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Shedding Light on a Screen, Stage Star

Patricia Neal's Hollywood memorabilia illustrates a life of ups and downs

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January 22, 2013 | by Wendy Leopold
Patricia Neal
Patricia Neal attended Northwestern from 1943 to 1945.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Stage and screen star Patricia Neal’s unused tickets to the Academy Award ceremony in 1964 are among the artifacts in a new exhibition at Northwestern University Library through March 22. She would have received the Academy Award for Best Actress in person had she attended the event.

“On Her Own Terms: Patricia Neal’s Life and Legacy” includes nearly 100 items from the extraordinary collection of personal papers, Hollywood souvenirs, fan mail, personal letters and photographs that Neal, who attended Northwestern from 1943 to 1945. The collection is the largest ever given to the University by a celebrity alumna.

“On Her Own Terms,” located in the Main Library at 1970 Campus Drive on the Evanston campus, sheds light not only on Neal’s illustrious film and stage careers but also on her childhood in Tennessee, school life, family, philanthropy and battle to overcome a series of strokes at age 39. Free and open to the public, it can be viewed during regular public hours, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Neal studied at Northwestern with Alvina Krause, a legendary acting teacher who in the course of 33 years at the what today is Northwestern’s School of Communication also taught Charlton Heston, Garry Marshall, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Robert Reed, Tony Roberts and other University alumni who went on to stage and screen fame.

A Tony Award winner, Neal is best known for her film roles in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) and “Hud” (1963. However, she told Larry King that she hoped also to be remembered for her “other” starring roles -- as a mother to her five children, the survivor of a series of strokes from which she made a painstaking but complete recovery and as a passionate advocate for other stroke survivors.

In addition to Neal’s unused 1964 Academy Award tickets (she was living in England, nine months pregnant and unable to attend the ceremony), the exhibition includes a baby book with a lock of Neal’s hair and love letters written to Neal by film star Gary Cooper. The two actors met and fell in love during the filming of “The Fountainhead” in 1949.

Also on display are letters from Paul Newman (with whom she co-starred in her Oscar-winning role in “Hud”), Gene Kelly, Anne Bancroft, Paul Reubens (of “Pee Wee Herman” fame), Kirk Douglas and Ronald Reagan.

Neal’s marriage to Roald Dahl, the celebrated author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda” and other beloved children’s books is chronicled in photographs of Dahl and their five children; a letter Neal wrote about Dahl’s work on “James and the Giant Peach” and a profile Dahl wrote for the Ladies Home Journal about Neal’s struggle to recover after her strokes.

Benn Joseph, manuscript librarian for Northwestern University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, curated the exhibit. The Patricia Neal collection was established at Northwestern University Library by Neal’s daughters, Lucy and Ophelia Dahl.

Topics: People