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Patricia Neal

An Unquiet Life

Stephen Shearer

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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A Note from Kirk Douglas

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pp. ix

She has faced many misfortunes in her life with extreme dignity. She has been an inspiration to me and to many, many other people. And with all that, she has retained that delicious sense of humor. Maybe by now you are getting the impression that I like and admire Patricia a lot. You are right!...

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pp. xi-xii

I met Patricia Neal many years ago in New York when I was performing in Luigi Jannuzzi's off-Broadway play The Appointment. It won the Samuel French Award that year. Ms. Neal, along with Philip and Marilyn Langner of the Theatre Guild, came to see the play one night, and we met afterward. At some point during our first conversation I told Ms. Neal of my interest in her...

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pp. xiii-xiv

For a majority of the personal photographs and the use of letters, I must thank Patricia Neal and Reverend Mother Dolores Hart, as well as the kind sisters of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, for their staunch support and the generous gift of their time. At the start of this project, I contacted those friends in the publishing field whose knowledge and advice I deeply trust. I want to...

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Part 1. Actress

In the autumn of 1958, I underwent the most intense theatrical experience of my life to date. It came in the last ten minutes of the London production of Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer, when Patricia Neal . . . stood centre-stage with a single spotlight illuminating her pale, high-cheekboned features, gazed fixedly and...

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1. Beginnings

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pp. 3-14

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,...

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2. Progress

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pp. 15-28

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...

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3. Broadway

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pp. 29-40

John Van Druten's The Voice of the Turtle is 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...

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4. Stock

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pp. 41-50

Suddenly, Patricia Neal was news. Another Part of the Forest played 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...

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5. Warner Brothers

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pp. 51-62

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...

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6. Gary Cooper

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pp. 63-74

The first scenes for the picture were shot in Knowles on July 12. The script called for Patricia's character, Dominique, to ride up to her father's stone quarry on horseback. Patricia didn't ride, and a stunt double, Audrey Scott, was hired for those scenes. However, just before shooting began, Scott pulled out because she felt that she could make more money at an...

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7. London

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pp. 75-86

"I went to England for the first time in 1948 to make The 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...

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8. Hollywood

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pp. 87-98

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...

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9. Tinseltown

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pp. 99-106

Patricia, decidedly stunned by the poor reviews of Bright Leaf, continued working. On June 19 she appeared with Ronald Reagan on CBS radio's Lux Radio Theatre presentation of John Loves Mary. Patricia was granted approval to appear again on The Family Theatre--"The family that prays together stays together"--to introduce the radio play...

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10. 20th Century-Fox

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pp. 107-118

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...

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11. Purgatory

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pp. 119-130

After The Day the Earth Stood Still was completed, Patricia started work on a picture for Universal-International--a comedy produced by Ted Richmond called Week-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 Father would be Patricia's second comedy, excluding...

Part 2. Survivor

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12. New York

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pp. 133-146

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...

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13. Roald Dahl

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pp. 147-158

Roald (pronounced Roo-ahl, silent d) 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,...

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14. Marriage

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pp. 159-170

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...

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15. England

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pp. 171-182

Within weeks after arriving in England, Patricia was whisked off by producer-director Burt Balaban to the English countryside to start work on Stranger from Venus. Produced by Princess Pictures and filmed at Britain's MGM Studios, Stranger from Venus was shot on a tight schedule and on a cheap budget. The story of Stranger from Venus, by screenwriters Hans Jacoby and...

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16. Career

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pp. 183-192

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...

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17. Triumph

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pp. 193-208

Roald Dahl submitted a total of seven stories to the New Yorker between 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...

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18. Tempest

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pp. 209-226

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....

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19. Tragedy

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pp. 227-238

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...

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20. Stardom

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pp. 239-250

Hud seemed 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...

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Part 3. Legend

There were times when I was so indignant, so furious about all this. Somehow, I don't know when it happened, I came to believe that we do live in a fabulous world. Sometimes, when I think about all the amazing countries and the oceans we have on Earth, I become so happy to know that I'm here....

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21. Illness

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pp. 253-270

As the sound of the siren grew louder, Angela's boyfriend rushed outside to flag down the ambulance. Two paramedics rushed up the pink marble steps to the bedroom. They immediately began resuscitation on Patricia, attaching an oxygen machine. Strapping Patricia to a chair and covering her with a blanket, they carried their charge down the steps as Patricia mumbled...

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22. Comeback

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pp. 271-282

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....

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23. Roses

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pp. 283-300

When filming began on The Subject Was Roses in February 1968, Roald was in England writing the screenplay of Chitty 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....

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24. Television

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pp. 301-312

Patricia's performance in The Homecoming received 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.)...

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25. Independence

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pp. 313-326

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...

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26. Divorce

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pp. 327-336

The filming of Ghost Story not 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...

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27. Serenity

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pp. 337-347

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...


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pp. 349-383


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pp. 385-412

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 413-417


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pp. 419-441

Image Plates

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pp. 442-489

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171364
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123912

Page Count: 504
Publication Year: 2006