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Patricia Neal was born Patsy Louise Neal in Whitley County, Kentucky in 1926, but her family moved to Tennessee when she was a toddler. There have been many famous Hollywood and Broadway stars who have faced adversities in their life and managed to overcome them, but few have ever faced anywhere near the degree of difficulties Neal had to deal with! She started acting as a teen, and briefly went to college, but soon moved to New York, hoping to become a Broadway actress. Just 20 years old, she got a job on Broadway as an understudy in The Voice of the Turtle, and was told to change her name to Patricia. Later that year, still not yet 21, she starred in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, and that year they awarded the very first Tony Awards, and Neal won as Best Featured Actress in a Play. She was signed to a movie contract by Warner Bros, and she starred opposite Ronald Reagan in John Loves Mary. Writer Ayn Rand was writing the screenplay for the movie version of her novel The Fountainhead, and she saw her and suggested her for the role of Dominique Francon opposite Gary Cooper's Howard Roark. This led to a two year off-screen affair with the much older Cooper (whose personal life in no way mirrored his onscreen persona!), and when Neal told Cooper she was pregnant, he broke off the affair and insisted she get an abortion. Since her movie career to that point had not been particularly notable (in this period she is likely best remembered for her role in The Day the Earth Stood Still), she went back to New York and took a lead role in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, and also married Roald Dahl (then unknown, but later he wrote Charley and the Chocolate Factory). Neal had five children with Dahl, and appeared on stage, TV and in a few movies (most notably A Face in the Crowd and in Hud, where she deservedly won an Oscar). Then she had one of the most depressing series of tragedies imaginable. First, her baby son was hit by a car while in a baby carriage, and he had permanent brain damage. Soon after, her oldest child, who was seven, developed encephalitis after contracting measles and died. Three years later, Neal (pregnant with her fifth child) had three strokes and blood clots in her brain, and she was in a coma for 21 days, but amazingly, her baby was born healthy, although Neal had severe disabilities, losing her speech and most basic skills. With much help from her husband, Neal re-learned to do everything in just ten months, and he urged her to return to acting, which she did, making a memorable return to the screen in The Subject Was Roses (nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for this film). She also was excellent in Earl Hamner's TV movie, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, where she played an anxious Olivia Walton awaiting her mostly unseen husband, and the success of this movie led to the TV series The Waltons. But more sadness awaited Neal. She made a friend of a young widow, and invited her to stay with her, and that "friend" had an affair with her husband, Dahl, and they divorced. Neal continued to act sporadically, and she continued to make appearances on the Tony Awards shows (she was the only surviving winner from the very first Awards, and she absolutely was a "survivor", in every sense of the word!). She passed away in 2010 at the age of 84.
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