Oscar Actors: Neal, Patricia–Oscar-Winner and Icon Dies at 84

The distinguished actress Patricia Neal, the Oscar-winning star of Hud, died of lung cancer on Sunday at her home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard. She was 84.

 Neal became an overnight star at the age of 20 in Lillian Hellman’s “Another Part of the Forest” on Broadway. By the age of 40, after winning an Oscar in 1963 for “Hud,” she was near death, the result of three strokes.  In addition, she suffered the death of a young daughter from measles and a tragic accident to her only son. After 30 years of marriage, husband Roald Dahl left her for another woman.  But Neal survived the tragedies around her and lived well on into her 84th year, working as recently as 2009 in “Flying By.” Her deep, purry voice graced coffee and painkiller commercials.
She was never used well in Hollywood, and some feel that the stage was her real metier. In 1947, in “Another Part of the Forest,” as the young Regina Giddens (in the prequel to Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”), Neal was compared with Talullah Bankhead. She won a Tony as featured actress and several other acting awards.
Born Patty Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky, she grew up in Knoxville and appeared with the Tennessee Valley Players while in high school. At 18 she entered Northwestern University to study drama and was still in school when she was hired for the touring company of John Van Druten’s “The Voice of the Turtle” to understudy Vivian Vance. She took over the role for two weeks on Broadway and never went back to Northwestern.
Working odd jobs, she got a break with the Theater Guild’s summer production “Devil Takes a Whittler.” Her performance resulted in offers to appear in Richard Rodgers’ “John Loves Mary,” which she declined, and the Hellman play. Critics dubbed her “superb,” Broadway gave her the award for featured actress at its first Tonys and Hollywood came a calling.
Affair with Gary Cooper
Neal starred in “John Loves Mary” onscreen. She then made two films with Gary Cooper, “The Fountainhead” and “Bright Leaf.” Neither did much for her career, but her public affair with Cooper brought her a great deal of attention. It brought her to the verge of a nervous breakdown when Cooper refused to divorce his wife, and when she was criticized and almost kicked out of town by Hedda Hopper and the other gossip columnists.
The 1949 film “The Hasty Heart” brought her some attention, and by 1952 she had almost a dozen starring roles, including excellent sci-fi film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
But such titles as “Three Secrets,” “Week-End With Father,” and “Washington Story” could be encapsulated by the title of another Neal vehicle of the same vintage, “Something for the Birds.”
Roald Dahl
Back on Broadway in a revival of Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” and nursing her broken heart, she met and married British author Roald Dahl. In 1953, she appeared Off Broadway in “The School for Scandal” before moving to England.
Stage and TV
She visited Broadway again in 1955 in “A Roomful of Roses” and filled in for Barbara Bel Geddes in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  In London, she debuted in Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” to raves, with Kenneth Tynan describing her voice as “dark-brown.”  Neal returned to Broadway with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in “The Miracle Worker.”
On television, she was in “Spring Reunion” in 1954 as well as such meaty assignments as “The Country Girl,” “The Royal Family” and “Clash by Night.”
Impressed by her Maggie in “Cat,” Elia Kazan cast her in his 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd,” opposite Andy Griffith. She had little other screen work until 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in a supporting role.
Oscar for Hud
But Martin Ritt wanted her as Alma the housekeeper opposite Paul Newman in “Hud” in 1963. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called her “brilliant.” Hollywood agreed, giving her the Oscar.
The previous year, she had lost her 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, to measles. Soon after, her infant son Theo was in a serious auto accident that required several major operations.
Opposite John Wayne
Her film career had finally moved into high gear with a starring role opposite John Wayne in “In Harm’s Way” and the lead in what was to be John Ford’s last film, the 1966 “Seven Women.” Four days into production, she suffered three massive strokes that left her near death. When she regained consciousness, she had lost her memory and use of the right side of her body.
Pregnant throughout, she gave birth to another daughter.
Almost Mrs. Robinson
Soon after, she was approached for the role of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” but refused because she was concerned about doing a demanding part so soon after her stroke.
With the help of Dahl, Neal taught herself how to speak and to walk again. In 1967, she was honored with “An Evening With Patricia Neal” in New York. And in 1968, President Johnson gave her the Heart of the
Year Award from the American Heart Association.
Presenting the Oscar for foreign-language film at the 1968 Academy Awards, she received a standing ovation. “It really is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to be back with you. I’m sorry I stayed away so long.”
Second Oscar Nomination
That same year she received a second Oscar nomin
ation for the drama “The Subject Was Roses” with Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen.
Though she appeared in several subsequent movies such as “The Night Digger,” “An Unremarkable Life” and “Ghost Story,” much of her better work came from television, most memorably in “The Homecoming” in 1971; though that vidpic served as a pilot for “The Waltons,” Neal did not appear in the long-running series.
Other TV movies included “Things in their Season,” “The Bastard” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
Biopic Starring Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde played her and Dahl in a 1981 TV biopic “The Patricia Neal Story.”  Shortly after it aired, she discovered that her husband had been having an affair with her best friend for 10 years and filed for divorce.
In 1988, she published her autobiography “As I Am.”