August 17, 2002

Still One of the Great Ones

Readers will find a quirky but admiring tribute to one of the best actresses of all time, Patricia Neal, in the latest issue of the New York Observer, “A Different Breed of Celebrity,” by Ronda Kaysen.

Kaysen is an usher at the Gramercy Theater, where celebrities apparently expect, and get, special treatment, including the best seats in the house, on a recent night was told by an excited colleague, “Patricia Neal needs to be reseated.”

“I didn’t know who Patricia Neal was, but I didn’t let on,” writes Kaysen. “I can recognize Reese Witherspoon when I see her, and Laura Linney’s not too hard to pick out of a crowd, either. If I don’t recognize the celebrity, usually the name rings a bell. I know I’m supposed to know who they are,” she continues.

“But Patricia Neal meant nothing to me. My only excuse is that I’m 25 -- I was born after her career had come and gone. . . . And then she came into the lobby herself. . . . But I still didn’t recognize her,” Kaysen notes.

Neal, who of all celebrities deserves a good seat, got one.

Kaysen humbly adds, “It wasn’t until later that evening, after I took the train home and searched for her name on the Internet, that I knew the full extent of my gaffe.”

We’re not sure it was a gaffe, but we can understand Kaysen’s embarrassment.

As Kaysen sums it up: “Patricia Neal was an Academy Award-winning actress, Gary Cooper’s mistress and Roald Dahl’s wife. She was the husky-voiced seductress who starred opposite Paul Newman in ‘Hud.’”

And more. To this list of accomplishments (and that’s the right word: judging by the historical record, being married to Dahl was no picnic), we would add that Neal, with the help of Cooper and director King Vidor turned Ayn Rand’s tiresome, overwrought, and sophomoric novel, ‘The Fountainhead,’ into an on-screen masterpiece.

Patricia Neal

And Neal’s has been a life full of tragedy, one that puts to shame the whiney complaints of so many contemporary actors and actresses.

“Her 6-month-old son was struck by a car while in his stroller, then she lost a 7-year-old daughter to measles,” writes Kaysen. “Three years later, she suffered a series of massive strokes at the age of 39. Reported dead in Variety, she clung to life in a hospital bed -- three months pregnant. She went on to be a leading force for stroke victims, founding the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, the first of its kind in the country.”

”Perhaps even more impressive,” adds Kaysen, “she went back to acting, and received an Academy Award nomination for her role in ‘The Subject Was Roses.’ In short, Patricia Neal wasn’t just a celebrity . . . she was someone who’d overcome real adversity and made a significant contribution to the world.” [Emphasis added.]



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