One of the great actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age has died, Patricia Neal. I have always found her performances riveting. The video at the beginning of the post is from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one of the many films her acting helped make memorable.
A Catholic, Ms. Neal wandered from the Faith as a young woman. She had an adulterous affair with Gary Cooper. After she became pregnant, Cooper convinced her to have an abortion, something she bitterly regretted for the rest of her life. Monsignor James Lisante, a good friend of hers, discussed this several years ago:
“I met Patricia Neal over 20 years ago, and we have become good friends ever since. One time when she was on my television show, I said to her, “Pat, in so many ways you are a female Job.” She had, as you know, several strokes which put her in a coma for a month. She had a daughter who died of the measles at the age of seven. She had a son who was hit when he was an infant by a car in New York City, and he remains alive but brain-damaged and will be forever. Another daughter who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction; a husband who was great to her once she had the strokes, but he ultimately left her for a younger woman.
And I said, “In your life, Pat, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?” And Patricia Neal said, “Father, none of the things you just mentioned.” But she said, “Forty years ago I became involved with the actor Gary Cooper, and by him I became pregnant. As he was a married man and I was young in Hollywood and not wanting to ruin my career, we chose to have the baby aborted.” She said, “Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child. And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby.””
Patricia Neal has put herself on the line in saying to many, many women who have experienced abortion or thought about abortion, “Don’t make my mistake. Let your baby live.” What’s particularly painful, but poignant in this story is that some years later, Patricia became good friends with Maria Cooper, the only child of Gary Cooper and his wife. And Maria Cooper said, “You know, I know you had the affair with my father and I have long ago forgiven that. But one thing I find it hard to accept is that as an only child, I so wish that you’d had my brother or my sister. Because in so many ways, I wish so much that you had chosen life.”
Maria Cooper, the daughter of Gary Cooper, publicly spat ( good for her!) at Patricia Neal while she was having her affair with Cooper. Ironically it was Maria who helped lead Patricia Neal back to the Faith. After the affair was over and Cooper returned to his family after years of estrangement, Maria’s mother helped lead Gary Cooper to convert to Catholicism, something I will explore in the long delayed third part of my series on Sergeant York and Gary Cooper. As long as there is life, there is always hope for us sinners.
Here is a filmography of Ms. Neal. Her talent and grace on the screen will be long remembered. However, when she stood before God for the particular judgment, I am sure that want counted was her returning to her Catholic faith, her years as a stalwart of the pro-life cause, and her realization that abortion is never a solution, but love always is. May she even now be enjoying the Beatific Vision.