Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Family Values
I am neither liberal nor a conservative. There are things about the liberal platform that I find abhorrent. There are things about the conservative agenda that make me shudder. A friend of mine, who happens to be pagan (but who otherwise harbors conservative views) and I were talking about politics and how difficult it is to have a civilized discussion with a liberal. They don't fight fair. They hit below the belt. They make everything personal. It was she who was saying all this, and I had to agree. By and large, and with a few notable exceptions, her characterization of liberals was accurate. But then I mentioned that I don't understand conservatives, either, and that sometimes they give me the creeps. Yes, by and large they are more courteous, considerate and even chivalrous. But behind all of that chivalry, I see an agenda that might take us right back to the middle ages.
My friend disagreed. "Look," she said. "Liberals want to take things from people. They want to take our money. They want to tell us what kind of insurance we can have. They want to tell us how to discipline our children. They want to butt in everywhere. All the conservatives want is to have a few religious symbols in public places. What harm can that do? I mean, so they want to put a cross up on a war memorial. Who gets hurt? So what if they put the ten commandments up somewhere. How can anybody object to the ten commandments?"
I laughed. "Have you read the ten commandments? Do you know what the first one is?"
She didn't seem to know, so I said: "Thou shalt have no other god besides me."
"Oh, okay. But so what...?"
My friend is a pagan, but she's still in the closet. She feels no need to shout her beliefs from the mountain. For that matter, neither do I. But I do feel the conservative right harbors a deep, dark destructive agenda. It's just very hard to explain it to somebody who is content to give up free speech in return for the right to make a living.
It is hard to explain to someone who feels no need to speak out, why you might be afraid of what could happen if you do. I've mentioned to liberal friends that freedom of speech without economic freedom cannot exist. But when I tell conservative friends that I sometimes feel compelled to remain silent, because I am afraid of what may happen to me and my family if I do speak up, they look at me in astonishment. "What could you possibly have to say that would upset people? After all, you're a good person." Would they still think I was a good person if I spoke up?
It is so hard to explain what I find disturbing about governmental support for the ten commandments. For the average churchgoing American, there seems nothing at all wrong with it. But even the average non-churchgoer probably says to himself: "I've never stolen or committed murder, nor have I ever coveted my neighbor's ox or his ass, or his maid-servant or his man-servant, so how can the ten commandments cause me any harm?" If my friend can't understand it, what hope is there of explaining it to anybody else?
After we hung up, I wondered what I could have said to articulate my concerns about the religious right. I was at a loss. I was thinking of James Watkins' hub about the sexual revolution and how great it was in the good old days when men slept with bad girls but married good ones. And then I thought about Patricia Neal. Was Patricia Neal a good girl or a bad girl, I wondered?
Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper
Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper became acquainted on the set of The Fountainhead. They had met before, but this was where they got to know each other. She was 22 and he was 47. They fell madly in love while filming the steamy love scenes. You might say that it was Ayn Rand who brought them together.
In her autobiography, Neal describes it like this: "As the film progressed, my work with Gary gradually became the medium of our relationship...Lines in the film became pregnant with meaning for us. Howard and Dominique said and did the things we could not yet express. In one scene... Dominique sits at Roark's feet with her head in his lap. We were in that position for what seemed like hours. ...Our stand-ins received their pay, but did not work that day. ...'It would have to come because there is nothing else that really matters' is a line from that scene. I never thought a line from a film could be so true. That same line ends with, 'I love you without dignity and without regret.''
Movie Poster with Caption: "Nobody takes what's mine!"
On the set of The Fountainhead, all the romantic dialogue was written by Ayn Rand. Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal did not speak any lines of their own to each other. "We never talked. We just looked into each others eyes and knew."
Nothing had happened during production, but everyone on the set knew. The night production closed was the night the affair began. The words they spoke to one another were not romantic, but practical.
"May I drive you home?"
"No. I have my own car. But you can follow me." (Patricia Neal, As I Am, Simon & Schuster, 1988, p. 101.)
King Vidor, Ayn Rand and Gary Cooper on the set of The Fountainhead
Gary Cooper in High Noon
Biographical information on Neal and Cooper
Not Getting to Reap What We Sow
The affair lasted for two years and produced one pregnancy. Patricia Neal was at first "so thrilled ... that for a short while [she] forgot there would be any question of whether or not this baby would be born." Gary Cooper seemed happy about it, too.
But then the social reality in which they lived hit them. Gary Cooper was married. His wife would never give him a divorce. In 1950, a Hollywood starlet could not give birth outside wedlock and not be denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as the most evil woman in America. She could not have her baby, without losing her career. If anybody found out that it was Gary Cooper's baby, his career would be over, too.
Gary Cooper, straight shooter that he was, arranged for Patricia Neal to have an abortion.
"'There's a doctor in downtown Los Angeles," he said. 'I suppose we have to, Pat. Our appointment is tomorrow.'"
Cooper accompanied her to the clinic. Afterwards, they wept. The bleeding continued for five weeks. Patricia Neal would regret this choice for the rest of her life. She had wanted that baby, and thirty years later, she still wanted it, with all her soul.
It's because of stories such as these that I am offended by having the ten commandments plastered on public buildings. But what do the ten commandments have to do with Patricia Neal's first pregnancy? Nothing really. It's not what the ten commandments actually say. It's how they are interpreted.
Was it cowardly of Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal to avoid the fate that Ingrid Bergman accepted? Should they have both accepted banishment from Hollywood rather than sacrificing their unborn child at the altar of middle class morality?
Maybe. But until you have walked in someone else's shoes, you don't really know what you would have done if faced with a similar test. Ingrid Bergman was Swedish. Roberto Rossellini was Italian. When they were banished from Hollywood, they had someplace else to go. But Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal were hopelessly and unabashedly American. They were stuck in America in the fifties, family values, hypocrisy and all that came with it.
They say that we reap what we sow. Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal sowed life. But they were not brave enough to reap it.
Legal Abortion and the Sexual Revolution
Keep in mind that abortion was not legal at the time. But not being legal did not prevent it from being readily available. In a more tolerant atmosphere, where neither abortion nor out of wedlock pregnancies are frowned upon, Patricia Neal would not have felt compelled to sacrifice her unborn child.
Women have been getting abortions since the middle ages. In most cases, the fetus was aborted because the society in which the woman lived frowned upon the way the child was conceived and considered its very existence "illegitmate." Women do not get abortions because they don't want to have a child. They get abortions because they are afraid of what people will do to them if they have it.
Did Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal violate any of the ten commandments when they conceived their ill-fated child? Well, not if you read the ten commandments as written and interpret them in the context of the society in which they were originally propounded. One was not to covet a neighbor's wife. But Patricia Neal was not married. There is nothing in the ten commandments to prohibit Gary Cooper from taking Patricia Neal as his wife or concubine, in addition to his current wife. He might have needed to secure her father's permission by offering a bride-price of a few goats, but since at the time Patricia Neal's father was no longer alive, even that seems unnecessary.
But all this is beside the point, because each modern day religious sect interprets the ten commandments according to its own understanding and in the context of the way marriage is defined in that society.People cannot agree on how they are to be numbered, much less what they actually mean.
In a country where there is separation of church and state, there can be as many different beliefs as there are people, and nobody is harmed. But enforcing the beliefs of some on others is what leads to the death of unborn babies.
The Ten Commandments
The Text of the Ten Commandments
Biographical Information about Roald Dahls
Roald Dahl and the Beautiful Children
The affair with Gary Cooper did not last much longer. He eventually told his wife about the abortion, and he ended it with Patricia Neal. Neal never fell out of love with him. But she did her best to pick up the pieces of her life and live again.
Patricia Neal met Roald Dahl.at a party. At six foot six he was hard to miss. She was attracted to him, and they started dating, but though there was a lot of chemistry between them, she was not in love.
Patricia Neal writes: "One day Roald decided to show me his flat... ...Roald's place was very simple, not at all grand. A writer's apartment, except it had no desk. Roald had invented his own writing board covered in green felt, which he put on his lap as a writing surface. I looked around the room to see if it had been tidied up for my visit. It had not. My glance went to a framed photograph of three children, the most beautiful children I had ever seen. They were Roald's twin nieces, Louise and Anna, and their brother Nicky. 'My God, you make beautiful babies,' I blurted out. "I mean, your family does." ... We stood for a long moment appreciating those lovely little faces. Then Roald kissed me for the first time. I wish I could say I remember feeling a thrill. But my interest was elsewhere. I simply could not get those beautiful children out of my mind." (As I Am, 1988, Simon & Schuster, p. 160)
Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal: Going Out
When Roald Dahl first proposed to Patricia Neal, she turned him down flat.
"He looked horrified that I had turned him down. It's simple, I thought to myself. I really don't love him and I don't want to get married. But then that was not entirely true. I did want marriage. And a family. Roald would have beautiful children. What was I holding out for? A great love? That would never come again. When was I going to face reality?" (Patricia Neal, As I Am, Simon & Schuster, 1988, p. 162.)
She writes about it with a sharp sense of humor and a remarkable candor: "I never chose a man for an ulterior motive except the one I married."
Some people say that the purpose of marriage is to produce and rear children. If that is the case, then Patricia Neal married Roald Dahl for exactly the right reasons. However, in her heart of hearts, she did not feel that it was right. It felt wrong.
Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl: The Doting Wife
Roald Dahl's Idea of What Makes a Man Attracted to a Woman
Roald Dahl and Natural Selection
The marriage to Roald Dahl lasted for thirty years and produced five children. Roald Dahl needed those children as much as Patricia Neal needed to have a family, and perhaps more so. He was a writer who made his mark by writing for children. His modus operandi was to tell the children a bedtime story, then retire to his hut to write it down.
Roald Dahl was an intellectual giant with a wicked sense of humor whose adult books gave a similar treatment to sex as his books for younger audiences gave to candy. In the novel My Uncle Oswald he had chocolate truffles doused with an aphrodisiac used to exact unwilling sperm donations from famous men, later to be used for an exclusive sperm bank. Dahl was interested in eugenics, and he was painfully aware that Patricia Neal had chosen him because of his value as a breeder. He knew that her heart would always belong to Gary Cooper.
The Neal/Dahl marriage was marked with tragedy. Their eldest daughter, Olivia Twenty, died of the measles. Their son Theo was hit by a car in New York City, and Roald Dahl helped to design the shunt that kept the water off his brain following the accident. Patricia Neal, while pregnant at 39, suffered a massive stroke, and it was Dahl who nursed her back to health. He was a relentless taskmaster, and it was his unwillingness to accept less than a full recovery that helped her pull through.
Did they love each other? Of course, they did. She doted on him. He adored her. They pulled together during hard times. They brought children into the world and saw them grow. They worked at their marriage, and when they hit tough spots, they worked on it some more. They were not slackers. They took their marriage very seriously. They laughed together and cried together and grew and changed for thirty years.
And then one day Roald Dahl informed Patricia Neal that he wanted a divorce. He was in love with someone else. Somebody named Felicity.
Theo, Lucy and Ophelia Dahl in Norway
What Might Have Been
Patricia Neal writes: "I knew before Felcity came into our lives that the only time Roald and I were close was in a time of crisis. But I truly did not realize that my marriage could, in fact, end." (p. 353).
She had never been unfaithful to Roald Dahl in all the years of her marriage. And she had never stopped being in love with Gary Cooper.
Was it worth it? The Neal/Dahl progeny who are still with us point to a solid yes. But... what about Patricia Neal's unborn child by Gary Cooper? If Neal had decided to have that baby, would she ever have married Roald Dahl? Would the Dahl children ever have been born?
If Patricia Neal had conceived that baby during a more tolerant time, it might have lived. If she had wanted to have children by a magnificent specimen of a man like Roald Dahl without marrying him, she might have made a withdrawal from the local sperm bank. I think Roald Dahl himself would have approved.
But the moral majority and the conservative right do not want to allow such things. They want us all living in a world that is not safe for babies born out of wedlock, a world where men and women like Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper and Roald Dahl find themselves trapped forever in loveless marriages, and the only children who stand a chance are the ones whose existence is sanctioned by such marriages.
(c) 2009 Aya Katz
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