Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal (1926-2010)

Word of the death of Patricia Neal starts that playback of her films in my mind and the most prevalent images are from In Harm’s Way and The Subject Was Roses. The latter has the most significance to me for two reasons: it is my favorite role of hers and -- on one occasion, I actually told her so in person.

In June 2000, my wife and I were aboard Cunard’s QE2 on the westbound trans-Atlantic run from Southampton to New York City. Patricia Neal was on board as a guest celebrity and she gave two presentations with question and answer periods following. These sessions occurred on Monday, June 26, 2000 and again on Wednesday, June 28. (My wife keeps an accurate diary.)

In the latter session, Patricia Neal was reminiscing, and said she did not think much of The Subject Was Roses. But I was able in the follow-up question and answer period to address her personally. I told her that I thought she underestimated her performance in the film. (It is fair to say I was nervous speaking with her.) She was gracious in her response and thanked me. June 28, 2000: a day on the North Atlantic that I have long remembered.

QE2 was an intimate ship and my wife and I would pass her occasionally on one of the decks during the crossing. She was rather infirm even then – a decade ago. But today, a day after her death, my memory of Patricia Neal is not of an elderly lady at sea. But my memory is that of a stunning, clear of eye woman in her prime who held her own with the best. And she did so whether the subject was extraterrestrials, the battle of the sexes, war, architecture -- or, of course, when the subject was roses.

An afterword:

Interesting, that when Patricia Neal did the interview with Robert Osborne for Turner Classic Movies in 2004, she spoke much more positively about The Subject was Roses.

This posting has been expanded from a comment I sent to Tom of Motion Picture Gems in March 2010.

Patricia Neal photo by: djabonillojr.2008's photostream


  1. Thanks for this fascinating recollection. I only know of Neal from what I have read in biographies of Roald Dahl. I think the only movie I've seen her in is The Fountainhead.
    There are so many people I would give anything to reassure as to the worth of their work. How you must cherish that memory! My (failed) effort to convince Douglas Wilmer that he had nothing to be ashamed of in his fine comic performance at the beginning of The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother pales somewhat!

  2. Dear Matthew:

    Apparently it is quite common, actors underestimating their work. Your comment on Douglas Wilmer in “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother” sent me to my Netflix queue. It is one of their 17,000 download offerings. I will put it on some morning in the next week or so.

    Your comment also sent me to your posting on Wilmer. What a wonderful interview. He was brilliant – and honest. (I sent the link to Enola.) And right off, he was at King’s School, Canterbury. (Michael Powell was there some 15 years earlier.) We love that area and have made many visits over the past decade. (We worked at the Canterbury Cathedral Library in 2007. ) Enola, on occasion, has reenacted the scene toward the end of “A Canterbury Tale” where the soldiers march into the Cathedral. Tourists have been known to experience perplexity.

    Great job trying to convince Wilmer, but he was not to be moved. Best.