A star on both the stage and screen, Northwestern alumna Patricia Neal was best known for her film roles in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Hud (1963), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. But she once told Larry King that she hoped she would also be remembered for what she thought of as her other starring roles: as mother to her five children, as the survivor of a disabling stroke from which she painstakingly made a complete recovery, and as a passionate advocate for other stroke patients.
Now a new exhibit at Northwestern University Library explores all these legacies, based on the extraordinary collection of personal papers, Hollywood souvenirs, photos, and other memorabilia held by University Archives. On Her Own Terms: Patricia Neal’s Life and Legacy is free and open to the public January 10 through March 22, 2013.
Curated by Benn Joseph, Manuscript Librarian for Special Collections and Archives, the exhibit is packed with artifacts from Neal’s childhood, school life, career, family, legacy, philanthropy and celebrity. Among them are a baby book with a lock of Neal’s hair; intimate letters from Gary Cooper, whom she met while starring with him in The Fountainhead; her Academy Awards tickets from 1964, the year she was nominated for best actress—unused because she was living in England, nine months pregnant, and couldn’t attend the ceremony. (The caption on a photo taken shortly afterwards of Neal looking at the Oscar with her young son Theo includes Neal’s explanation to Theo of what an Oscar is: “It’s a great golden boy who whispers in your ear what you’ve known all your life.”)
Her marriage to Roald Dahl, the celebrated author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other beloved children’s books, is chronicled in photographs of Roald Dahl and their five children; a letter Neal wrote about Roald’s work on James and the Giant Peach (“his elusive second (and probably last) children’s book”); and a profile Dahl wrote for Ladies Home Journal about Neal’s struggle to recover after the stroke. And there are letters from friends and colleagues including Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Ronald Reagan, Anne Bancroft, Kirk Douglas and Andy Griffith.
The collection, established at University Archives by Neal’s daughters Lucy and Ophelia Dahl, is “an exceptional collection, the largest collection of personal artifacts ever given to the university by a celebrity alumna,” according to University Archivist Kevin Leonard.
“She made lifelong friends here who played an important role in her life,” says Leonard. “She was very fond of Northwestern.”
University Library is located at 1970 Campus Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus. The exhibit is open to the public during the library’s regular public hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
For more information, contact Clare Roccaforte at 847-467-5918 or firstname.lastname@example.org.