Monday, August 9, 2010
“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” One of the most famous lines uttered in any science fiction film.
From my buddy Ivan over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear comes the sad news of Patricia Neal’s passing at the age of 84.
Neal, whose film career spanned six decades and included films such as The Fountainhead, A Face in the Crowd, Hud (for which she received a Best Actress Academy Award), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was married to Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, among others) for thirty years. Alas, Roald got caught having an affair with one of Neal’s friends, and for that, she threw him under the bus.
The role I’ll always remember Patricia Neal for is her portrayal of Helen Benson in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Radiating a quiet strength, she is the one person who is not terrified by Klaatu, the Alien Visitor - the so-called “Man from Mars” - and is in turn entrusted with the three unforgettable words that will prevent Scary Robot Gort from destroying the Earth if anything bad happens to Klaatu.
Miss Neal - a Southern belle who was born in Kentucky and who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee - radiated that quiet strength in her personal life as well, a life that was peppered with tragedies.
In 1965, while pregnant with her daughter Lucy - the youngest of five children she had with Dahl - she suffered three (!) burst cerebral aneurysms, the aftermath of which left her paralyzed, unable to walk or talk. Despite seemingly unsurmountable odds, through extensive rehabilitation she was again able to act... a post-trauma comeback that rivals that of the celebrated Mel Blanc. Because she was still recovering from her stroke during casting for The Graduate (1967), the role of Mrs. Robinson, originally offered to Neal, went to Anne Bancroft... but when she returned to the Big Screen in The Subject Was Roses a year later, she snagged an Academy Award nomination.
Patricia Neal, we’ll miss you. Requiescat in pace.