Monday, August 09, 2010

Patricia Neal (1926-2010)

Sad news. The Oscar winning actress Patricia Neal (Hud) has passed away at 84. She had been battling lung cancer. Neal had a memorably husky voice and something like tragedy in her beautiful eyes. And that was even before tragedy hit.

She first hit screens in the late 40s but the 1960s were a particularly volatile time for the great actress. Consider the Everest sized career peaks and tragic personal valleys: In 1960 she was co-starring with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the Broadway hit The Miracle Worker (she didn't travel with them to the film version); Her infant son's carriage was hit by a taxi in 1961 (he survived); her seven year old daughter died suddenly in 1962; in 1963 Hud was released; In April 1964 she won the Oscar for that indelible housekeeper role (she did not attend the ceremony); in 1965 while pregnant with her fifth and last child, she suffered a multiple stroke that put her in a coma for three weeks. Miraculously her daughter was born healthy months later. But Neal had to learn to walk and talk again. She felt she had to pass on The Graduate (which became a classic role for former co-star Anne Bancroft) due to the recovery period but she returned to film twice in 1968 for the short documentary about her rehabilitation Pat Neal is Back and the drama The Subject Was Roses. She received her second (and last) nomination for Best Actress for the latter.

Neal didn't work so often late in life but made a memorable appearance as the title character in Robert Altman Cookie's Fortune (1999). Her death in that film -- was it a murder or suicide? -- causes abundant family infighting (Glenn Close is such a bitch!) and comic confusion (Julianne Moore is rather dim).

How many Oscar winners get to be played by other Oscar winners? Not even Katharine Hepburn got that (since Cate Blanchett hadn't won yet when she acted out the role in The Aviator). Neal's life was dramatized in 1981 for a telefilm called "The Patricia Neal Story" starring two time winner Glenda Jackson.

Glenda Jackson as Neal and Dirk Bogarde as her husband,
author Roald Dahl (yes, that Roald Dahl), in "The Patricia Neal Story"


Do you have any favorite Patricia Neal movie memories? Please share them as I need viewing tips. Apart from the 1960s films, I'm afraid I'm not that familiar with her work.

With co-star/lover Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949)
And with Paul Newman in
Hud (1963)

Please tell me you've seen Hud (1963), though. If not, it should be your absolute tippity top rental priority. I don't care what your priority was before. Guy Lodge recently called Hud 'hard, precise, ineffably sad' in a tweet and I marvelled at his own precision with that description. The movie is insanely good and should've won the Best Picture Oscar (that it wasn't nominated for). It's one of the best movies of the 1960s... or any decade for that matter. Though her screen time is limited, Neal is magnificent in her crucially observant sideline role.
*

19 comments:

MrW said...

"How many Oscar winners get to be played by other Oscar winners?"

A league of their own: Patricia Neal and Joan Crawford...

Jose said...

That voice!

Barry said...

This woman's life defined tragedy. So sad. But she truly lived, and her performance in "Hud" is one of the best Oscar winners ever in lead actress. R.I.P.

kent said...

patricia neal's performance in HUD is definitely one of the very best actress oscar winning performances.

sadly, this is the only film i've seen of hers that i can remember. though i've heard she's also great in THE HASTY HEART, A FACE IN THE CROWD, and THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES.

Andrew R. said...

RIP Patricia Neal.

She deserved her Oscar for Hud. Way to go Academy.

I have not seen Subject Was Roses.

I also liked her in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Day the Earth Stood Still.

joel65913 said...

She's absolutely amazing in "A Face in the Crowd", the whole film is great but she tears at your heart at the end. She was also great in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" but a real gem that is worth seeking out is the little known and hard to find "The Breaking Point" with John Garfield from 1950which is based on, and much more faithful to Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.

Seeking Amy said...

Let me join in the echo of praise of Patricia Neal in Hud. One of the ten best performances to win Best Actress. Even with her borderline supporting role, she has such a lived in, and sexy quality to Alma. And when she's not onscreen, you can still feel her, and miss her. And I miss her right now.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

The first thing I ever saw her in was, of all things, the TV movie that eventually became the series The Waltons. I believe it was called The Homecoming. I thought it was terrific and she certainly seemed like the kind of woman who could single-handedly get her entire poverty ridden clan through the Depression.

The other performance that comes to mind is in Hud of course. The entire movie is great, but she definitely stands out. But the thing is, the performance is almost too subtle and delicate to have actually won. Usually those performances get passed over for the crying and "ugly makeup." It's one of the few times the Academy got it right.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to replicate the way she cast a knowing smirk at him and tore open her checkbook for kept man George Peppard in Tiffanys one day.

Anonymous said...

Rent The Fountainhead....It's a must.

Andreas said...

This is a great loss for film lovers. She was a powerful presence in Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but my absolute favorite performance of hers is in A Face in the Crowd.

She's the sensible counterpoint (and the Dr. Frankenstein) to Andy Griffith's mounting, fascist psychosis, and she does it with great pathos and emotional range. The movie wouldn't be half of what it is without her.

RIP.

cal roth said...

She's fantastic in the movie, but we all know the was a category fraud*. She should have won as supporting, and Rachel Roberts as leading. Paul Newman vs Richard Harris? Impossible to decide.

The movie was the best of the year, of course. Tom Jones is very good, but it's not a masterpiece like Hud.

It's category fraud old school. Voters misjudged category placement. It's not evil studio campaigns.

joe burns said...

She was fantastic in Hud, and great in T.S.W.R too.

Guy Lodge said...

Thank you for the name-check! If there's any silver lining to be taken from Neal's passing, it's that so many people are talking about Hud today, some novices are bound to see it as a result. Hurrah for that, at least.

Scott said...

You must also not forget her performance as Olivia Walton, the Matriarch of the Walton clan in "The Homecoming" (1970). She played the part for the 2-hour made for TV movie which launched the "The Waltons" for the next 10 years.

CanadianKen said...

Sign me up with the team that thinks A FACE IN THE CROWD contains her best work. Lesser known Neal highlights include an absolutely commanding turn in the otherwise tiresome Warner soap opera THREE SECRETS(1950). Eleanor Parker's in it too but doesn't bring her A-game. And one of Neal's later films (1989)was an under-rated drama called AN UNREMARKABLE LIFE. Here she and Shelley Winters lit up the proceedings with the combined experience of two impressive professional lifetimes.

John D. said...

Very sad news.

Her performance in HUD was truly amazing.

Yavor said...

I love her in Hud and agree that it's one of the best performances ever, but yes, it feels more supporting, yet we've had it others times in Oscar history as well, I prefer a gorgeous supporting role to win for leading than leading atrocities like Bullock this year.

John said...

Every holiday season I must watch the Waltons Christmas Homecoming. She was simply wonderful as Livy.