(In which we consider Patricia Neal.)

Posted by Job O Brother, August 9, 2010 02:41pm | Post a Comment


Yesterday saw the death of one of my favorite actresses, Patricia Neal, from lung cancer. A belief in Heaven might be comforting at this point, but for myself, I can’t help but think this planet got a little less awesome.

Neal’s performances have always struck me as profoundly internalized. The women she portrayed often seemed unwilling to betray their true feelings, and it was Neal’s ability to stay true to this, while at the same time radiating their deeper passions, that make her an endlessly rewarding study. I find I always want to see how she would play a role, given the chance.

Neal’s most famous roles were as the female lead, Helen, in the 1951 production of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and her performance as Alma in Hud, for which she won the 1963 Academy Award for Best Actress.

A particular favorite of mine is her role in Elia Kazan’s heartbreaking drama, A Face in the Crowd, which also starred Andy Griffith in a performance so achingly bittersweet and tragic it makes me frustrated he spent so much of his career playing the sweet-natured, simple, Southern sage.

Neal’s real life was matched in drama with the parts she’d play on screen. An affair with then-married actor Gary Cooper – her co-star in The Fountainhead – would result in a pregnancy (which was terminated). Cooper’s daughter, having learned of their affair, once famously spit on Neal in public.

In 1953, Neal married Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, among others. Their marriage produced five children; the eldest of them, Olivia Twenty, died of measles.

Neal’s health was also a consistent source of challenge. While pregnant with her fifth and final child, Neal suffered cerebral aneurysms, and was in a coma for three weeks. This event caused her to become paralyzed, and she had to re-learn how to walk and talk, both of which, due to her self-proclaimed “stubbornness,” she managed to do. Even through this, her baby daughter, Lucy Neal, was born healthy. This time in Neal’s life was dramatized in the 1981 made-for-TV film The Patricia Neal Story, which starred Glenda Jackson as Neal and Dirk Bogarde as Roald Dahl.

Neal was 84. And so rad.

Relevant Tags

Patricia Neal (2), Cancer (10), Heaven (2), Elia Kazan (1), Andy Griffith (5), Gary Cooper (3), Roald Dahl (1), James And The Giant Peach (1), Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (1), Fantastic Mr. Fox (3), Glenda Jackson (1), Dirk Bogarde (1)