Patricia Neal (January 20, 1926 – August 8, 2010) was an American actress of stage and screen. She was best known for her film roles as World War II widow Helen Benson in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), wealthy matron Emily Eustace Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), middle-aged housekeeper Alma Brown in Hud (1963), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also played Olivia Walton in the 1971 made-for-television film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, a role played in the regular series by actress Michael Learned.
Neal was born Patsy Louise Neal, in Packard, Whitley County, Kentucky, to William Burdette and Eura Petrey Neal. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she attended Knoxville High School, and studied drama at Northwestern University. At Northwestern, she was crowned Syllabus Queen in a campus-wide beauty pageant. In addition, she studied with acting professor Alvina Krause, which set up her up for her future career.
After moving to New York, she accepted her first job as understudy in the Broadway production of The Voice of the Turtle. Next she appeared in Another Part of the Forest (1946), winning the 1947 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, in the first ever presentation of the Tony awards.
In 1949, Neal made her film debut in John Loves Mary. That year, Ronald Reagan was her co-star in The Hasty Heart. Her appearance the same year in The Fountainhead coincided with her on-going affair with her married co-star, Gary Cooper.
By 1952, Neal had starred with John Garfield in The Breaking Point, The Day the Earth Stood Still with Michael Rennie and Operation Pacific,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 would star in Edith Sommer's A Roomful of Roses, staged by Guthrie McClintic.
While in New York, Neal also became a member of the Actors Studio, affording her not only a unique environment in which to hone her skills, but also an invaluable source of connections, as evidenced by the following four consecutive credits, extracted from Neal's Hollywood/Broadway resume - i.e. A Face in the Crowd (1957, directed by Elia Kazan), The Miracle Worker (1959, directed by Arthur Penn), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961, co-starring George Peppard), and, finally, the critical and commercial hit, Hud (1963), directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman, which also happened to garnered Neal her one and only Academy Award, for Best Actress. It should be noted that, concurrent with those high-profile projects, came a plethora of relatively routine television assignments; two, however, do stand out - a 1960 episode of Play of the Week featuring an Actors Studio-dominated cast presenting a double bill of Strindberg, as well as a British production, aired in 1959, of Clifford Odets' Clash by Night, which, almost by default, ended up co-starring one of the first generation of Actors Studio members, Nehemiah Persoff.
As noted, in 1963, Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud, 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 Leading 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 reunited with John Wayne in Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way (1965), winning her second BAFTA Award. Her health took another turn in 1965, when she suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms during pregnancy, and was in a coma for three weeks. She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967), but turned it down, feeling she had not recovered enough.
Neal worked sparingly in the following years. She returned to the big screen in The Subject Was Roses (1968), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She starred as Olivia Walton in the television movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971), which was the pilot episode for The Waltons. Her health issues did not get in the way of another strong performance, with Neal winning 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 grind of the weekly television series, which clarifies why she was not invited to reprise the role in the series (the part went to Michael Learned). Neal played a dying widowed mother trying to find a home for her three children in a moving 1975 episode of NBC's Little House on the Prairie.
In 2007, Neal worked on Silvana Vienne's innovative critically acclaimed art movie Beyond Baklava: The Fairy Tale Story of Sylvia's Baklava, appearing as herself in the portions of the documentary talking about alternative ways to end violence in the world. Also in 2007, 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 would appear in a number of health-care videos, including The Healing Influence.