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Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 508
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    Patricia Neal
    Book Description:

    The internationally acclaimed actress Patricia Neal has been a star on stage, film, and television for nearly sixty years. On Broadway she appeared in such lauded productions as Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, for which she won the very first Tony Award, and The Miracle Worker. In Hollywood she starred opposite the likes of Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Fred Astaire, and Tyrone Power in some thirty films. Neal anchored such classic pictures as The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Face in the Crowd, and Breakfast at Tiffany's, but she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Alma Brown in Hud, which earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1963. But there has been much, much more to Neal's life. She was born Patsy Louise Neal on January 20, 1926, in Packard, Kentucky, though she spent most of her childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee. Neal quickly gained attention for her acting abilities in high school, community, and college performances. Her early stage successes were overshadowed by the unexpected death of her father in 1944. Soon after she left New York for Hollywood in 1947, Neal became romantically involved with Gary Cooper, her married co-star in The Fountainhead, an attachment which brought them both a great deal of notoriety in the press and a great deal of heartache in their personal lives. In 1953, Neal married famed children's author Roald Dahl, a match that would bring her five children and thirty years of dramatic ups and downs. In 1961, their son, Theo, was seriously injured in an automobile accident and required multiple neurosurgeries and years of rehabilitation; the following year their daughter, Olivia, died of measles. At the pinnacle of her screen career, Patricia Neal suffered a series of strokes which left her in a coma for twenty-one days. Variety even ran a headline erroneously stating that she had died. At the time, Neal was pregnant with her and Dahl's fifth child, Lucy, who was born healthy a few months later. After a difficult recovery, Neal returned to film acting, earning a second Academy Award nomination for The Subject Was Roses. She appeared in a number of television movie roles in the 1970s and 1980s and won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Dramatic TV Movie in 1971 for her role in The Homecoming. Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life is the first critical biography detailing the actress's impressive film career and remarkable personal life. Author Stephen Michael Shearer has conducted numerous interviews with Neal, her professional colleagues, and her intimate friends and was given access to the actress's personal papers. The result is an honest and comprehensive portrait of an accomplished woman who has lived her life with determination and bravado.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7136-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note from Kirk Douglas
    (pp. ix-x)
    Kirk Douglas
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Part 1. Actress

    • 1 Beginnings
      (pp. 3-13)

      Patsy Louise Neal was born at 4:40 A.M. on January 20, 1926, in the small mining town of Packard, Kentucky. Packard, which at its peak had about four hundred residents, thrived for nearly fifty years, until its coal was depleted shortly after World War II. Founded as a mining camp soon after the turn of the last century by the Thomas B. Mahan family of Williamsburg, Kentucky, it took its name from a popular local schoolteacher, Brooklyn-born Mary Amelia Packard. It lay in a hollow lodged deep within the southernmost range of the Appalachian Mountains, in the lower southeast corner...

    • 2 Progress
      (pp. 15-27)

      In Abingdon, Patsy was not so far away from home that Coot and Eura couldn’t keep an eye, or more accurately, an ear, on their ambitious second daughter. Patsy knew that her acceptance into the prestigious Barter Theatre colony would prove to be a major turning point of her life. Carrying a new suitcase that was a gift from her parents, sixteen-year-old Patsy made her first trip away from home. She was one of the last Barter apprentices chosen that year.

      Abingdon, Virginia, is one of the oldest towns west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There the summer months, with...

    • 3 Broadway
      (pp. 29-39)

      John Van Druten’sThe Voice of the Turtleis a rather simple comedy performed in three acts by three characters: Sally Middleton, Olive Lashbrooke, and Bill Page. The story opens in Sally’s apartment on New York’s East Side one weekend in April during World War II. We are introduced to Sally, a rather young and naive actress in her early twenties, and her older actress friend, the more worldly Olive. As they discuss their various love affairs with men, Olive tells Sally that she has asked a visiting soldier on leave to meet her at Sally’s apartment. Enter Bill, who...

    • 4 Stock
      (pp. 41-49)

      Suddenly, Patricia Neal was news.Another Part of the Forestplayed to modest audiences throughout December. By January the talk around New York had focused on Patricia’s performance. There were newspaper features about her and Jean Hagen’s friendship dating back to their Northwestern days. Requests for publicity pictures and invitations to important functions kept the young actress busy. Upon seeing Patricia on the street around this time, one young actor recalled, “She was such an impressive person. This big, beautiful girl striding down the street, her chin out from Broadway to Shubert Alley. She was just so beautiful, so healthy,...

    • 5 Warner Brothers
      (pp. 51-61)

      After a three-day cross-country rail journey, Patricia Neal stepped off the train in Burbank, California, on Tuesday, December 30, 1947. Wearing a new Pilgrim bonnet and a suit her mother had given her, Patricia was met at the station by Warners publicist Eric Stacey. Her photograph was quickly taken, and she was whisked off to the Bel Air Hotel. When she was driven across the little bridge at the hotel and saw the swans gliding on the water, she literally swooned. “I thought, oh my God! I was in Paradise,” she recalled.¹

      Warner Brothers wasted little time with formalities or...

    • 6 Gary Cooper
      (pp. 63-73)

      The filming ofThe Fountainheadbegan with the quarry scene, shot on location in Knowles, California, between Fresno and Yosemite National Park, in the state’s largest and oldest quarry. Director King Vidor rode out to Knowles with Patricia and Cooper in a studio limousine, and the three had dinner together. “They went for each other right away,” Vidor said of his two stars.¹

      Patricia and Cooper stayed at the California Hotel during the three-day location shoot, and Patricia recalls being aware of the dynamics of her and Gary’s relationship from the beginning. She knew they shared a physical attraction.


    • 7 London
      (pp. 75-85)

      “I went to England for the first time in 1948 to makeThe Hasty Heart,” Patricia told a reporter in 1955. “And I hated it. Just hated it. Everything went wrong. The picture just went on forever—a modest picture in black and white, but it took four months. I didn’t get to know the British people at all. I was living at the Savoy, very chic, but who wants to live in a hotel room for four months? Then I had an American friend who put a damper on things. We were at the Tower of London one day...

    • Photo galleries
      (pp. None)
    • 8 Hollywood
      (pp. 87-97)

      On a lazy Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1949, Patricia met publicist Harvey Orkin at the home of Gene Kelly and his wife, actress Betsy Blair. The Kellys’ place was a very informal weekend retreat for the Hollywood crowd, where the Kellys hosted Sunday cookouts with volleyball and swimming. Orkin was Gary Cooper’s close friend and publicist, and Patricia had signed with his agency as well. Orkin became one of Patricia’s dearest friends.

      On a later Sunday at the beach, Orkin suggested that Patricia and her mother, Eura, who was visiting from her home in Florida, accompany him and...

    • 9 Tinseltown
      (pp. 99-105)

      Patricia, decidedly stunned by the poor reviews ofBright Leaf,continued working. On June 19 she appeared with Ronald Reagan on CBS radio’sLux Radio Theatrepresentation ofJohn Loves Mary. Patricia was granted approval to appear again onThe Family Theatre—“The family that prays together stays together”—to introduce the radio playThe Triumphant Exile,about Robert Louis Stevenson. The episode was taped on June 28 and aired on the Mutual Network July 12. Patricia was paid the standard AFTRA fee of $70.

      In the June 20 edition of theLos Angeles Times,in an article headlined “Warners...

    • 10 20th Century-Fox
      (pp. 107-117)

      The timing could not have been worse. Patricia and Gary’s relationship was coasting; a sameness of their lives together had set in, and neither one wanted to alter it for fear of what might happen. Neither could address their situation. Patricia admittedly felt guilt and displeasure as Gary was not making any attempts to change his relationship with Rocky, and Cooper was racked with worry about the effect on Maria if he did change it. He would not make a commitment. Patricia briefly saw a psychiatrist and told him that she wanted children, a home, and a husband. These things...

    • 11 Purgatory
      (pp. 119-130)

      AfterThe Day the Earth Stood Stillwas completed, Patricia started work on a picture for Universal-International—a comedy produced by Ted Richmond calledWeek-End with Father, with Van Heflin. Based on a story by George W. George and George F. Slavin, it was directed by the competent Douglas Sirk.Week-End with Fatherwould be Patricia’s second comedy, excluding two brief scenes inIt’s a Great Feeling. She had signed with Universal for this one film on the day the Coopers announced their separation, May 16. Again she would portray a mother, this time of two young boys.Week-End with...

  7. Part 2. Survivor

    • 12 New York
      (pp. 133-145)

      Within the bosom of her family in Atlanta, Patricia sought refuge and salvation. Her sister, NiNi (Margaret Ann), and NiNi’s husband, George Vande Noord, were enjoying a successful and prosperous marriage. Their first child, George John, nicknamed Dutch, had been born the previous September, and their life together was good. In an interview a few years before her Atlanta stay, Patricia said of her sister, “As children we didn’t seem to have too much in common; we were very different from one another and, oh, the arguments! We like to think of ourselves as adults now and I can and...

    • 13 Roald Dahl
      (pp. 147-157)

      Roald (pronouncedRoo-ahl, silentd) Dahl was born to Norwegian-born parents on September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, Wales. He was given no middle name at birth. His father, Harald, was a co-owner of a ship-brokering business near Cardiff. Harald’s first wife, Marie, had died at the age of twenty-nine in 1907, and for four years Harald was a widower with two small children, Ellen (born in 1903) and Louis (born in 1904). He met his second wife, Sofie Magdelene Hesselberg (born in 1885), on a vacation in Norway.

      Besides Roald, Sofie and Harald had four other children, all girls: Astri...

    • 14 Marriage
      (pp. 159-169)

      With her wedding plans set, Patricia turned her attention to the plays in which she had agreed to perform at the Theatre de Lys. Terese Hayden and her associate Liska March had scheduled four play revivals for production beginning in June at the Off-Broadway theater, located at 121 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. With a budget of only $5,000, the plays—Maya,The Scarecrow,The School for Scandal, andThe Little Clay Cart—would star such dedicated actors as Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Douglas Watson, Susan Strasberg, and Patricia.

      The actors would all be paid a special Equity contract waiver...

    • 15 England
      (pp. 171-181)

      Within weeks after arriving in England, Patricia was whisked off by producer-director Burt Balaban to the English countryside to start work onStranger from Venus. Produced by Princess Pictures and filmed at Britain’s MGM Studios,Stranger from Venuswas shot on a tight schedule and on a cheap budget. The story ofStranger from Venus, by screenwriters Hans Jacoby and Desmond Leslie, is very similar to that ofThe Day the Earth Stood Still. This was not a good sign for Patricia’s career.

      A spacecraft is heard flying over the English countryside. When the aircraft lands, its lights blind Susan...

    • Photo galleries
      (pp. None)
    • 16 Career
      (pp. 183-191)

      Patricia and Roald spent part of the spring and summer of 1956 restoring their Georgian house, Little Whitefield. They added a small guesthouse, which Roald quickly turned into a workshop for restoration of antique mirrors. Roald’s sister Alfhild gave them an old gypsy caravan, which they made into a playhouse for Olivia and the other children they were planning.

      Before heading for England that year, Patricia had two acting jobs. The most significant one was replacing Barbara Bel Geddes in the demanding role of Maggie for three weeks during the spring, in Tennessee Williams’sCat on a Hot Tin Roof...

    • 17 Triumph
      (pp. 193-207)

      Roald Dahl submitted a total of seven stories to theNew Yorkerbetween February 1957 and March 1959. All were rejected. Wrote Jeremy Treglown, “Dahl was being pressed by Alfred Knopf to put together a new collection [of short stories] but told the publisher that he found ideas harder and harder to come by and was beginning to fear that they would run out altogether.”¹ The salary Patricia had earned for her role inA Face in the Crowdwould only go so far, especially now that the Dahls’ lifestyle was so expensive to maintain.

      Patricia had to work. Much...

    • 18 Tempest
      (pp. 209-225)

      For Patricia, however, the run of the play was not to be long. “I got pregnant on opening night,” she said.¹ She managed to stay in the cast until March, when her pregnancy forced her to withdraw and allow her understudy, Clarice Blackburn, to step into the role of Kate Keller. But Patricia made the most of her time on the stage.

      In one performance about three months into the run, Torin Thatcher went up on his lines during a key dramatic moment with a stage full of actors. Thatcher had never had a problem with lines before; his mind...

    • 19 Tragedy
      (pp. 227-237)

      Patricia and Roald grieved deeply for their first child. Roald cried continually after he returned from the hospital. The loss of Olivia was something from which he would never recover. That night at Gipsy House, Patricia sat by the window until dawn, quietly staring into the dark. Her memoirs describe the struggle the family endured those first days, weeks, and months after losing Olivia. Eura Neal said that she would come right over, but Patricia told her it was unnecessary, that things would be all right. Sonia Austrian remembered that she and her husband were hosting a dinner party late...

    • 20 Stardom
      (pp. 239-250)

      Hudseemed a sure bet to capture a share of the 1964 Academy Awards, and Patricia was considered a favorite for the Best Actress Oscar. After all, she had already received numerous pre-Oscar accolades, including Best Actress awards from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, Best Supporting Actress from the Cleveland Critics Circle, and Best Foreign Actress from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

      There had been some speculation about whether Patricia would be nominated as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, recognizing...

  8. Part 3. Legend

    • 21 Illness
      (pp. 253-269)

      As he waited for the ambulance, Roald sat still, breathing heavily, holding Patricia’s hand while intently watching her. Even with her body in distress, her face was still beautiful, he thought. The room was deathly quiet.

      Sheena tried to calm Tessa and Theo by reading to them in Tessa’s room. The children heard the ambulance’s siren.

      “What’s that?” Theo asked.

      Sheena told them, “It’s a cat.”

      “No, it’s not,” Tessa said quietly. She’d heard that sound before. “It’s an ambulance coming for Mummy.”

      As the sound of the siren grew louder, Angela’s boyfriend rushed outside to flag down the ambulance....

    • 22 Comeback
      (pp. 271-281)

      As 1965 drew to a close, Patricia still could not communicate clearly, and she continued to wear the metal brace and occasionally the eye patch. But her path to recovery took a new and encouraging turn when she met Valerie Eaton Griffith, who lived about a mile from Gipsy House.

      Griffith was born in 1924 and had enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British army, at the age of seventeen. She was a tennis player and worked as manager of an Elizabeth Arden salon in London before a thyroid operation left her with a limp...

    • Photo galleries
      (pp. None)
    • 23 Roses
      (pp. 283-299)

      When filming began onThe Subject Was Rosesin February 1968, Roald was in England writing the screenplay ofChitty Chitty Bang Bang, which, like his previous screenplay, was based on an Ian Fleming book. The film, starring Dick Van Dyke, was scheduled to start shooting at Pinewood Studios in England later that year.

      ForRoses, there would be a full week of read-through and rehearsals before the cameras rolled. The first day of rehearsals was unbearable. The second day, Patricia was still questioning whether she could even do the part. On the third day something clicked, and she began...

    • 24 Television
      (pp. 301-311)

      Patricia’s performance inThe Homecomingreceived deserved recognition on January 11, 1972, when she was awarded the Golden Globe for Best TV Actress in a Drama Series or Television Movie. (She was also nominated for an Outstanding Actress–Single Performance Emmy, but lost to Glenda Jackson when those awards where given out in May.)

      Also in January, Patricia finished work at the Elstree Studios on the filmThe Boyfor Anglo-EMI. Directed by Lionel Jeffries and costarring Scott Jacoby, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Britt Ekland, and Lynn Carlin,The Boytells the story of a lonely twelve-year-old American boy named Roger Baxter...

    • 25 Independence
      (pp. 313-325)

      When Tessa asked Felicity if she was having an affair with her father, at first Felicity denied it. Tessa then asked her aunt Else about it, and she suggested Tessa ignore it. Tessa recalled that while the Dahl family “loved to discuss drama, they didn’t like to discuss the effect on people’s emotions.”¹ One night she overheard her father talking on the telephone to Felicity, and the next morning she asked him directly about his relationship with Felicity. According to Tessa, he denied everything and then turned on her, saying, “You’ve always been trouble, you’ve always been a nosy little...

    • 26 Divorce
      (pp. 327-335)

      The filming ofGhost Storynot only got Patricia in front of the camera again; it also put an ocean between her and her husband. In England, Roald told newspaper writer Nancy Mills, “When Pat’s away, I love to stay here and mind my own business,” which consisted of taking care of Ophelia and Lucy. Roald also spent time in London’s gambling casinos. “I go more often when Pat’s away. I love it. Pat doesn’t like gambling, so I can’t enjoy myself when she’s at my elbow,” Roald said.¹

      Her relationship with Roald was very shaky, but Patricia was finally...

    • 27 Serenity
      (pp. 337-348)

      From the mid-1980s to the present, Patricia Neal has been able to channel her energies into things she really cares about: the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, her family, and, of course, her career. Inevitably, acting roles have been harder to come by, but she continues to lend her time and talent to worthy projects. And the many awards and honors she has received have given her ample opportunity to reflect on a long and distinguished career.

      Starting in 1985, Patricia became a strong drawing card for the Theatre Guild Theatre at Sea program, in which actors perform readings from plays,...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 349-384)
  10. notes
    (pp. 385-412)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 413-418)
  12. Index
    (pp. 419-441)