TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 16 features the films of Patricia Neal beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.
Patricia Neal, born Patsy Louise Neal, in Packard, Kentucky, was an American actress of stage and screen. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and studied drama at Northwestern University.
Neal got her first job in New York as an understudy in the Broadway production of The Voice of the Turtle. Next she appeared in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest (1946), winning the 1947 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
In 1949, Neal made her film debut in John Loves Mary. Her appearance the same year in The Fountainhead coincided with an affair with her married co-star, Gary Cooper, with whom she was reunited in 1950's Bright Leaf.
In 1951, Neal starred in The Day the Earth Stood Still with Michael Rennie and in Operation Pacific with John Wayne. She suffered a nervous breakdown around this time, following the end of her relationship with Cooper, and left Hollywood for New York. She returned to Broadway after her recovery.
While in New York, Neal became a member of the Actors Studio. Based on connections with other members, she subsequently appeared in the film A Face in the Crowd (1957, directed by Elia Kazan), the play The Miracle Worker (1959, directed by Arthur Penn), the film Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961, co-starring George Peppard), and the film Hud (1963), directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman. Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud.
Neal was reunited with John Wayne in Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way (1965). Her next film was The Subject Was Roses (1968), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She starred as Olivia Walton in the television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971); she won a Golden Globe for her performance. Neal played a dying widowed mother trying to find a home for her three children in a 1975 episode of NBC's Little House on the Prairie.
In 1978, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville dedicated the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in her honor. The center provides intense treatment for stroke, spinal cord, and brain injury patients.
In 1981, Glenda Jackson played her in a television movie, The Patricia Neal Story which co-starred Dirk Bogarde as Neal's husband Roald Dahl. Neal's autobiography, As I Am, was published in 1988.
Neal died at her home in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on August 8, 2010, from lung cancer. She had converted to Catholicism four months before her death and was buried in the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.
|Patricia Neal in Diplomatic Courier (1952)|
Marriage and Children
Neal married British writer Roald Dahl on July 2, 1953 at Trinity Church in New York. Their marriage produced five children: Olivia Twenty (April 20, 1955 - November 17, 1962); Chantal Sophia "Tessa" (b. April 11, 1957); Theo Matthew (b. July 30, 1960); Ophelia Magdalena (b. May 12, 1964); and Lucy Neal (b. August 4, 1965).
Grandchildren: Sophie Dahl (born on September 15, 1977), Clover Martha Patricia Kelly (born on September 21, 1984), Luke Kelly (aka "Luke James Roald Kelly") (born on July 17, 1986), Ned Dahl Donovan (born on January 7, 1994) from daughter Tessa Dahl; Phoebe Patricia Rose Faircloth (born on November 4, 1988), Chloe Michaela Dahl (born on September 12, 1990) from daughter Lucy Dahl; Alexa Isabella Dahl (born on June 26, 2005) from son Theo Dahl.
Neal and Dahl's turbulent marriage ended in divorce in 1983 after Dahl's affair with Neal's friend, Felicity Crosland. Dahl married Crosland that same year.
Tragedies Strike Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl
This is an edited extract from Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock.
Most significant of all, 1960 was the year that Dahl — who already had two daughters, Olivia, five, and Tessa, three — became the father of a strapping young son. Theo Matthew Roald Dahl was born on July 30, 1960.
|Theo Dahl and Patricia Neal|
On December 5, 1960, Susan Denson, the Dahls' nanny, was bringing Tessa home from nursery school for lunch. She was also pushing four-month-old Theo in his pram and trying to manage a dog at the same time. It was her third winter in New York with the Dahls, and she fitted so well into their family that they had made her one of Theo's godparents.
The weather was bitterly cold. They were walking down Madison Avenue and when they reached 85th Street, waited at the crossing for the light to change. When it did, Susan pushed Theo's pram off the sidewalk and out into the road. At that point a cab careened around the corner and crashed into it. The driver panicked. Instead of braking, he stepped on the accelerator, ripping the pram out of the nanny's hands and propelling it 40 ft. through the air, before it smashed into the side of a parked bus. Theo's head took the full force of the impact and his skull shattered.
Both Roald and Pat were within earshot of the accident, but neither saw it. Roald was in a nearby apartment, writing. Pat, who had only recently finished shooting a small role in Breakfast at Tiffany's, was in a local shop. She heard the police sirens, but did not initially realize her own son had been injured. An ambulance rushed the child to the nearby Lenox Hill Hospital, along with Susan, Tessa, and the dog. There, Theo was diagnosed with a neurological deficit. Almost everyone thought he was going to die. When Roald and Pat arrived in the emergency room, they faced a dreadful situation. Not only was their child horribly injured, but the doctors were disagreeing about what should be done.
It was the beginning of several weeks of horrible uncertainty for the family. Housed in an oxygen tent for two weeks, Theo underwent several operations to drain fluid from his head. The surgery was successful and the doctors became increasingly confident that he would pull through, but no one was sure how badly his brain had been damaged. As there were no serious internal injuries and his head wounds seemed to be healing, Theo came back home just before Christmas.
Then, a week later, something about his condition began to disturb his parents. He went quiet; he no longer smiled; his reactions seemed dull. Pat and Roald spent New Year's Eve with their neighbor the psychiatrist Sonia Austrian and her husband, Jeffrey. It was they who realized what had happened. Fluid had built up in Theo's cranial cavity and was pressing on his brain, causing him to go blind.
Dahl rushed the baby back to hospital. Ed Goodman recalled that when he examined him, his head felt "like a bag of marbles." The pressure of the build up of fluid around the brain, he told Dahl, carried with it a severe risk not only of permanent blindness but also of retardation and even death. The doctors immediately extracted the liquid, and fitted a tube to drain any further fluid directly into the baby's heart, where it could easily be reabsorbed.
Initially, they were doubtful that the child's sight would return, but it did, and eventually Theo was declared fit enough to go home. No sooner had he got there however, than his sight began to deteriorate again. The shunt — the internal drainage tube into his heart — had blocked. Once more the surgeons operated. Once more Theo's sight returned, though "much impaired."
It was a pattern that would repeat itself. Theo would come home, appear to be doing fine, then go blind because the tube had blocked. He would be rushed back into hospital for surgery, often convulsing, leaving his parents to face once more his "huge, desolate, bewildered eyes" when he awoke in the emergency room. Six times in the next nine months, the same thing happened. Every time, there was a chance that Theo's sight would not return, that his brain damage would be worse.
Dahl was not one to sit back and let things take their course. As soon as he realized that the defective valve was the problem, he abandoned his writing and began to work out how he might improve the situation. He swiftly became something of an expert. With typical resourcefulness, he contacted a man with whom he had first corresponded in 1950, when he'd wanted to buy a miniature steam engine as a present for his nephew Nicholas.
Stanley Wade was no ordinary toymaker. He was a craftsman, a self-effacing perfectionist. His specialty was making model airplane engines and, in particular, the tiny hydraulic pumps that supplied them with fuel. These never blocked. When Dahl explained his son's problem and asked Wade if he could build something to the specifications Theo required, Wade told him he thought he could. By this time, too, Dahl had found a kindred spirit in a pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon called Kenneth Till who worked at London's premier hospital for sick children in Great Ormond Street and would become Theo's consultant.
Within a year, the Dahl-Wade-Till (DWT) valve was ready. "No more than two centimeters long with six tiny moving steel parts inside it." Till fitted it for the first time on a one-year-old child in May 1962. And it worked perfectly. It was a massive improvement on what had existed previously, and had been realized almost entirely by Dahl's practical initiative and his refusal to accept the status quo. Although not ready in time for Theo, who was already well on his way to recovery, the valve was used successfully on almost 3,000 children around the world.
In May 1961, the Dahls returned to Gipsy House, their home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Looking after Theo, whose walking skills improved fast and whose mind seemed surprisingly undamaged by his trauma, brought Pat and Roald closer together, and she told a journalist that she no longer constantly challenged him or wished to "have nice fights and make it up in bed." Theo had become a "centering force," assisting the family to settle down more permanently in England. Surrounded by three children and Roald, Pat would later describe the two years after Theo's accident as one of the most beautiful periods of her life.
But tragedy was about to strike again. Throughout 1962, life had seemed to be settling into the kind of familiar pattern Dahl had long desired. Pat was away for 11 weeks shooting Hud with Paul Newman, but he was blissfully content to stay at home, writing, gardening and taking the children to and from school when required. He continued revising Charlie's Chocolate Boy (the manuscript that would eventually become Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and even started a new children's book.
|Olivia Twenty Dahl (April 20, 1955 - November 17, 1962)|
However, Dahl knew that gamma globulin could be used to boost children's immunity against the disease and that, although uncommon in England, in America it was a fairly routine prophylactic. Pat called her brother-in-law Ashley Miles to see if he could help. Miles agreed to send some. But he only provided enough for Theo. "Let the girls get measles. It will be good for them," he told her.
Three days later, Olivia was covered in spots. Roald and Pat separated her from her siblings and let the disease take its course. After a couple of days of mild fever, all seemed to be progressing normally. When she awoke on the third day, her temperature had come down and she was sufficiently alert for Roald to teach her how to play chess. She beat him immediately. After eating a good lunch, she went to sleep again at 5 p.m. and did not wake until late the following morning.
Only now she did not want to play games, complaining instead that she had a headache. Roald did his best to distract her. He tried to persuade her to make a monkey out of colored pipe cleaners. But she was not interested. He noticed also that her fingers, usually so dexterous, were fumbling and imprecise. All she seemed to want to do was sleep. Roald and Pat called their GP, Mervyn Brigstock, who came over in the afternoon. He examined Olivia carefully and, although he agreed that she was strangely lethargic, found nothing wrong. He left half an hour later.
Roald returned to his hut. It was about four o'clock. Soon afterwards, Roald's sister Else dropped around to see how her goddaughter was faring. She looked in on Olivia, who seemed sound asleep. At 5 p.m., Pat went back into Olivia's bedroom and discovered her daughter having convulsions. She stared at her mother with "dead-looking eyes," then suddenly became quite still, "her mouth gaping limply, oozing spit."
Pat ran to the switch that connected Roald's writing hut to the main house and hit it desperately. Four quick flashes brought Roald running. Immediately, he called Dr. Brigstock. While they waited for him to arrive, Pat and Roald cooled Olivia's forehead with cold flannels. But she did not respond. Soon she was unconscious. As soon as Brigstock saw her, he summoned an ambulance. Olivia's breathing was now shallow and irregular and she needed oxygen.
Roald wrapped his limp daughter in an eiderdown and carried her out to the ambulance, which rushed her to nearby Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Roald followed behind in his car.
Roald subsequently noted what then happened:
Instructions were given. Not much could be done. I first said I would stay on. Then I said I’d go back with Pat. Went. Arrived home. Called Philip Evans. He called hospital. Called me back. “Shall I come?” “Yes please.” I said I’d tell hospital he was coming. I called. Doc thought I was Evans. He said I’m afraid she’s worse. I got in the car. Got to hospital. Walked in. Two doctors advanced on me from waiting room. How is she? I’m afraid it’s too late. I went into her room. Sheet was over her. Doctor said to nurse go out. Leave him alone. I kissed her. She was warm. I went out. “She is warm.” I said to doctors in hall, “Why is she so warm?” “Of course,” he said. I left.Pat was waiting for him when he returned home. She already knew the worst. The doctors at the hospital had called her to break the news. Roald hugged her desperately, his “heavy sobs” spilling onto her shoulder. She knew already he was “destroyed.” The pediatrician Dr. Evans, who had arrived at the hospital after Olivia died, came early the next morning to Gipsy House and told them that she had been the victim of measles encephalitis, a rare inflammation of the brain which can arise from measles, and which affects one in a thousand cases.
He confirmed that large doses of gamma globulin could well have prevented her from getting the disease. Thus, Pat remembered, began the "landslide of anger and frustration" that almost buried the family. Whereas Pat was able to cry and talk to others about her lost child, Roald kept himself to himself and seemed incapable of acknowledging his wife's suffering. He rapidly put all Olivia's toys and books into a polished oak chest, which he kept in his bedroom. He made Tessa feel that she could never make up for Olivia's loss. He was silent. Pat found him increasingly distant. "He did not talk about his feelings... did not want to talk about Olivia... he wouldn't let anything come out, nothing."
Two years and three months later, on February 5, 1965, Pat had won an Oscar for her role in Hud and was three months pregnant with the couple's fourth daughter, Lucy (their third, Ophelia, had been born in 1964). She was starring in John Ford's last movie Seven Women and the entire Dahl family had accompanied her to Los Angeles. At home after an exhausting fourth day of filming, a searing pain shot through her head. Pat was bathing Tessa at the time. "Mummy, what's wrong?" Tessa cried, as Sheena, the children's new nanny, helped her mother stagger into the bedroom. Roald, who was coming up the stairs with Pat's drink, found her sitting on the bed. "I've got the most awful pain right here," she told him, pressing her hand to her left temple. She told Roald she was seeing double and experiencing what her medical notes later described as "bizarre fantasies" and "peculiar thoughts." Suddenly her head jerked back and she lost consciousness.
Dahl suspected at once that she was having a stroke. He rushed into his study and called one of Los Angeles' top neurosurgeons, Charles Carton, who dispatched an ambulance. Dahl returned to the bedroom to find his wife just conscious. She was covered in vomit and could not recognize her own children. Tessa was staring at her with a look of "utter desolation." Five minutes later, sirens wailed. "What?s that sound?" Theo asked. Sheena told him it was a cat. Tessa, perhaps remembering the night Olivia died, knew exactly what it was. "It's an ambulance coming for Mummy," she said.
The operation began at midnight and lasted until after 7 a.m. the following morning. The surgery revealed that the rupture had been caused by an aneurysm, a genetic weakness in the wall of the artery. Perhaps pregnancy and the stress of a tough day's shooting caused it to burst at that particular moment, but it was a disaster that had simply been waiting to strike.
Pat remained in a coma for almost three weeks, lying on an ice mattress to minimize swelling and besieged by tubes. Antibiotics to prevent infection and anticonvulsants to prevent further damage to the brain dripped constantly into her system. Roald sat by her side for hour after hour, repeating endlessly, "Pat, this is Roald."
"Patricia Neal, 39, last year's Oscar-winning best actress who copped five prizes for her first Broadway performance in 1947, died at midnight last night at UCLA Medical Center," read a front-page banner headline in the February 22, 1965 issue of Variety.
For days there was no improvement in Pat's condition. But on March 10, almost three weeks after the hemorrhage, Pat began to regain consciousness.
Roald was by her side when she falteringly opened an eye. It was the kind of crisis he was able to endure because it offered the opportunity to take control of the situation and also because he saw the chance of a positive outcome. The image of himself as the lone fighter, struggling against adversity to keep his family alive, was now profoundly ingrained in his psychology.
At first, Theo and Tessa were kept entirely away. A few days after Pat began to emerge from the coma, however, Roald decided that the children should see their mother. The experience was traumatic. Theo, aged four, was upset. And seven-year-old Tessa was terrified: a mixture of "horror, fear, nausea" welled up inside her as she contemplated "this hideous creature who cackled and moaned... this thing that was meant to be my mother... She had no hair, she had a black eye patch, she had lipstick smeared over a lopsided mouth."
Dahl seized on the advice of Carton that immediate and intense stimulation offered perhaps the best hope for his wife's recovery. He set her to work immediately, hiring speech therapists and physiotherapists to help her relearn the simplest things. Sympathy was not high on his list of priorities. Within days, his draconian plan seemed to be working. Pat's mobility began to improve and doctors were startled at the speed with which she tried to put sentences together.
Miraculously, barely a week after she began to regain consciousness and a month after she had suffered the stroke, Pat was discharged from the hospital to convalesce. But as Pat struggled to put her thoughts into words, to teach herself the names of colors, to work out how to use her right arm and feed herself, she became overwhelmed by the awareness of exactly what she had lost. The fact that she was pregnant also made relearning how to walk particularly exhausting. Dahl later described his wife's condition in stark terms: "If left alone, she would sit and stare into space and in half an hour a great black cloud of depression would envelop her mind. Unless I was prepared to have a bad-tempered desperately unhappy nitwit in the house, some very drastic action would have to be taken."
|Theo Dahl, Roald Dahl, Patricia Neal, Tessa Dahl|
Roald's methods were Spartan. There was to be no self-pity, no indulgence toward the illness, just a determination to beat all the disabilities. His approach, Pat recalled, "was to get me to do it myself."
Roald behaved like a general running a military campaign, demanding absolute adherence to his rules from everyone in the household. Pat's friend Gloria Stern, who came to visit one afternoon, found him reminiscent both of a stage manager and a traffic cop. She admired his "fierce, unrelenting approach" but was disturbed because it also reminded her of "the way one trains a dog."
Under pressure financially, Dahl moved his family back to their home in Great Missenden in May. He was devising a strategy for Pat's rehabilitation based, as he saw it, on "common sense" and the avoidance of "inertia, boredom, frustration and depression" in the patient. He sent her for physiotherapy at a nearby RAF military hospital. Then each day, between nine and 12 in the morning and two and five in the afternoon, he arranged for friends and neighbors to visit. These amateur therapists, led by Val Eaton Griffith, read children's books to her and played elementary word games. Some encouraged her to draw pictures, or laid out objects on a tray and got her to try to memorize them. Others stretched her mind with simple crosswords, jigsaw puzzles or arithmetic.
Despite all his efforts, it was gradually becoming clear to Dahl that the aneurysm had metamorphosed his wife into a different person from the one who had returned home from shooting in February. The match had never been ideal. It had started shakily but it had been galvanized by the arrival of their children and further strengthened by the twin disasters of Olivia's death and Theo's accident. These shared catastrophes had brought Roald and Pat closer together.
Now Pat had become the third of these calamities. Tessa felt that her mother had been transformed, with her eye patch and her steel leg brace, from a glamorous extrovert into a "terrible burden." For Roald, his wife had ceased to be an equal; she had become a dependent and somewhat of a stranger.
|Theo Dahl, Roald Dahl, Patricia Neal, Ophelia Dahl, Tessa Dahl|
On New Year's Day 1966, Dahl publicly raised the stakes on his wife's recovery, telling the press that he felt certain she would be "working again within the year." As a result, movie offers slowly began to come in. Mike Nichols offered her the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Pat knew she was not ready for the part, which was eventually taken by her friend Anne Bancroft. Peter Sellers offered her a cameo in his movie What's New Pussycat? She passed on that as well.
Finally, Edgar Lansbury offered her the lead in a film version of the Tony Award-winning play The Subject Was Roses by Frank Gilroy. Pat liked the part of Nettie, a tough working-class New York mother, whose son (played by Martin Sheen) returns home from the Second World War to discover that his parents' marriage is failing.
The role was gritty, raw and it suited her mood. It had two other attractions: it was not to be shot until 1968 and the filming would be largely in her beloved New York. Her therapist Val Eaton Griffith convinced her to accept it.
Yet Pat remained anxious that she was not ready. Val, however, had already persuaded her to deliver a speech in New York in March 1967. Roald had written the text of her address and Val coached Pat on it daily for a month, before accompanying her to New York for the celebrity dinner.
"An Evening with Patricia Neal" was a fund-raiser for brain-injured children held at the Waldorf-Astoria. Its starry guest list included Leonard Bernstein, Joan Crawford, Yul Brynner, Rock Hudson, Paul Newman, Alistair Cooke, Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and it was Pat's first public appearance since the stroke. Her speech won her a standing ovation. The adulation stimulated her desire to recover and she began to believe she might pull off the movie comeback.
That night she saluted her husband for what he had done to force her back into the limelight. Later, she would articulate her gratitude more eloquently: "I knew at that moment that Roald the Slave Driver, Roald the Bastard, with his relentless courage, Roald the Rotten, as I had called him more than once, had thrown me back into the deep water. Where I belonged."
This is an edited extract from Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock.
Patricia Neal Film Clips
Patricia Neal made her film debut in John Loves Mary.
Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper light up the screen in The Fountainhead (1949).
"Klaatu barada nikto" is a phrase originating in the 1951 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. The humanoid alien protagonist of the film, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), instructs Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) that if anything were to happen to him, she must say the phrase to the robot Gort (Lock Martin).
Patricia Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany's: "I am a very stylish girl." The scene also features George Peppard.
Patricia Neal and Paul Newman in the "You Still Got That Itch?" Scene from Hud
Patricia Neal winning the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Hud at the 36th Academy Awards. Presented by Gregory Peck and accepted by Annabella. The awards were held on April 13, 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California.
Patricia Neal presenting the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film to A Man and a Woman at the 39th Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 1966. The awards were held on April 10, 1967 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California. Patricia Neal is introduced by Bob Hope.
On this episode of InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse," his 2009 conversation with screen legend, Patricia Neal.
|Patricia Neal in Diplomatic Courier (1952)|
TCM's Summer Under the Stars - Patricia Neal - August 16, 2015
John Loves Mary (1949)
|Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal|
Bright Leaf (1950)
|Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal|
Subject Was Roses, The (1968)
D: Ulu Grosbard. Patricia Neal, Jack Albertson, Martin Sheen. A young veteran returns home to deal with family conflicts. This was Patricia Neal's first film after her recovery from multiple strokes.
Breaking Point, The (1950)
Hasty Heart, The (1950)
Fountainhead, The (1949)
|Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead|
Operation Pacific (1951)
Day the Earth Stood Still, The (1951)
Face in the Crowd, A (1957)
Raton Pass (1951)
Road Builder, The (a.k.a. Night Digger, The) (1971)
|Patricia Neal as Alma Brown in Hud|