Monday, August 09, 2010

Me and Patricia Neal

Paul Newman got to her first.

I was a senior in high school when they filmed "Hud" 50 miles from my home in the Panhandle of Texas. I didn't know who Patricia Neal was. She had made her name in Hollywood in the late 1940s and early '50s, while I was still playing with toy trucks, but we all knew who Paul Newman was. Two friends and I climbed in a car and got ourselves up to Claude, Texas, in the naive belief that we'd be able to walk right up to where they were filming and get Paul Newman's autograph. Never occurred to us that Patricia Neal was also a worthy target for fan boys.

We never did find the dusty location where they were filming on that particular day. We really didn't have a clue where to look. We drove around aimlessly for awhile, rubbernecking like crazy to see any vestige of Hollywood. Claude, Texas, was essentially a courthouse fronted on four sides by run-down stores, and bisected by a four-lane connecting Amarillo to the greener pastures of Dallas-Fort Worth. Nothing to see. Nothing to do but go get hamburgers and fries and malteds at the Lone Texan drive-in.

Many years later -- decades, actually -- I began to catch up with the early Patricia Neal in movies like "The Fountainhead" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Bright Leaf," which was a thinly disguised depiction of the rapacious Duke family of North Carolina's tobacco industry.

Soon after filming "Hud" in 1962, Patricia Neal suffered a series of strokes that she struggled back from, learning to talk again and act on screen again. She gave us the indelible first Ma Walton on TV in the first incarnation of John Boy's mom, in "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" in 1971, for my money her most powerful character ever.

Patricia Neal died yesterday at the ripe age of 84. She was a brave and accomplished woman.

1 comment:

BikerBard said...


What nice memories you have of Patricia Neal, Paul Newman and of your boyhood (and ever-growing)fascination with film-making! I agree - she will always be fondly remembered for the strength and dignity she brought to her characterization of "Ma Walton." Thank you for sharing this interest in movies with the rest of us via your books, teaching, reviews and presentations.

"What a brave and accomplished woman she was."

Yes, indeed! Good post!