Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Neva You Mind!

Today's featured actress enjoyed a more than four-decade career on stage, in movies and on TV. She shared the screen with various notable names from Spencer Tracy to Judy Holliday to Rock Hudson to Geraldine Page and more. She was also a regular on a few short-lived TV shows. Yet, she's primarily known for one supporting part opposite Cary Grant along with a featured role in a cult-favorite TV miniseries. Our gal's name is Neva Patterson and this post is in tribute to her and her career.

Neva Louise Patterson came into this world on February 10th, 1920 in the town of Nevada, Iowa. The couple had previously created a boy named Harlan. Mr. Patterson was a letter carrier while his wife was a seamstress. Neva's name had nothing to do with their town of Nevada, but was actually named for one of her mother's friends. She enjoyed performing in school plays and began to develop an interest in acting, something that was accelerated by a teen job at the local movie house.

In 1938, when Patterson was eighteen and after saving money via a secretarial job, she moved from Iowa to "The Big Apple," New York, New York where her brother had already migrated. For the whole of her career as an actress, she would waver between playing sophisticated, cosmopolitan, well-heeled ladies and rural, plain-spoken, unadorned gals. She married for the first time in 1944 to a dancer and worked a variety of odd jobs as she pounded the pavement, eager for a job on Broadway.

Late in 1947, one came her way when she was cast in a John Van Druten play, The Druid Circle. Not long after that moderate success, she replaced Joan Tetzel in Strange Bedfellows. By 1948, her marriage had reached its end. The following year, she appeared on The Great White Way again in the flop The Ivy Green. Later in 1949, she took a replacement role in the Alfred Lunt-Lynn Fontanne play I Know My Love.

Though she wasn't becoming a household name, she remained busy on Broadway during the early 1950s, with parts in Ring Round the Moon (opposite Denholm Elliott), the very short-lived The Long Days and Lace on Her Petticoat. Television was becoming a viable option for out of work stage actors and she dove into that full throttle, too, performing in many a (now long lost) live program. It became a signature of hers to have her raven-black hair pulled up into a chignon, either tautly tightened or offset with thick wings framing her face. I don't believe I've EVER seen her with her hair down, for any reason...

Real success on stage came in 1952 with The Seven Year Itch as Tom Ewell's neglected wife, he with his mind on a sexy neighbor played by Vanessa Brown. She received a positive nod from reviewer Bosley Crowther who deemed her "delightful." (Ewell later starred in the film version opposite Marilyn Monroe while Evelyn Keyes inherited Patterson's part.)

She continued to work on TV in things like Lux Video Theatre and, as seen here, Suspense. She portrayed a brash comic book creator who, in the midst of significant success including a tie-in doll launch, decides to put and end to the character (called "Sally Forth") and in the process winds up coming to the end of her own life! The cramped quarters of the set sometimes caused her face to be right up into the camera to an unintentionally comic degree!
Patterson made her debut on the big screen in 1953 in the New York filmed B picture Taxi, which starred Dan Dailey and Constance Smith. In it, Irish lass Smith is searching for her estranged beau, a writer, and eventually realizes that he's fallen for his female publisher, played by the beguiling Patterson. (She can be seen at far left, middle, of this magazine spread.) This same year she wed a second time, though the union would only last until 1956.

Multiple TV appearances continued, including a role in the Betty Hutton debacle Satins and Spurs, a big, splashy spectacular broadcast in color at a time when practically everyone had a black & white television and didn't understand why the program wasn't living up to its multi-hued claims! Broadway continued to provide a living of sorts with brief-run plays like Double in Hearts and Speaking of Murder.

In 1956, she landed a supporting part in The Solid Gold Cadillac, a former smash hit on Broadway. This time, as Judy Holliday's on-screen pal, it was her turn to play a movie role that had been originated by someone else on stage. The story had Holliday taking on a bunch of crooked stockholders after she becomes one (on a lesser scale.)

The next year, she popped up in the colorful Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy Desk Set. In this film, Tracy wants to computerize Hepburn's research department and Patterson plays the rather uptight computer expert and assistant to him.

1957 was also the year that a supporting part in a high profile romance ensured that her face would be seen and her voice heard for decades and decades after...
The film was the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr tearjerker An Affair to Remem- ber. She makes her entrance, as seen above, on a boat dock welcoming her fiance Grant home from a long oceanic crossing. A socialite, used to having her photo taken often, she is capable of carrying on her reunion while also angling for the appropriate flash photo.
Back at her impressive family mansion, she startles Grant with the presence of TV interviewer John Q. Lewis (playing a mildly annoying version of his mildly annoying self!) Check out her chic hat, trim waistline and dazzling jewels. Grant has little to no interest in any of this hubbub, especially since he has a secret.

While the world, including former shipmate Kerr and her own fiance Richard Denning, watches on TV, Grant offhandedly disobeys and practically dumps Patterson on air, sending a coded message to Kerr that he will meet HER in six months and they will wed. Things don't work out as planned at all, though, and before long Grant is on his own again.

Patterson coaxes the depressed Grant to leave the house again and join her for a night at the theatre. Throughout her performance, she is determined to wring every single glance and nuance out of it that is humanly possible. This is exemplified further when she implores Grant not to schedule anything for "after the show" and rolls over on her back and begins to writhe gently on the bed!

That night at the theatre, she is decked out to the nines in furs and jewelry. The blonde behind her cannot keep her own eyes off of Grant and coos to her hapless date, "I just love our seats..." This prompts Patterson to turn around and shoot her a look that we the audience don't get to see, but based upon countless other performances of hers, we can easily guess at!

I think what makes this small role stand out to me is that, in the final analysis and after several viewings over the years, I've come to realize that it's practically a prototype for the part that Eleanor Parker enacted in The Sound of Music about eight years later. Not only does Patterson share the same quality of Parker's in making every conceivable gesture, expression and motion count, but she has the same sort of regal, arch, glamorous, yet conciliatory, bearing that Parker portrayed. She even has the very same departure line of "Auf Weidersehen" (!) delivered in a similarly smoky voice.

In 1957 Patterson wed for a third and final time to a man named James Lee, who she'd met a few years earlier when he was working props on The Seven Year Itch. With Lee, she adopted an infant daughter (Megan) as well as a thirteen year-old Italian boy (Filippo.)

1958 brought the film Too Much, Too Soon, a semi-biographical film about Diana Barrymore, in which she played star Dorothy Malone's mother. The controlling, disapprov- ing, highly-glamorous role exemplifies the sort of characters that would keep her active on screen for many a year to come.
The movie spans a fairly long stretch of time (not that any of the clothes indicate such!) and she, along with a few other cast members such as a young Martin Milner, are given age makeup as a result. But whatever age her character was, she retained the sparkling elegance that she had by now perfected (along with the down-turned, irritated mouth.)
More TV appearances followed including an installment of Playhouse 90 which had amongst the cast Hugh O'Brien, Jack Lord, Martha Hyer and Frances Farmer! As the 1960s dawned, she appeared on the popular medical drama Ben Casey as loyal secretary to patient Chester Morris, who's suffering from a brain tumor as well as a potential corporate takeover of his company.
More films came her way in 1962 including The Spiral Road with Rock Hudson, all about a doctor treating leprosy patients in the jungle and warding off a local witch doctor. Also there was David and Lisa, a hit movie about romance between a disturbed young man (Keir Dullea) and a girl who can only speak in rhymes (Janet Margolin) at a mental institution.

Once again, Patterson was on-hand as the domineer- ing, disapproving, though concerned, mother of Dullea. Her character wanted everything to be "normal" and just so, which wasn't going to be in the cards, thus she was destined to be disappointed at the way things were headed with her troubled son.

All through the 1960s, Patterson guest-starred on TV (in shows like Naked City, The Defenders, The Lieutenant and The Patty Duke Show) while also appearing in the occasional film. Dear Heart had her as a much-married friend of Geraldine Page's. She also portrayed one of the orchestra members in Counterpoint, in which she, along with conductor Charlton Heston and others, are forced to perform for Nazi commandant Maximilian Schell in a POW camp. (You can almost see her in a red coat in this shot to the right of Heston.)

In 1969, she took part in her first regular TV series role. The comedy The Governor and J.J. concerned Dan Dailey as the slightly staid officeholder of the title who has no first lady, so he enlists his young, effervescent, groovy daughter J.J. (Julie Sommars) to fill in the duties. Patterson played Dailey's efficient and loyal secretary.

That series only lasted a season, but she was back on regular TV in 1971 for James Garner's western Nichols. This unusual show (set in 1914 rather than in the "old west") failed to catch on and was off the air within one season as well. In it, she played the aged, crotchety town matriarch who coerced him into serving as town sheriff. That same year, she popped up in Garner's con-man comedy film Skin Game.

She had won the role on Nichols as a result of a dinner party at which she, the Iowa-born actress, and Garner, an Oklahoman, were jokingly chatting in "country talk"for the fun of it. When the series rolled around shortly afterwards, he remembered her and saw that she was granted the part.

Continuing to make the rounds on various 1970s TV shows, she did Cannon, The Paul Lynde Show, Ironside and the excellent horror anthology Circle of Fear. In it, she was the head of an office staff that tormented newcomer Shirley Knight and turned out to be a coven of Satan worshipers! Note the unusual frost job she was sporting on her iconic hair during this time (and the way the fish-eye lens captures her face much the way it did back in her live TV days on Suspense!) I LOVE the way she looks in the photo below during one of the group's rituals.
Viewers could see Patterson on TV in all varieties, from Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law and The Snoop Sisters to Apple's Way and The Rockford Files (which reunited her with Nichols costar James Garner.) She also popped up on Maude as one of Bea Arthur's old school pals who has now emerged as a militant feminist. Even the ultra-liberal Maude could barely take Patterson's severe viewpoints, which leads to a bit of a stand-off.
She worked with a variety of performers including Cloris Leachman, Barbara Baxley, Mabel Albertson, Patricia Hitchcock (!) and Zohra Lampert in the 1975 TV-movie Ladies of the Corridor, based on a play by Dorothy Parker.

In 1976, Patterson had a small part in All the President's Men as a key political figure who refuses to be interviewed by intrepid reporters Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford and, in fact, closes the door in their faces.

Top television shows of the day such as All in the Family and Charlie's Angels (in which she played the warden/ madame who locks up the trio of P.I.s in the famous "Angels in Chains" episode!) featured guest turns by Ms. Patterson.
She made three separate appearances on Barnaby Jones, once playing one of four townspeople who are so desperate to keep their one-horse burg going that they draw lots to kill whichever person gets in the way of their goals. Patterson also appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and had parts in The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman and The Buddy Holly Story with Gary Busey.
A season one episode of The Dukes of Hazzard centered around her character "Swamp Molly," a moonshiner who is in fact running guns! This grungy, corn pone role was at the opposite end of the spectrum in which she typically found herself, but she always embraced all sorts of parts. She also made one final trip back to Broadway to replace Carole Cook in the Mia Farrow-Anthony Perkins play Romantic Comedy.

The 1980s dawned and Patterson won roles on Hawaii 5-O, Cagney and Lacey and was again utilized by James Garner on his short-lived western series Bret Maverick, an update of his earlier success. She also worked in TV-movies as well as portraying a Playboy magazine executive in the controversial drama Star 80, about the success and murder of Dorothy Stratton.

In 1983, the highly-successful miniseries V was aired, all about a massive invasion of Earth by "friendly" aliens wishing to use our planet's waste as fuel for their own home planet, but whose actual purpose is complete takeover. Patterson had a costarring role - quite a glamorous one - as a conniving social-climber who wants her husband's refinery to be used by the visitors.

She befriends the alien leaders, including Andrew Prine, while her photo- journalist son Marc Singer works from the opposite end, trying to expose the cretins for what they truly are (lizard-like beings who eat live mice for snacks!)
The program was successful enough to warrant a follow-up called V: The Final Battle, in which she also starred, and even a regular series for a brief while (which she was not a part of as her character had not survived the sequel.) She had a guest role on the hit series Dynasty, followed by a part in the Steve Martin-Lily Tomlin comedy All of Me.
Playing attorney Dana Elcar's amorous secretary, she and the actor shared some goofily raucous moments for people their age (in an era when gross-out jokes with dirty old people was far from the norm.) Note in the courtroom scene shown here her white fox stole. She was still dripping in jewelry and furs decades after her showy role in An Affair to Remember.

She played a devious corporate spy in the short-lived prime-time soap Berrenger's, all about a ritzy department store and its employees. Patterson also showed up three times on Webster as Susan Clark's mother and guest-starred on Remington Steele, Amen and Hotel.

As the 1980s drew to a close, Patterson was still working (there was a four episode arc on St. Elsewhere, a top medical drama series of the time), but by 1992 she was ready to retire from the screen at age seventy-two. No Tinseltown bubblehead she, Patterson had taught herself how to speak and understand six languages! In 2002, her husband of forty-five years passed away and eight years later, Ms. Patterson succumbed to complications from a pelvic fracture at age ninety.

She had provided the world with countless perfor- mances as anything from the wealthiest and glitziest heiresses to the grittiest, most backwoods hags imaginable and most everything in between. Her peculiarly down-turned frown was utilized many a time and we're always happy to see it whenever one of her perturbed characters comes onscreen.

Likewise, we enjoy her effervescent and sparkling roles as well. Had their been no Anne Baxter, Patterson might have seen her TV profile rise even higher, but one suspects she enjoyed playing smaller roles to the hilt and moving on to the next project.


Gingerguy said...

Well done Poseidon, I went from not knowing who she was to realizing that I did remember her from "An Affair To Remember" and "Charlie's Angels". All the material between those two opposite roles was very interesting.
I got a kick out of the titles of the plays that she starred in especially "Speaking Of Murder".
The camera close-ups in the early 50's were hilarious and part of the reason I can't watch those old shows on youtube or dvd.
Very sweet that she and James Garner worked together so often. I am dying to know what "country talk" is.
She really had range as your amazing research shows. I love reading about the careers of people who stayed in the game this long and did so much.

Poseidon3 said...

FYI - I've added photos from the Charlie's Angels episode. I didn't think I was going to be able to, but I finally got a-hold of some. She was strangely pretty in her madame guise! BTW, "Speaking of Murder" starred Brenda de Banzie, Estelle Winwood and Lorne Greene, with Neva coming in fourth! I also found it charming that Jim Garner thought enough of her to use her several times out of appreciation and affection. I'm sure you could hear "country talk" on just about any "Hee Haw" episode! LOL Thanks!!

Rick Gould said...

Poseidon, I hadn't thought about Neva in years!
What a diverse career... I love that once again, a slightly older actress must play the MOTHER of the star, as Neva was 5 years older than Dorothy Malone in "Too Much, Too Soon."

Al in PDX said...

Both "Nichols" and "The Governor and JJ" were favorite short-lived TV series of mine... interesting that she was in both of them.

joel65913 said...

Loved this Poseidon!! Neva is one of those marvelous supporting performers so distinctive in some way, with her it's the voice and hair, that you know them the instant they appear.

I'm sure the first place I saw her was Desk Set where she has that terrific meltdown after her previous supercilious attitude. The first time I saw her in a part of any real size was in The Solid Gold Cadillac (LOVE that film and the pairing of Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas) playing a quite different role than in Desk Set. When I think of her though the first thing that comes to mind is her one scene in All the President's Men where she manages in a few seconds of screen time to create a recognizable woman and impart what Woodward & Bernstein ran up against in their quest.

One thing Dear Heart (another huge favorite) starred Geraldine Page not Shirley Booth in one of her most accessible performances. Again in one scene Neva managed to tell us all we needed to know about the shallow woman she played who was meeting Evie out of obligation rather than real interest.

VictorG said...

Thanks for a delightful and comprehensive review of an actress I admired for years on tv, and remembered from Desk Set and An Affair to Remember. I particularly recall her appearance on Maude but your research is so thorough I will have to go back and look for Ms. Patterson on so many other shows. Thank you for such a marvelous tribute on your fab-u-lash website!

Poseidon3 said...

That IS interesting, Al. You and Ms. P. must have had similar taste is programming! :-)

Joel, thanks for providing further info on movies of Neva Pattersons that I have yet to see myself - yes, believe it or not, "The Desk Set," "The Solid Gold Cadillac" and "All the President's Men" have all eluded me thus far. But now I have even more reason to see them. I have no clue why - and it's not the first time - that I jumbled Shirley and Gerri in my head. It's fixed now. Thank you for pointing it out. Ugh... just always so busy.

Thank you very much, Victor. I'm glad you liked this!! I happened upon a post somewhere out on the Internets and my site was being discussed. One of the commenters said, "It is a lot of fun to peruse once in a while, but I could never actually read one of the blog posts. Fun pictures though." Ha ha! Too wordy, I guess, for our audiovisual, media-driven times. But I'm glad that you and several other die-hards enjoyed reading through this and commenting upon it! I'm thrilled that you like the site, in general.

joel65913 said...

OHHH you're in for some high quality viewing with those three films!

All the President's Men is one of my all time favorites! I don't know anyone who has ever disliked it but it has a greater impact if like me you lived through those events. Awesome cast down to the smallest role (Neva is a good example of the care taken with casting)

Desk Set is my favorite Hepburn & Tracy pairing. It's one of their later ones and by this time they were so in sync, and again their supporting cast so marvelously strong, the whole thing just glides along.

Judy Holliday was such a special and unique performer and made so few films that all she appeared in all worth seeing, even the ragged and ridiculously named Phffft, but The Solid Gold Cadillac is one of her very best. Charming and little.

I'd also highly recommend if you haven't already seen them It Should Happen to You and the film that I think contains her best performance, reportedly so did she, The Marrying Kind.

HarpoSnarx said...

Poseidon, you continue to outdo yourself. Ms. Neva Patterson steals the show toward the end of the Desk Set as computer expert Miss Warriner, "There’s nothing wrong between me and EMERAC!". Her meltdown is the best office movie freak out ever. Shame on me but I only recognized her from the Desk Set but I never knew her name or connected what a terrific actor she was. Desk Set is a favored Christmas movie at my house [add Auntie Mame (1958) starring the fabulous Roz Russell; the Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) starring La Davis; one or two versions of Little Women; and Christmas in Connecticut. Sorry no Bing or White Christmas! For all your good work, treat yourself near the yuletide and enjoy the delightful crew at the Federal Broadcasting Network.

Poseidon3 said...

Joel, Thanks for the additional info on the movies I have yet to see. Believe it or not, I've only seen ONE Judy Holliday movie in my life, which is "The Marrying Kind" and I did love it and her. I picked up the DVD new for $3.00 several years ago, just to see the introduction of Aldo Ray and it was just an utterly charming movie, albeit with serious concerns within.

HarpoSnarx, thank you so much! Glad to see you liked this and Ms. Patterson. I will definitely have to make an effort to see "Desk Set." I adore Dina Merrill and enjoy Joan Blondell, too, so I'm sure I'll get a kick out of it. Thanks for commenting.

autolycos said...

Thanks for this enjoyable piece on a real trooper of an actress. She is brilliant in Desk Set.

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks much, autolycos! I'm glad you enjoyed this. I will absolutely have to watch "Desk Set" next time it airs.