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Patricia Neal
Neal in 1952
Patsy Louise Neal

(1926-01-20)January 20, 1926
DiedAugust 8, 2010(2010-08-08) (aged 84)
Resting placeAbbey of Regina Laudis
Alma materNorthwestern University
Years active1945–2010
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1953; div. 1983)

Patricia Neal (born Patsy Louise Neal; January 20, 1926 – August 8, 2010) was an American actress of stage and screen. She is well known for, among other roles, playing World War II widow Helen Benson in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), radio journalist Marcia Jeffries in A Face in the Crowd (1957), wealthy matron Emily Eustace Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and the worn-out housekeeper Alma Brown in Hud (1963) (for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress). She also featured as the matriarch in the television film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971); her role as Olivia Walton was re-cast for the series it inspired, The Waltons. A major star of the 1950s and 1960s, she was the recipient of an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, and two British Academy Film Awards, and was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards.

Early life and education

Neal was born in Packard, Whitley County, Kentucky, to William Burdette Neal and Eura Mildred (née Petrey) Neal. She had two siblings.[1][2]

Neal grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she attended Knoxville High School,[3] and studied drama at Northwestern, where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. At Northwestern, she was crowned Syllabus Queen in a campus-wide beauty pageant.[4]


Neal gained her first job in New York as an understudy in the Broadway production of the John Van Druten play 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 the first presentation of the Tony awards.[1]

John Wayne and Patricia Neal in Operation Pacific (1951)

Neal made her film debut with Ronald Reagan in John Loves Mary, followed by another role with Reagan in The Hasty Heart, and then The Fountainhead (all 1949). The shooting of the last film coincided with her affair with her married co-star, Gary Cooper, with whom she worked again in Bright Leaf (1950).

Neal starred with John Garfield in The Breaking Point (1950), in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) with Michael Rennie, and in Operation Pacific (also 1951) starring John Wayne. She suffered a nervous breakdown around this time, following the end of her relationship with Cooper, and left Hollywood for New York, returning to Broadway in 1952 for a revival of The Children's Hour. In 1955, she starred in Edith Sommer's A Roomful of Roses, staged by Guthrie McClintic.

Neal and Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd

While in New York, Neal became a member of the Actors Studio. Based on connections with other members, she subsequently co-starred 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), and the film Hud (1963), directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman. During the same period, she appeared on television in an episode of The Play of the Week (1960), featuring an Actors Studio-dominated cast in a double bill of plays by August Strindberg,[5] and in a British production of Clifford Odets' Clash by Night (1959), which co-starred one of the first generation of Actors Studio members, Nehemiah Persoff.[6]

Neal (r) with Andy Griffith and Lee Remick on the set of A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud (1963),[7] co-starring with Paul Newman. When the film was initially released it was predicted she would be a nominee in the supporting actress category, but when she began collecting awards, they were always for Best Actress, from the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review and a BAFTA award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Neal was re-united with John Wayne in Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way (1965), winning her second BAFTA Award. Her next film was The Subject Was Roses (1968), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She starred as the matriarch in the television film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971), which inspired the television series The Waltons; she won a Golden Globe for her performance. In a 1999 interview with the Archive of American Television, Waltons creator Earl Hamner said he and producers were unsure if Neal's health would allow her to commit to the schedule of a weekly television series; so, instead, they cast Michael Learned in the role of Olivia Walton. Neal played a dying widowed mother trying to find a home for her three children in an episode of NBC's Little House on the Prairie broadcast in 1975.

Neal appeared in a series of television commercials in the 1970s and 1980s, notably for pain relief medicine Anacin and Maxim instant coffee.

Neal played the title role in Robert Altman's movie Cookie's Fortune (1999). She worked on Silvana Vienne's movie Beyond Baklava: The Fairy Tale Story of Sylvia's Baklava (2007), appearing as herself in the portions of the documentary talking about alternative ways to end violence in the world. In the same year as the film's release, Neal received one of two annually-presented Lifetime Achievement Awards at the SunDeis Film Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. (Academy Award nominee Roy Scheider was the recipient of the other.)

Having won a Tony Award in their inaugural year (1947) and eventually becoming the last surviving winner from that first ceremony, Neal often appeared as a presenter in later years. Her original Tony was lost, so she was given a surprise replacement by Bill Irwin when they were about to present the 2006 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play to Cynthia Nixon. In April 2009, Neal received a lifetime achievement award from WorldFest Houston on the occasion of the debut of her film, Flying By. Neal was a long-term actress with Philip Langner's Theatre at Sea/Sail With the Stars productions with the Theatre Guild. In her final years she appeared in a number of health-care videos.[8]

Neal was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2003.[9] She was a subject of the British television show This Is Your Life in 1978 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at a cocktail party on London's Park Lane.[citation needed]

Personal life

Patricia Neal at the Tribeca Film Festival (2007)

During the filming of The Fountainhead (1949), Neal began an affair with her married co-star Gary Cooper, whom she had met in 1947 when she was 21 and he was 46.[10] At one point in their relationship, Cooper hit her in the face after he caught Kirk Douglas trying to seduce her.[11] During this time, she was a Democrat who supported the campaign of Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election.[12]

Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl, photo by Carl Van Vechten (1954)

Neal met British writer Roald Dahl at a dinner party hosted by Lillian Hellman in 1952, while Dahl was living in New York.[13] They married on July 2, 1953, at Trinity Church in New York. The marriage produced five children:[1]

On December 5, 1960, their son Theo, four months old, suffered brain damage when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. In May 1961, the family returned to Gipsy House in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where Theo continued his rehabilitation.[15] Neal described the two years of family life during Theo's recovery as one of the most beautiful periods of her life.[15] However, on November 17, 1962, their daughter Olivia died at age 7 from measles encephalitis.[16] The story of Olivia's death and how Neal and Dahl coped with the tragedy was dramatized in 2020 as a made-for-TV movie, To Olivia.[17]

Neal was a heavy smoker.[18] She suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant in 1965 and was in a coma for three weeks. Variety magazine ran an obituary, but she survived with the assistance of Dahl and a number of volunteers who developed a gruelling style of therapy which fundamentally changed the way that stroke patients were treated.[19] This period of their lives was dramatised in the television film The Patricia Neal Story (1981), in which the couple was played by Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde.[20] On August 4, 1965, Neal gave birth to a healthy daughter. She subsequently relearned to walk and talk,[15] and after her recovery, was nominated for an Oscar for her 1968 performance in The Subject Was Roses.

In 1983, following Dahl's 11-year affair with Felicity D'Abreu,[21] a set designer he met when she worked with Neal on a Maxim Coffee advertisement, Neal's marriage ended in divorce.[22] She returned to live in the US. In her autobiography, As I Am (1988), Neal wrote: "A strong positive mental attitude will create more miracles than any wonder drug."[23]


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. It serves as part of Neal's advocacy for paralysis victims. She regularly visited the center in Knoxville, providing encouragement to its patients and staff. Neal appeared as the center's spokeswoman in advertisements until her death.[24]


Neal died at her home in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on August 8, 2010, from lung cancer. She was 84 years old.[25]

She had become a Catholic four months before she died[26] and was buried in the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, where the actress Dolores Hart, her friend since the early 1960s, had become a nun and ultimately prioress. Neal had been a longtime supporter of the abbey's open-air theatre and arts program.[27]



Year Film Role Notes
1949 John Loves Mary Mary McKinley
The Fountainhead Dominique Francon
It's a Great Feeling Herself cameo
The Hasty Heart Sister Parker
1950 Bright Leaf Margaret Jane Singleton
The Breaking Point Leona Charles
Three Secrets Phyllis Horn
1951 Operation Pacific Lt. (j. g.) Mary Stuart
Raton Pass Ann Challon
The Day the Earth Stood Still Helen Benson
Week-End with Father Jean Bowen
1952 Diplomatic Courier Joan Ross
Washington Story Alice Kingsley
Something for the Birds Anne Richards
1954 Stranger from Venus Susan North
La tua donna Countess Germana De Torri
1957 A Face in the Crowd Marcia Jeffries
1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's Mrs. Emily Eustace "2E" Failenson
1963 Hud Alma Brown Academy Award for Best Actress
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1964 Psyche 59 Alison Crawford
1965 In Harm's Way Lt. Maggie Haynes BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1968 The Subject Was Roses Nettie Cleary Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance
1971 The Night Digger Maura Prince
1973 Baxter! Dr. Roberta Clemm
Happy Mother's Day, Love George Cara also starring Tessa Dahl
1975 Hay que matar a B. Julia
1977 Nido de Viudas Lupe US title: Widow's Nest
1979 The Passage Mrs. Bergson
1981 Ghost Story Stella Hawthorne
1989 An Unremarkable Life Frances McEllany
1999 Cookie's Fortune Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt Nominated—Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress
2009 Flying By Margie Final film role


Year Project Role Notes
1954 Goodyear Playhouse episode: Spring Reunion
1958 Suspicion Paula Elgin episode: Someone Is After Me
1957–1958 Playhouse 90 Rena Menken
episode: The Gentleman from Seventh Avenue
episode: The Playroom
1954–1958 Studio One in Hollywood Caroline Mann
Miriam Leslie
episode: Tide of Corruption
episode: A Handful of Diamonds
1958 Pursuit Mrs. Conrad episode: The Silent Night
1959 Rendezvous Kate Merlin episode: London-New York
Clash by Night Mia Wilenski
1960 The Play of the Week Mistress
Grace Wilson
episode: Strindberg on Love
episode: The Magic and the Loss
1961 Special for Women: Mother and Daughter Ruth Evans
1962 Drama 61-67 Beebee Fenstermaker episode: Drama '62: The Days and Nights of Beebee
Checkmate Fran Davis episode: The Yacht-Club Gang
The Untouchables Maggie Storm episode: The Maggie Storm Story
Westinghouse Presents: That's Where the Town Is Going Ruby Sills
Winter Journey Georgie Elgin
Zero One Margo episode: Return Trip
1963 Ben Casey Dr. Louise Chapelle episode: My Enemy Is a Bright Green Sparrow
Espionage Jeanne episode: The Weakling
1971 The Homecoming: A Christmas Story Olivia Walton Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
1972 Circle of Fear Ellen Alexander episode: Time of Terror
1974 Kung Fu Sara Kingsley episode: Blood of Dragon
Things in Their Season Peg Gerlach
1975 Eric Lois Swensen TV movie
Little House on the Prairie Julia Sanderson episode: Remember Me
Movin' On Maddie episode: Prosperity #1
1976 The American Woman: Portraits of Courage Narrator
1977 Tail Gunner Joe Sen. Margaret Chase Smith Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special
1978 A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story Mrs. Gehrig
The Bastard Marie Charboneau
1979 All Quiet on the Western Front Paul's Mother Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special
1984 Glitter Madame Lil episode: Pilot
Love Leads the Way: A True Story Mrs. Frank TV movie
Shattered Vows Sister Carmelita TV movie
1990 Caroline? Miss Trollope TV movie
Murder, She Wrote Milena Maryska episode: Murder in F Sharp
1992 A Mother's Right: The Elizabeth Morgan Story Antonia Morgan
1993 Heidi Grandmother


Run Play Role Notes
November 20, 1946 – April 26, 1947 Another Part of the Forest Regina Hubbard Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play
Theatre World Award
December 18, 1952 – May 30, 1953 The Children's Hour Martha Dobie
October 17, 1955 – December 31, 1955 A Roomful of Roses Nancy Fallon
October 19, 1959 – July 1, 1961 The Miracle Worker Kate Keller



  1. ^ a b c Aston-Wash, Barbara; Pickle, Betsy (August 8, 2010). "Knoxville friends mourn loss of iconic actress Patricia Neal". Archived from the original on August 16, 2010. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  2. ^ Pylant, James (2010). "Patricia Neal's Deep Roots in the Bluegrass State". Archived from the original on September 13, 2010. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  3. ^ John Shearer, Famous alumni from Knoxville High School, Knoxville News Sentinel, May 28, 2010.
  4. ^ Canning Blackwell, Elizabeth (March 10, 2013). "Reel Life". University Archives. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  5. ^ ""Play of the Week" Strindberg on Love (TV Episode 1960)". IMDb. February 25, 1960.
  6. ^ Tom Goldie: "Tom Goldie's Telenews: Steel on Your Screen," The Times (Tuesday, July 7, 1959), p. 8. "Producer John Jacobs had a hard time filling the role of the husband. He wanted Ernest Borgnine, or Karl Malden, or Anthony Quinn, but none of them was available. Then he saw Persoff playing a featured role in the film, Al Capone, and promptly invited him to come over from America specially for Clash by Night.
  7. ^ Bernstein, Adam (August 10, 2010). "Patricia Neal dies: Oscar winning star of 'Hud' was 84". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  8. ^ "Danamar Productions".
  9. ^ "Theater honors put women in the spotlight". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  10. ^ Wendy Smith (July 9, 2006). "Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life". Variety.
  11. ^ Meyer, Jeffrey Gary Cooper: American Hero (1998)
  12. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  13. ^ Sturrock, Donald (2010). Storyteller: The Life Of Roald Dahl. London: HarperCollins. pp. 316–317. ISBN 978-0-00-725476-7.
  14. ^ "'Dad also needed happy dreams': Roald Dahl, his daughters and the BFG". The Daily Telegraph. August 6, 2010. Archived from the original on January 11, 2022. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  15. ^ a b c "Roald Dahl on the death of his daughter". No. February 3, 2015. The Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 11, 2022.
  16. ^ People's Magazine, online reprint on Roald Dahl Fan Site
  17. ^ "Hugh Bonneville becomes Roald Dahl in first look trailer for 'To Olivia'". December 24, 2020.
  18. ^ Corliss, Richard (August 11, 2010). "A Life of Tragedy and Triumph: Patricia Neal (1926–2010)". Time – via
  19. ^ "Big Sometimes Friendly Giant". September 3, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  20. ^ David Thomson (August 9, 2010). "Patricia Neal: a beauty that cut like a knife". The Guardian. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  21. ^ "We thought we could keep our affair secret, says Roald Dahl's second wife". November 12, 2008.
  22. ^ "Celebrity Corner". Knight-Ridder. October 24, 1983. Retrieved April 12, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ Ronald Bergan (August 9, 2010). "Patricia Neal: Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  24. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2008). Beating the Odds: A Teen Guide to 75 Superstars Who Overcame Adversity. ABC Clio. ISBN 9780313345654. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  25. ^ "Actress Patricia Neal dies at age 84". NPR. August 9, 2010. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  26. ^ Me and Miss Neal, The Globe and Mail, August 13, 2010.
  27. ^ Drake, Tim (August 25, 2010). "Mother Dolores Hart Talks About Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper". National Catholic Register. EWTN News, Inc. Retrieved December 22, 2018. Four months ago, when she was hospitalized with her illness, she called me and said she wanted to be a Catholic. She made the step at that time. She had waited a long time and finally threw in her towel on March 30, 2010.