To the Editor:
Chance meetings with Patricia Neal were always an event, whether she was greeting passersby on the sidewalk or — attired in bright-flowered dress and broad-brimmed hat — dramatically entering the dining room of the Daggett House restaurant. She was friendly and engaging, yet always the movie star, with a theatrical flair. My wife, Sandy, first encountered her many years ago in an aisle of the old Edgartown A&P. With a sweeping gesture, Miss Neal declared passionately, “I love their lentil soup!”
In October 2005, we went to Miss Neal’s benefit yard sale, where she graciously opened her home and, for a small donation to Vineyard House, autographed photographs in her sunroom and posed for pictures with her guests. She gave each person in the long line her full attention for a few minutes. We told Miss Neal that we loved her feature films but that we especially treasured The Homecoming (1971) — the holiday TV special that inspired The Waltons. Miss Neal, who played a rural Depression-era mother of seven children waiting for her husband to get home in a dangerous Christmas Eve snowstorm, agreed it was a wonderful program. When I told her that we had just purchased a DVD of the show from Amazon.com, she called out to her assistant to jot down the information and order her a copy. I interrupted to explain that if you entered simply “The Homecoming” on Amazon, the Harold Pinter play of the same name appeared. Miss Neal’s distinctive husky voice filled the room: “Be sure to write ‘The Homecoming,’ starring Patricia Neal!”
Patricia Neal was down-to-earth, generous, brave, and enormously talented. Her theatricality was never proud or self-promoting. She made you feel instead that any moment could be unexpectedly grand.