Patricia Neal, from Tony-winning stage actress to Oscar-winning movie star

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Patricia Neal, who died Sunday at age 84, is best known for her role in the movie ‘Hud,’ for which she won an Oscar for lead actress in 1964. But the star won another important award early in her career that isn’t mentioned nearly as often as her Hollywood victory.

In 1946, the young Neal was cast in Lillian Hellman’s ‘Another Part of the Forest’ on Broadway. The playwright had seen Neal perform at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut and wanted her for a supporting role in the drama. Around the same time, Richard Rodgers wanted to cast the actress in the lead of the play ‘John Loves Mary.’

Neal ended up choosing the Hellman play, and it turned out to be the right decision. At the first-ever Tony Awards in 1947, Neal won the award for best featured actress in a play. Her win -- at the ripe age of 21 -- brought her to the attention of Hollywood and she quickly embarked on a film career that included roles in ‘The Fountainhead,’ ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ and -- ironically enough -- the film adaptation of ‘John Loves Mary.’

As a member of the Tony Awards’ ‘first’ class, Neal became de facto Broadway royalty. She also managed to outlive the other Tony-winning actors from that inaugural year, including Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes, Frederic March, José Ferrer and David Wayne.


Neal’s post-starlet career was marked by great personal difficulty. Her daughter Olivia died after a case of the measles and a series of strokes left the actress unable to walk or speak. But she rebounded, learning to walk and talk again with the help of her then-husband, author Roald Dahl.

Following her recovery, Neal received an Oscar nomination for ‘The Subject Was Roses’ in 1969. Her last major film role was in Robert Altman’s ‘Cookie’s Fortune’ in 1999.

Neal never forgot her beginnings in the theater. Her other Broadway credits include Hellman’s ‘The Children’s Hour’ (1952), Edith Sommer’s ‘A Roomful of Roses’ (1955) and William Gibson’s ‘The Miracle Worker’ (1959).

The actress appeared at the Tony Award ceremonies over the years as a presenter and often attended Broadway events. In 2006, Neal received a Tony Award to replace the one that had been stolen from her.

Read the full Times obituary for actress Patricia Neal.

-- David Ng