Patricia Neal, the husky-voiced actress best known for roles in classic films such as The Fountainhead (1949), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and 1963’s Hud (for which she won the Academy Award as Best Actress), died late this evening at the age of 84.
Neal was an exceptionally talented, though sometimes underrated, actress. My favorite performance of hers was in Elia Kazan’s chilling 1957 satire A Face in the Crowd, co-starring Andy Griffith. Neal plays Marcia Jeffries, the small-town radio star who puts Griffith’s “Lonesome” Rhodes on the air and follows him down the dark and twisting path of instant, influential fame. She’s remarkable in the role, sliding easily between lovelorn and scorned, and the final scenes of the film, when she leaves Rhodes to his self-damnation as he screams and begs for her return, are the most effective of the entire movie.
Neal’s first major role in The Fountainhead, the adaptation of Ayn Rand’s voluminous treatise on collectivism, coincided with an affair with leading man Gary Cooper, who was more than two decades her senior. Soon after, she married British children’s author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), a union that lasted for more than 30 years until their divorce.
One of my favorite anecdotes involving Neal: when actress/author Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe) began working as an actress and writer in Hollywood in the 1960s, she could not register with the Screen Actors Guild under her birth name, which is actually Patricia Neal, because Neal (who was born Patsy Louise Neal) had already built her very successful career by then.
A wonderful actress with real soul and verve, Patricia Neal will most definitely be missed.