said, ‘Would you be interested in doing the characters?’ I jumped at it, and had a ball. See how the girls have aged?”
Yes, but it doesn’t matter — Patty Duke remains forever young.
Love Takes Wing premieres April 4 and Love Finds a Home premieres April 11 on Hallmark Channel.