Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal 1926 - 2010

If you have read todays paper then you have heard that Hollywood lost one of it's most outstanding actresses this weekend with the passing of Patricia Neal. She was living in Edgartown, Mass. at the time of her death from lung cancer.

If you are familiar with her career, then I don't have to bore you with the details of her life as an actress. But I would be remiss in not stating that her roles were amongst the most varied and nuanced of all the actresses of her time. From the intensity of her role in "The Fountainhead", with Gary Cooper, to the sensitivity she brought to other roles, such as her Oscar winning performance in 1963's "Hud" opposite Paul Newman, the woman knew no bounds. In 1965 she made "In Harm's Way" starring opposite John Wayne and Kirk Douglas as an Army Nurse stationed in Hawaii at the outbreak of World war Two.

My favorite Patricia Neal movie is "A Face In The Crowd" with Andy Griffith. Directed by Elia Kazan and co-starring Walter Matthau, this is a searing portrait of a man who lives life as it comes, which is usually in the form of a whiskey bottle. When Ms. Neal first comes upon him in a small town jail, where he is in the drunk tank, she gets him released, creating at first a star, and later, as his true demons emerge, she realizes that she has unleashed a monster.

A series of strokes in 1965 left her unable to walk and talk. The prognosis was not good and it was taken for granted that she would never fully recover. But sorrow was not new to Ms. Neal, she had lost a child to measles in 1962. With the help of her husband, the celebrated children's author Roald Dahl, she was able to regain all of her faculties and by 1968 she had returned to the screen in "The Subject Was Roses", for which she received an Oscar Nomination.

Born in a mining camp in Packard, Kentucky she was raised in Knoxville, where she graduated high school in 1943. She left almost immediately for Northwestern University and then on to Broadway where she would begin her acting career. With her passing the stars on Broadway and in Hollywood will seem to shine less brightly. But look up at the sky tonight. I can guarantee you that at least one star will be shining a bit more brightly than the rest.

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