I Remember Patricia Neal
I was sad to hear of the passing of actress Patricia Neal (1926-2010). She was a fabulous and courageous lady whom I had the great honor of meeting once, years ago. One of the side benefits of being a published novelist is the chance to meet celebrities. A typical book and author luncheon, for example, will feature four authors: one who has written a non-fiction book; another who has written a children's book or coffee table book; a novelist; and someone (usually famous) who has written an autobiography. At these luncheons, which are usually fund raisers for charitable causes, as many as five hundred guests will come to hear a panel of authors speak, each for about twenty minutes. Over the years I have had the good fortune to attend many such events at which notable celebrities have appeared.
In 1988 I was on a book tour promoting my latest novel, Butterfly (written under my pseudonym Kathryn Harvey) and I was invited by the Cleveland Plain Dealer Newspaper to speak at a luncheon. On the panel with me were a children's book author, an astronomer with his non-fiction science book, and famous actress, Patricia Neal, who talked about her new book, "As I Am: An Autobiography." Ms Neal is an Oscar-winning actress ("Hud") of tremendous talent and screen presence. I had seen all her movies and was a huge fan. I was excited to meet the legendary lady at the luncheon, but I had no idea a greater adventure lay before me.
Because we were coming from out of town, my husband and I were put up at a hotel the night before the luncheon, and as we were checking in, the desk clerk said to me, "Miss Patricia Neal has asked if she might dine with you tonight." Honest to goodness, I looked behind me to see who the desk clerk was talking to! It turned out that Miss Neal wanted to get to know the other authors with whom she was sharing the forum, but I was the only one who had arrived the night before, and so it was just the three of us sharing an incredibly delightful evening.
I doubt I said much, as I was quite star-struck, but I remember everything that was said. Miss Neal was quite frank about her personal life (after all, she was there to promote her autobiography), and one anecdote stands out in particular, as it involved one of my all-time favorite movies, "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Miss Neal said that when it came time for her to say the famous line, "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto," she burst out laughing and said to the director, "You have to be kidding me." It took several takes and a great deal of concentration and self-control, Miss Neal told us, to finally say the words that were going to go down in cinematic history.
To this day, whenever I watch that movie and see the intense look on Miss Neal's face as she speaks to the robot, I smile as I think of how hard she is laughing on the inside and yet not revealing a bit of it.
She was a consummate actress and a gracious lady, and I shall miss her greatly.