Nationality: American. Born: Patsy Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky, 20 January 1926. Education: Attended Knoxville High School, Tennessee; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1944–45.
Family: Married the writer Roald Dahl, 1953 (divorced 1983), five children (one deceased). Career: Coached in acting as a child, and made stage debut at age 15 at Barter Theatre, Virginia; 1944—understudy on tour in The Voice of the Turtle , and in short Broadway run; 1946—Tony-Award winning performance in Broadway production of Another Part of the Forest ; 1947—joined Strasberg's Actors Studio, New York; 1949—film debut in John Loves Mary ; contract with Warner Brothers; 1952—on stage in The Children's Hour ; 1958—in Suddenly Last Summer in London; 1964–68—series of strokes and long rehabilitation period; 1968—returned to films in The Subject Was Roses ; 1978—in TV mini-series The Bastard . Awards: Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress, New York Film Critics, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Hud , 1963; Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for In Harm's Way , 1965. Address: P.O. Box 1043, Edgartown, MA 02539, U.S.A.
John Loves Mary (David Butler) (as Mary McKinley); The Fountainhead (King Vidor) (as Dominique Francon); It's a Great Feeling (David Butler) (as herself)
The Hasty Heart (Sherman) (as Sister Margaret Parker); Bright Leaf (Curtiz) (as Margaret Jane Singleton); Three Secrets (Wise) (as Phyllis Horn); The Breaking Point (Curtiz) (as Leona Charles)
Operation Pacific (Waggner) (as Mary Stuart); Raton Pass ( Canyon Pass ) (Marin) (as Ann); The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise) (as Helen Benson); Weekend with Father (Sirk) (as Jean Bowen)
Diplomatic Courier (Hathaway) (as Joan Ross); Something for the Birds (Wise) (as Anne Richards); Washington Story ( Target for Scandal ) (Pirosh) (as Alice Kingsly)
La tua donna (Paolucci); The Stranger from Venus ( Immediate Disaster ) (Burt Balaban) (as Susan North)
A Face in the Crowd (Kazan) (as Marcia Jeffries)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Edwards) (as "2E")
Hud (Ritt) (as Alma Brown)
Psyche '59 (Singer) (as Allison)
In Harm's Way (Preminger) (as Lt. Maggie Haynes)
The Subject Was Roses (Grosbard) (as Nettie Cleary)
The Road Builder ( The Night Digger ) (Reid) (as Maura Prince); The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (Cook—for TV) (as Olivia Walton)
Baxter (Jeffries) (as Dr. Clemm); Hay que matar a B. ( B. Must Die ) (Borau) (as Julia); Happy Mother's Day—Love George ( Run, Stranger, Run ) (McGavin) (as Cara)
Things in Their Season (Goldstone—for TV)
Eric (Goldstone—for TV) (as Lois Swenson)
Widow's Nest ( Nido de viudas ) (Navarro) (as Lupe); Tail Gunner Joe (Jud Taylor—for TV)
A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story (Cook—for TV) (as Mrs. Gehrig)
The Passage (J. Lee Thompson) (as Ariel Bergson); All Quiet on the Western Front (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Paul's mother)
Ghost Story (Irvin) (as Stella Hawthorne)
Glitter (Beaumont—for TV); Love Leads the Way (Delbert Mann—for TV); Shattered Vows (Bender—for TV) (as Sister Carmelita)
An Unremarkable Life (Chaudri) (as Frances McEllany)
Caroline? (Sargent—for TV) (as the headmistress)
A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story (Otto—for TV) (as Antonia Morgan)
Heidi (Rhodes—for TV) (as Grandmother)
Cookie's Fortune (Altman) (as Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt)
Interview with K.G. Shinnick, in Scarlet Street , no. 25: 47–49, 1997.
As I Am: An Autobiography , with Richard DeNeut, New York, 1988.
Farrell, Barry, Pat and Roald , New York, 1969.
Burrows, Michael, Patricia Neal and Margaret Sullavan , Cornwall, England, 1971.
Current Biography 1964 , New York, 1964.
Buckley, Michael, "Patricia Neal," in Films in Review (New York), April 1983; see also letter in August/September issue.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1991.
The Patricia Neal Story , directed by Anthony Harvey and Anthony Page for television, 1981.
* * *
As modern teachers of naturalistic acting would ask of her, Patricia Neal personifies true openness: to her characters' impulses both intellectual and sexual, to her fellow players, to all acting media, to the pursuit of work even after deep personal affliction and loss. Never a major star, she rose to prominence when Hollywood's "classical" period—characterized by the interlocking systems of studio/star/genre—was ending. She is in fact one of the earliest members of an ongoing post-1950s sorority of "working" actresses. These women's mastery of contemporary acting techniques clearly works in their every on-screen moment, but, unless they turn to television, they remain fairly anonymous working actors—nonstars—their film roles usually small or lost in low-quality productions.
The reasons femininity and Hollywood movie stardom became comparatively estranged between the studio era and the recent age of the blockbuster are complex: at the root is a perceived shift in movie viewership by the 1970s to young men, connected to the Hollywood commonplace that only male actors can turn films into megahits by virtue of their mere presence. But surely also a factor is some resistance to women, like Neal, able to combine practical control and a post-Production Code, expandingly erotic heat: one of her own favorite examples comes in Hud when her character swats a fly—which Neal fortuitously noticed on the set—in response to Paul Newman's kiss.
Neal was well-received on Broadway in the mid-1940s, having worked in local theaters and summer stock through high school and college. She was invited to be a founding member of the Actors Studio, the New York collective which would become the most famous workshop devoted to expanding the ideas of Constantin Stanislavski in the United States—although she writes that she was expelled temporarily when she went to Hollywood. There she met more critical than commercial success between 1949 and 1952, her two most memorable roles coming in The Fountainhead and The Day the Earth Stood Still . She studied screen acting with George Shdanoff and later Shdanoff's teacher Michael Chekhov, Stanislavski's associate.
Neal returned to Broadway in 1952 and spent the mid-1950s dividing her time between New York and England, occupied with a new marriage, children, renewed work at the Actors Studio, and jobs on-stage and in television. Her best run of film work began in 1957 with A Face in the Crowd , as she moved into innocuous, reliable, supportive (and supporting) women's roles, including Breakfast at Tiffany's , In Harm's Way , and Hud , for which she won an Oscar.
Her career was drastically interrupted in the mid-1960s by a series of strokes. Her courageous attempts to reestablish herself across the 1970s and 1980s often found her characters also dealing with illness. Unsurprisingly, given developing industry patterns, her best recent roles have come on television. She brings a motherly, astute depth especially to 1990's Caroline? , with television star Stephanie Zimbalist and working actress Pamela Reed. Patricia Neal soldiers on, an actress of intelligence and fire never fully exploited by Hollywood film.
—Robin Wood, updated by Susan Knobloch