Tuesday evening, August 17, at 8 p.m., Broadway theater marquees will dim their lights for one minute in memory of Tony Award-winning actress Patricia Neal, who passed away on August 8 at the age of 84. “As the last surviving winner from the first Tony Awards ceremony,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, “her presence at subsequent Tony telecasts represented Broadway’s singular history.”
Born in 1926, Neal won the 1947 Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her debut role on Broadway, in which she played Regina Hubbard in Another Part of the Forest by Lillian Hellman. That year, she also won a Theatre World Award. During her Broadway career, she starred in a revival of The Children’s Hour, A Roomful of Roses, and The Miracle Worker.
Neal was a stage actress; the husky-voiced star won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1963 for her role opposite Paul Newman in Hud. In 1965, she suffered three strokes—after enduring a number of other tragedies including the death of her first child and an injury to another. Neal, then semi-paralyzed, was in a coma for three weeks. When the press announced her death this month, it actually wasn’t the first time. Variety ran an erroneous front-page headline on February 22, 1965, announcing she’d passed. But the formidable talent recovered with the help of her husband, the late British author Roald Dahl, and she next appeared in the 1968 film version of the play The Subject Was Roses. She received an Academy Award nomination.
On screen, Neal is also remembered for starring in The Fountainhead, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and A Face in the Crowd.
Neal was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1978, the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in her hometown dedicated the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in her honor. Many of the center's patients were recovering from strokes or trauma, and Neal was a frequent visitor, becoming a symbol of hope and inspiration to them as she had for many of her fans.
Neal was married to Dahl for 30 years. She is survived by her children Tessa, Ophelia, Theo and Lucy; siblings Pete Neal and Margaret Ann VandenNoord; 10 grandchildren and step grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.