Desi Arnaz, Jr. And Patty Duke: Inside Their Headline-Making 1970 Affair

The death of film and TV legend Patty Duke has many fans remembering her highly publicized romance with Desi Arnaz, Jr. more than 45 years ago. Desi Arnaz, Jr., the only son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, has not yet commented on the death of his former flame following the news that the beloved actress died at age 69. But Duke’s son, Sean Astin, posted a poignant throwback pic of himself and his mom on Instagram, which had some fans recalling the scandal surrounding his 1971 birth.

Patty Duke and Desi Arnaz, Jr. met in 1970, during Arnaz’s heydey as a TV hearthrob on The Lucy Show and The Brady Bunch, and they immediately clicked, despite the fact that Desi Arnaz, Jr. was still a teenager and Duke was a 23-year-old divorcee. In a 2004 interview with ABC News 20/20, Patty said her affair with Desi, Jr. was a scandal at the time because he was six years her junior at just 17 years old. In addition, Desi’s famous mom Lucille Ball was opposed to the relationship due to Duke’s age and the fact that she was recently divorced, so the I Love Lucy star reportedly demanded that her son break up with the actress. As can be expected, the tabloids ate up the juicy story of the two Hollywood stars.

“It was a horror. I was little Patty Duke who came into the living rooms on Wednesday nights.”

Desi Arnaz, Jr. was even Patty Duke’s date for the 1970 Emmy Awards, when her bizarre acceptance speech had many people thinking she was on drugs. The actress, who ultimately became a mental health pioneer, would later reveal that she was in the middle of a manic-depressive episode while accepting her trophy.

While the press had a field day with Desi Arnaz, Jr.’s relationship with the Oscar-winning actress, in a 1991 interview with Woman’s Day, Arnaz said his famous mother actually liked Patty.

“[Mom] encouraged me to bring my girlfriends over to the house. Although the press made them out to be enemies, Mom actually liked Patty Duke. What she didn’t like was the idea of me, at 17, having a relationship with a 23 year-old divorcee.”

Shortly after her split from Desi, Patty Duke soon found out she was pregnant, and she spontaneously married a stranger named Michael Tell, a man she knew for just hours, while rumors swirled that a teen Desi Arnaz, Jr. was the child’s father. Duke’s impromptu marriage was annulled after only 13 days, and years later she told her son, Sean, that Desi Arnaz, Jr. was his biological father. But blood tests proved otherwise, revealing that Tell was Sean’s father despite the fact that Patty said the marriage was never consummated. Still, in the 20/20 interview, Sean Astin said he remains close with Desi.

“Desi Arnaz Jr. loves me, and I love him. We are so close. Science tells me … that he’s not my biological father. Science tells me that Mike Tell is.”

Still, even after the genetic testing, Patty Duke remained convinced that Desi Arnaz, Jr. is Sean’s biological father.

Desi Arnaz, Jr. went on to marry Linda Purl, and then second wife Amy, while Patty famously married John Astin (The Addams Family) and later, Michael Pearce. And more than 10 years after their romance ended, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Patty Duke both appeared in Norman Lear’s I Love Liberty skit in 1982, showing the world that they remained on good terms.

Desi eventually left the Hollywood scene and headed to Nevada, where he purchased the legendary Boulder Theatre in Boulder City. In an interview last fall with Canyon News, Arnaz talked about moving from Hollywood to Nevada, saying he did it for “sanity.”

“My whole life had been in the face of the world. Because of my parents, no matter what we did or said ended up somewhere in the press or media. I didn’t really know who I was…It was important for me to find out who the hell I was and what could I offer the world in positive way.”

Watch the video below to see Patty Duke talking about her affair with Desi Arnaz, Jr. at the nine-minute mark.

[Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain]

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