This was how good Patricia Neal was: when Hollywood wanted to make a TV-movie about her courageous struggle to resume a normal life after a series of strokes, it hired Glenda Jackson to play her.
No one else was quite real enough, or quite regal enough, to suggest Neal, a nonpareil among screen actresses. Her broad, arresting, not-quite-beautiful face and her gravel voice, combined with a screen presence that tended to white out every other performer she appeared with, made her unique. She was equally believable as the imperious rich girl in "The Fountainhead" and the seen-it-all, done-it-all housekeeper in "Hud," and few other actresses--Bette Davis comes to mind, as does the aforementioned Jackson-- could be so commanding and so down-and-dirty at the same time. Neal wasn't quite the right type to assay the role of Elizabeth I, as Davis and Jackson did, but it would have been interesting to see what she might have done with it.
Although Neal's career was blighted by ill health, she maintained a sterling reputation, both as an actress and as a woman of character and courage. Her men done her wrong--Gary Cooper, Roald Dahl--and so did her body. But her spirit remained strong, as did her talent. From her first screen appearances in the 1940s to her last in Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune," she always brought to the screen the fascination of an idiosyncratic yet solid personality.
One of my favorite all-time moments in the cinema belongs to her. In Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd," she plays a reporter hopelessly in love with a monstrous TV superstar she helped to create, played by Andy Griffith. When Griffith jilts Neal for Lee Remick, Neal reviles him in a towering rage. But the truly magnificent moment comes after Griffith leaves: the raw, wounded-animal sound that emanates from Neal, lasting no more than a couple of seconds, suggests a depth of pain the cinema has rarely portrayed. It is that raw reality that made Patricia Neal great.