|Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper together in The Fountainhead.|
I might have met her more than once, but one incident stands out in my mind.
Sardi's. A few years ago.
Early afternoon, so the place was between shifts, empty except for us and one other party, Patrician Neal.
Her back was to us, so the first part of our conversation -- I think there were four of us -- was whispering, "is that patricia neal? i think it's her! yes, it's really her. wow. patricia neal? really? And if you don't know who Patricia Neal is, it's okay. Just trust me on this. For theater queens and movie buffs, Patricia Neal is royalty -- and I mean that in the best non-bullshit possible way. The woman was an icon and an artist.
Anyway, her companion left, walking up the stairs to the bathroom, leaving the five of us alone in that big room, with only a few strollers waiters, setting up for the pre-dinner theater shift.
It's at those moments, that rooms can suddenly become VERY QUIET.
Do we say something? We HAVE to! We're sitting at Sardi's with PATRICIA NEAL. She's RIGHT THERE. I mean, what's she gonna do? Oh, but what if she's had another stroke? No, I've been watching her. She seems fine. How would I know? Doesn't matter.
Finally, Jim leaned back a little bit and announced, "NOW WE CAN TELL ALL OUR FRIENDS THAT WE HAD DINNER WITH PATRICIA NEAL."
And, without missing a beat, or turning her head, she thrust her hand back toward us and said, in a completely sincere, yet playfully theatrical, infected low, southern drawl, responded, "TOUCH me and it will be SO."
And we all burst out laughing. What a dame. And from then on, it was like we were old friends. And, of course, she and Jim had a number of stage actor friends in common from the old days. So, they started swapping stories, and we all had a great time.
She lived a life touched with a great deal of tragedy, including strokes which she bravely fought back from. But it was this quote that made me smile, and reminded me of my own health struggles:
"I had to have an operation that lasted seven hours, and I know very well my doctor thought I would conk out in the middle of it; but as I told him later, we Tennessee hillbillies don't conk that easy, so I stayed alive."Touch me and it will be so.
Rest in peace.