(CN) – A federal judge in Manhattan refused to dismiss former child star Patty Duke’s claim that the producer of the play “Golda’s Balcony” breached an oral agreement by firing her.
Duke, whose real name is Anna Pearce, starred in her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show,” and won an Academy Award in 1962 at age 16 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.”
She was set to star in a national tour of the one-actor show about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. The play previously ran on Broadway and starred Tovah Feldshuh in the title role. In 2003 it became the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history.
Duke claimed that her agent, the general manager of the show and the producer reached an agreement over a conference call. The actress said her salary terms were met, and her agent allegedly ended the call by saying, “Gentleman, we have a deal. We have an agreement.”
But in his deposition, the manager denied that statement was ever made.
Duke said she began learning her lines and conducting research for the role, and she and producer David Fishelson began discussing scheduling, costume fittings and photo shoots.
Fishelson allegedly sent her a draft press release for the tour that read, “Patty Duke to star in Golda’s Balcony.”
The details of a merchandizing provision were purportedly hindering the deal from becoming official.
Duke said the decision not to offer her a written contract stemmed from a 2005 incident in which she was fired from an appearance on “Law & Order: SVU” for not being able to deliver her lines.
Fishelson allegedly called her and expressed concerns about her ability to perform on the tour. But later that night he sent her an email stating, “I hope I didn’t put too much pressure on you … you’re my Golda, I’m certain you’ll be ready to play her,” according to the complaint.
The next month her agent was contacted by a lawyer for the show, who stated that Fishelson would not be offering her the role. Duke and her agent said that an agreement had been reached for her to star in the play, and that she “abandoned efforts to be cast in a television series” so she could prepare to play Meir.
An expert witness for Duke testified that it is “general practice” in the theater industry to reach an oral deal before a standard equity contract is signed, as required by the actor’s union. The expert explained that this allows an actor to start preparing for a role while the parties keep “ironing out” the details.
The defendants’ expert witness disputed this notion, and said it’s particularly important to have a written contract when producing a one-actor play. The defendants’ witness said the success of that kind of show depends on the star, so “a producer would want to be confident that the actor was committed to participating.”
They disagreed on whether a written contract was necessary to bind the agreement.
U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood dismissed Duke’s invasion of privacy claim over her likeness being used in promotional materials, but declined to drop the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims.
“Whether parties intended to be bound only by written contract is a question of fact that is usually best determined by a jury at trial; it is rarely appropriate for a court to resolve the issue on summary judgment,” Judge Wood wrote.
In the 1960s, Duke had her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show” and starred in the campy classic “Valley of the Dolls.” She has won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Golden Globe award.