Monday, August 9, 2010

The Late, Great Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal, the legendary actress who played in such films as A Face in the Crowd, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Hud, passed yesterday at the age of 84. The cause was lung cancer.

Patricia Neal was born on July 20, 1926 in Packard, Kentucky. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She had wanted to be an actress since childhood. In the summer of 1942, before her senior year in high school, she was given an apprenticeship at the Barter Theatre in Abdington, Virginia. She attended Northwestern University for two years before moving to New York City.

Once in New York City, Patricia Neal served as understudy before replacing Vivian Vance in a tour of Voice of the Turtle. Miss Neal then appeared in a summer stock production of Devil Takes A Whittler in Westport, Connecticut. Playwright Eugene O'Neil saw her in the play and became her mentor, as did many important people in the Broadway community. Miss Neal found herself cast in the role of Regina Hubbard in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest (1946).

Miss Neal signed a seven year contract with Warner Brothers and made her motion picture debut in the movie adaptation of John Loves Mary (1949). The same year she was cast in her first role as leading lady in The Fountainhead. The next few years saw Patricia Neal appear in such films as The Breaking Point (1950), Operation Pacific (1951),  and Raton Pass (1951). Patricia Neal left Warner Brothers for 20th Century Fox, where she made such films as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and   Diplomatic Courier (1952). She was loaned to Universal where she made Weekend with Father (1951).

Patricia Neal returned to Broadway in 1952 to star in a revival of  The Children's Hour. She appeared again on Broadway in 1955 in the paly A Roomful of Roses. Miss Neal would then appear in such films as La tua donna (1954) and Immediate Disaster (1954). Miss Neal made her television debut in 1954 in an episode of Goodyear Playhouse. Throughout the Fifties Miss Neal appeared on such series as Omnibus, Suspicion, Playhouse 90, Studio One, and Play of the Week. She made her return to films in 1957 in the role of small town radio personality Marsha Jeffries in the movie A Face in the Crowd.

In 1961 Patricia Neal appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Paul's wealthy "sponsor." That same year she made her final appearance on Broadway, as Helen Keller's mother in The Miracle Worker. In 1963 she appeared as housekeeper Alma Brown in the movie Hud. For the role she won the Oscar for Best Actress. For the rest of the Sixties Miss Neal would appear in the films Psyche 59 (1964), In Harm's Way (1965), and The Subject of Roses. She guest starred on such shows as Checkmate, The Untouchables, Ben Casey, and Espionage.

Patricia Neal began the Seventies with a role in the movie The Night Digger (1951). She played the role of Olivia Walton in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the television movie upon which the TV series The Waltons was based (not the pilot, as is so often erroneously reported). Miss Neal would guest star on such shows as Circle of Fear, Kung Fu, Little House on the Prairie, and Movin' On. She appeared in several television movies, including Tail Gunner Joe, in which she played Senator Margaret Chase Smith. She appeared in the films Baxter (1973), Happy Mother's Day, Love George (1973), and The Passage (1979).

In the Eighties Miss Neal appeared in the films Ghost Story (1981) and An Unremarkable Life (1989). She guest starred in the shows Glitter (1984), The Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Murder, She Wrote. She also appeared in two telefilms. In the Nineties she appeared in a 1993 television adaptation of Heidi and one other film. In 1999 she starred in the title role in the movie Cookie's Fortune. In 2000 she starred in the movie For the Love of May. It was last year that Miss Neal made her last appearance on screen, in the film Flying By.

I have always thought that Patricia Neal was one of the most underutilised actresses in Hollywood. After all, she had an enormous range. She could play a largely unsympathetic role, such as Mrs. Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany's, then play a sympathetic role, such as Alma Brown in Hud, just as convincingly. Her skill as an actress was such that she stood out in nearly every movie in which she appeared, regardless of how small it was. She held her own in A Face in the Crowd, even as Andy Griffith gave a bravura performance. And she was memorable even in an epic such as In Harm's Way. The fact that she was able to give such performances even as her own life was filled with tragedy makes her all the more remarkable. Patricia Neal was truly one of the great actresses of the late 20th Century.

1 comment:

Raquelle said...

Great bio! I love how you used the British spelling of "underutilised". Ha! I agree with you. Her talents could have been utilized much more than they were.