Patricia Neal, the husky-voice actress who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1963 drama Hud and who overcame a series of strokes to rebound from a slowdown in her acting career, has left this place for a better one. She was 84 and succumbed to lung cancer at her home on
My recollection of seeing Neal perform for the first time is admittedly hazy, but I’d bet dollars to donuts it was probably her first-rate turn in the 1971 TV-movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, where she originated the role of Olivia Walton in a Christmas-theme drama that later became the basis for the long-running Depression-era TV series The Waltons. My esteemed blogging colleague Laura at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings mentions Neal’s work in this movie, and while she does state that “I came to appreciate Neal's interpretation of the role” her preference on matters Mrs. W remains actress Michael Learned, who took over the part when the show premiered on CBS in the fall of 1972. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one—with the exception of her world-weary housekeeper Alma Brown in Hud her interpretation of Mother Walton remains my favorite of her performances. She literally hit that one out of the park. (I realize, of course, that my opinion is the minority one—my high school bosom pal The Duchess and I discussed this earlier this morning and she sides with Laura: “I thought Neal was too mean.” Well, ferchrissake—having to hold house and hearth together with that many kids and a husband with an uncertain employment future during the Depression would tend to make a woman a tad hard…but that just might be my spin on things.)
I haven’t seen every movie Neal was in but I’ve been fortunate to see some of her truly superb work in movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Operation Pacific (1951), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Subject Was Roses (1968), The Night Digger (1971), Ghost Story (1981) and Cookie’s Fortune (1999). (She also has an amusing cameo in the Dennis Morgan-Jack Carson romp It's a Great Feeling .) I also remember some of her guest appearances in TV shows like The Untouchables, Checkmate and Little House on the Prairie. Her role in A Face in the Crowd (1957) as the radio show host who is instrumental in bringing hobo “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) to national prominence—only to take responsibility for his downfall when he becomes a monster no one can control—is another favorite high on my list. I also remember seeing Neal in 1950s The Breaking Point (1950) for the first time and not being able to get over how sultry, seductive and sexy-as-all-get-out she was. “That’s Patricia Neal?” I asked out loud. (Rowrrr…!)
Several of my fellow classic film enthusiasts have weighed in with tributes to this dear departed lady—I highly recommend checking out the weighted words of Jaime Weinman, KC at Classic Movies, Edward Copeland on Film, Raquelle at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog, Brandie and Carrie at The ABCs of Classic Film, Tom at Motion Picture Gems (with autographed memorabilia and everything!)...and of course, the Self-Syled Siren.
R.I.P., Ms. Neal. You will be sorely missed.