The Unfortunate Life Of Patricia Neal

If we recently remembered the terrible story of Susan Peters – the young actress who caressed the sky when she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, only to be paralyzed by a shot and end up committing suicide -, today it is the turn of another star whose life was tinged with misfortune: Patricia Neal. Well, although this Oscar-winning actress triumphed both on Broadway and in Hollywood and had a much longer life than Peters, we are not sure which of the two was more miserable. Born in 1926 under the name of Patsy Louise Neal, she is young Aspiring actress already stood out in the institute for her radiant beauty and her obvious interpretive skills that she demonstrated in award-winning dramatic readings. After studying dramatic art for two years in Virginia, at the beginning of the 40s he landed in New York and began working as a substitute actress until he got his first role as a replacement for Vivian Vance. That was when producer Alfred de Liagre suggested that the first name should be changed to one more in line with his aristocratic attitude: Patricia. After calling the attention of several producers with his first theatrical efforts, his Broadway debut would come thanks to the Another Part of the Forest, by playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman. Neal knew that this was his great opportunity to demonstrate talent and potential, and therefore he gave himself body and soul to his role. The result was such a success that, without having yet turned 21, he was reaping not only a New York Drama Critics’ Circle award, but also the award for Best Leading Actress at the Tony’s first gala, there for the 1947. Her young face began to be everywhere – including the cover of Life magazine – and overnight she became the most wanted actress in Hollywood. A dream come true that, unfortunately, would not last forever. Soon after, Neal signed a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. and moved to Los Angeles to try his luck in the competitive film industry. But as soon as he arrived, he faced the harsh reality of the rookie: although he wasted talent and had in his favor a sweeping presence and a hoarse and unmistakable voice, he lacked all experience in front of the cameras. Despite this, in 1949 the producers granted him a debut no less than with Ronald Reagan (yes, the future president of the US) in the failed comedy John Loves Mary. Critics of the time were especially primed with Patricia’s inability to defend the jokes of the script – but our young actress was very conscious of starting to flap her wings, and she was not intimidated. After repeating with Regan that same year in Alma in darkness, Neal was seen taking away from Lauren Bacall the role that Barbara Stanwyck and other frontline stars had coveted: Dominique Francon, the lover of the protagonist of The Spring. The adaptation of this controversial novel written by Ayn Rand a few years before (and considered an ode to individualism and libertarian capitalism) was one of the most ambitious projects of Warner Bros., so that the pressure was maximum for all involved. At the author’s request, Humphrey Bogart had been abruptly replaced in the role of architect Howard Roark by Gary Cooper, and this in turn had strongly criticized Patricia’s camera tests, which she considered (not without reason) a first time. However, the fiction seemed to have some magical effect in real life, because like his character, Neal (who was only 23 at the time) would end up madly in love with Cooper (which touched the 50) and together they would begin an intense romance – Although Cooper was married and had a daughter. As movie lovers who love classic Hollywood stories know, the job and seniority of director King Vidor didn’t matter: The spring was a sound critic and box office failure. And as in any catastrophe, the most damaged was the weakest – in this case, Patricia. The actress, who was then sold as “the new Greta Garbo”, saw how the status and cache she had obtained so easily were rushing downhill. As if that were not enough, his idyll with Cooper was not going much better. His was an unequal and sometimes even abusive relationship: in addition to slapping Neal when he surprised Kirk Douglas trying to seduce her, Cooper also persuaded her to abort when she became pregnant with him. “If I could recover something from my life, it would be that baby,” he said in his autobiography, As I Am. However, Patricia was still harboring the dream that Cooper dared to start a new life with her. And if her sentimental life it was an uncertain chaos, in the professional field things were much clearer: his star was dying out. Although at the beginning of the 50s Patricia strived to continue working on a career with mostly forgettable jobs for Warner Bros. – among which it is worth mentioning Breakpoint (with John Garfield) or The Silent Fleet (with John Wayne) -, soon the study understood that the great promise of the previous decade was not giving the expected result. And so, when Neal was already 27, they kindly pointed out the exit door. This, coupled with Cooper’s unexpected decision to break his relationship with her, ended up causing him a nervous breakdown that would take days to recover.After 13 films and five years of career as a film actress without achieving the success he enjoyed less In a decade, Patricia considered the possibility that her future would not go through the big screen. Urged by her friend, playwright Lillian Hellman, she returned to New York to star in the Broadway revival of the play Slander. And precisely at Hellman’s own house it would be where Neal would meet the famous Welsh writer Roald Dahl (Charlie and the chocolate factory), with whom he would marry in 1953 … even though he didn’t love him at the time and made him move for his desire to have offspring, as he confessed in his autobiography. A 30-year-old marriage awaited him from which five children and many more dislikes would come out.Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl (Public Domain, Carl Van Vechten – Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress) MoreAfter finding herself on the boards and charging herself Patricia decided that she didn’t have to give up her cinematic dream. Thanks to a contract with 20th Century Fox he had already been seen in the mythical science fiction tape Ultimátum to Earth, and in 1957 he had his triumphant return to the big screen, returning to work for Warner Bros. in the applauded A face in the crowd, by Elia Kazan. His growing experience was noticeable, and film critics began to praise his interpretative record as never before. Neal continued to alternate the cameras with the scenarios, reaping high praise for his work in montages of Suddenly, last summer or The Miracle of Ana Sullivan. But if Patricia’s career seemed to have found its way again, her personal life was beginning to become a hell. Nothing good predicts a marriage in which there is no love between both parties, but a dominant personality like Roald Dahl’s can aggravate that gap to unbearable limits. The former R.A.F. and author of fantastic children’s stories showed his most authoritarian face when the tragedy shook the life of the couple in December 1960. The terrible event took place in the street of New York, when Patricia was shopping and the child of only 4 months I was with a nurse. It all happened very fast when Theo’s cart was accidentally crushed by a taxi and a bus. The result was a serious injury to the left hemisphere of the baby’s brain, before which Dahl made the unilateral and irrevocable decision to move away from civilization and move the whole family to the small town of Great Missenden (United Kingdom), where little Theo He would carry out his complicated rehabilitation. Dahl’s resolution would not be questioned until, two years later, his eldest daughter, Olivia, died at the age of seven, victim of an encephalomyelitis that, surely, could have suffered if he had received the medical care available in any large city. the double tragedy, Neal continued to teach a lesson of resistance and determination, knowing how to combine the upbringing of his children and the care of Theo with his promising return to the big screen. In this sense, the new decade of the 60s appeared bright: after appearing in the iconic Breakfast with diamonds in 1961, it would star Hud, the wildest among a thousand – where he embodied a housewife who resists Paul’s amoral charms Newman That multi-award-winning work would end up being awarded the Oscar for best actress in 1964, although she could not pick it up due to her fourth pregnancy. Taking advantage of this new opportunity presented by fate, Neal accepted Otto Preminger’s proposal and starred in the successful First Victory, again with John Wayne. After the good experience with this, he agreed to return to accompany him as co-star of Seven Women, who would direct the great John Ford. However, his good streak was abruptly interrupted when he suffered the breakage of three cerebral aneurysms … while waiting for his fifth baby. Despite being only 39 years old, the life of a smoker ended up taking its toll on Neal. He was in a coma for three weeks, and his situation was so critical that a newspaper published his notice. However, all the determination that Dahl had shown in controlling his wife’s life now turned to attending her, and thanks to the writer’s care and attention, Patricia would not only survive but also end up giving birth to a healthy girl in August 1965. That said, the physical sequels were brutal, because the actress was semi-paralyzed and lost the ability to speak. To top it off, the shunt that drained Neal’s brain fluid clogged to the point of endangering his life. But thanks to the knowledge he had acquired during Theo’s rehabilitation (which underwent a total of eight brain operations), Dahl worked with a retired engineer and a neurosurgeon to design and manufacture a new shunt that worked properly. The valve, known as the “Wade-Dahl-Till,” is not only a testament to the writer’s ingenuity, but also to his love for Neal … although he never took her opinion into account. Little and with Dahl’s insistent help, Patricia learned to walk, read and speak again. But despite the fact that he had largely lost his memory, in 1967 the writer announced that he was ready to re-interpret and that he was going to deliver a speech at a solidarity dinner that would raise funds for children with brain damage. Terrified, Neal was forced to force her precarious memory to remember the entire speech, which was finally received with great applause. “Then I knew that Roald the slave, Roald the bastard, with his tireless whip, Roald the Damned, as I had called him more than once, had thrown me back into the deep waters. Where I should be ”- she recalled in her autobiography. Having regained her self-confidence, in 1968 Neal won everyone else’s and managed to return to the big screen with the role of Nettie Cleary in A Story of Three Strangers. That work would be worth his second Oscar nomination for Best Actress – although on that occasion Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand would snatch it for their respective work in The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl – and thanks to that new recognition, Patricia was able to face optimism and tranquility the following decades. And, from then on, he would take his career very calmly, accepting at most one project every year. After the last blow of fate, he was determined to continue working – but he did not want to die trying.Neal’s illness and recovery became adapted and turned into the tv-movie A gesture of love (1981), where Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde played Patricia and Roald respectively. Only two years after the broadcast, the couple divorced when Neal discovered that Dahl had been maintaining an affair with one of her best friends for years. Without Patricia by his side, Roald would die after a few years, in November 1990. For his part, Neal dedicated the last stage of his career to small roles in television series such as The House of the Prairie or a crime has been written. One of his latest works was Robert Altman’s Cookie´s Fortune (1999), which had been affected by lung cancer for years, Patricia Neal died on August 8, 2010 at age 84. He left four children, two brothers and ten grandchildren. These children include Theo who, despite the accident, survived and lives a quiet life with his wife and daughter in Naples, Florida, after living with his father for 30 years of his life. Although she was still committed to helping victims of brain damage (and struggled to convey the message that her life was still meaningful), the truth is that she had been away from public life for years and had only interrupted her retirement to film one last film , the failed Flying By (2009). But a few years ago, shortly after having divorced Dahl, he gave us this priceless and inspiring balance of his rugged life: “I do not see through one eye. I have been paralyzed. I have fallen and I have broken a hip. But tenacity allows you to go through bad times. Don’t give up. ”More stories that may interest you: (CC Image: Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl (Public Domain, Carl Van Vechten – Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress)