Fast Eddie Felson. Hud Bannon. Cool Hand Luke. Butch Cassidy. The guy in the race car. The guy on the salad dressing bottle. The blue-eyed dreamboat. The committed public citizen. The husband of a half-century. The father of six.
According to press releases from his his charitable organizations, Newman’s Own Foundation and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, Paul Newman died Friday at age 83 at his long-time home in Westport, Connecticut, and with his passing, more has been lost than just a good and fine man.
For a half-century, on screen and off, the actor Paul Newman embodied certain tendencies in the American male character: active and roguish and earnest and sly and determined and vulnerable and brave and humble and reliable and compassionate and fair. He was a man of his time, a part of his time, and that time ranged from World War II to the contemporary era of digitally animated feature films.
In such movies as “The Long Hot Summer,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting,” “Slap Shot,” “The Verdict,” and “The Color of Money” — to name only the most famous of them — Newman combined heartthrob looks, a dedicated and evolving Method Acting style, good taste in material and collaborators, and a real sense of the cultural climate. His career spanned eras, and he always seemed to be in step and in style.
Although Newman was a World War II veteran who didn’t become a bona fide star until he was in his 30s, his choices in movie roles could make him seem like a younger man; the iconoclastic individuality of his anti-hero characters resonated with the social upstarts of the ’60s, who were the same age as his children. At the same time, he bore a cast of honor and manliness with him on screen that was so unquestionably real that he simultaneously retained the respect of older audiences. In a sense, he combined the rebelliousness associated with the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean with the rock-solid decency exuded by such stars as Henry Fonda and James Stewart. Fittingly, he entered movies as one of the last Hollywood contract players and then became one of the first independent superstars, commanding more than $1 million per film as early as the mid-1960s.
Newman made nearly 60 films, originated three classic roles on Broadway, delivered memorable performances in some of live television’s finest dramas, served as president of the Actors Studio, won championships as a race car driver and racing team owner, started a food business on a whim and used it to raise nearly $400 million for assorted charities, founded an international chain of camps to offer free vacations and medical care to sick and deprived children, and participated in politics as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, as a delegate to a United Nations conference on nuclear proliferation and as part-owner of (and occasional guest columnist for) “The Nation” magazine.
He was nominated for 10 Oscars (winning one, plus two honorary awards), had a closet full of other prizes, included Golden Globes, Emmys, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, was granted a Kennedy Center Honor (accepted in 1992 alongside his wife, Joanne Woodward, who was also honored) and a lifetime award from the Film Society of Lincoln Center (also shared with Woodward), and, even a best director prize from the New York Film Critics Circle for 1968′s “Rachel, Rachel,” which starred his wife.
He was a giant-sized star who shunned celebrity, living in Connecticut, avoiding awards shows, refusing for many years to give autographs, and sometimes resentful that so much of his fame rested on the unearned blessings of a handsome face, a lean body and, most notably, those stunning cobalt-blue eyes. As he got older, he flatly refused honors. When he won a SAG award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role as a town rascal in the 2005 cable TV movie “Empire Falls,” he showed up for none of them, explaining that he had set fire to his tuxedo when he turned 70. And his proudest achievement, he often bragged, was being named number 19 on President Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list.
Paul Leonard Newman was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on January 26, 1925, the second son of Arthur S. Newman, a Cleveland sporting goods retailer, and Theresa Fetzer, his Slovakian-born wife. When Newman was a toddler, his family moved to the upscale suburb of Shaker Heights, and he attended public schools there, graduating from Shaker Heights High School in January, 1943.
After a single term at Ohio University, he enlisted in the Navy, hoping to qualify for pilot training. He was declared unfit due to color-blindness, and was then trained as a tailgunner and radio operator on torpedo bombers. He spent the remainder of World War II in the Pacific, serving principally on resupply and training crews and undertaking sporadic and, by his recollection, largely incident-free missions.
Upon his 1946 discharge, he enrolled at Kenyon College, a small, highly respected men’s school in rural Ohio. There, after being kicked off the reserve football team for his role in a barroom brawl, he turned to acting, a pursuit that he had previously pursued casually but which soon became a real focus. Graduating in 1949, he went into summer stock in Wisconsin and then a winter-season repertory company in suburban Chicago. In December, 1949, he married Jacqueline Witte, a young actress from his stock troupe. The would have three children together — Scott (born 1950), Susan (1953) and Stephanie (1955) — before divorcing in 1958.
Newman’s acting career almost ended in stock. In the spring of 1950, he was called home to Cleveland with the news that his father was critically ill. Arthur Newman died that May, and his son stayed in town to take a place at the Newman-Stern Company, the family business that was said to be the largest sporting goods store between New York and Chicago.
In the fall of that year, the Newman family sold their interest in the company, and Newman was free to return to acting. In the fall of 1951, he enrolled in the graduate program in drama at Yale University, hoping to get a master’s degree that would allow him to teach, perhaps at Kenyon. Instead, some New York agents on a talent scouting trip took notice of him and encouraged him to come to the big city and seek work.
Throughout his life, Newman would always declare that he was a lucky fellow, and what happened to him in New York was one of the prime instances of what he called “Newman’s Luck.” Almost immediately upon his arrival in New York, he found roles in small but remunerative roles in television (including such series as “The Aldrich Family” and “You Are There”) and then he won the role of a rich young man who loses his girl to a rakish old friend in the original production of William Inge’s “Picnic.” The play would run for more than 400 performances, and it gave Newman the financial security to stay in New York, do the occasional piece of television work, and, most importantly, continue his serious acting studies at the legendary Actors Studio, the Mecca of the revolutionary performance style known as the Method.
Hollywood couldn’t help but notice the handsome new face on Broadway, and in 1954 Newman signed a contract with Warner Bros., which assigned him to a debut film that very nearly scotched his screen career. “The Silver Chalice” was an overcooked and stodgy Biblical epic, and Newman was hopelessly miscast as a silversmith who carves the faces of Jesus and his disciples on a drinking goblet.
Newman raced back to Broadway, where he got the plum role of Glenn Griffin, an escaped convict who holds a suburban family hostage in “The Desperate Hours,” which won a Tony award for best play. Partly on the strength of that role, he was cast as boxer Rocky Graziano in the sort-of autobiographical movie “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” and his performance — physical, romantic, playful, explosive and sure-footed — served as the real start of his Hollywood career.
Throughout these early years, he was engaged in a cautious and sometimes uncomfortable romance with Joanne Woodward, whom he had met when she was in the understudy cast of “Picnic.” As Newman’s marriage became untenable, his relationship with Woodward became increasingly public; the two acted opposite each other in the steamy potboiler “The Long Hot Summer” and shared a Malibu house with writer Gore Vidal and his long-time partner Howard Austen. In January, 1958, Newman obtained a Mexican divorce, and on the following day he and Woodward married in Las Vegas in front of witnesses Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence, who were next in line to be wed. The Newmans, as they were known, would have three daughters: Elinor (Nell) (born 1959), Melissa (1961) and Clea (1965).
In the ensuing decade, Newman became the top male star in Hollywood, a perennial Oscar-nominee (and, alas, loser) who worked with old-school directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Leo McCarey, and Michael Curtiz, and a younger, more experimental crowd, including Richard Brooks, Arthur Penn, Stuart Rosenberg and, especially, Martin Ritt, with whom he made six films and operated a production company. Newman was that rare combination of sex symbol and man’s man, and if he failed to convince as a screen comic or as French or Mexican characters (as in “Lady L” and “The Outrage,” respectively), his range was wide enough to fit him into a number of quintessential screen types: a private eye (“Harper”), a cowboy (“Hud” and “Butch Cassidy”), and, especially, the flawed rakes that became his signature characters and an icons of the counterculture (“The Hustler,” “Cool Hand Luke,” and “Butch Cassidy”).
Newman became a director in 1968 with “Rachel, Rachel,” for which he was lauded, as was Woodward, who starred as a spinster schoolteacher. That same year, he became active in the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy, and he would remain an outspoken advocate of liberal causes, especially the anti-nuclear and environmental movements, for the rest of his life. Also that year, he was introduced to professional auto racing for his part in the film “Winning”; he would ever after pursue that, too, as both a passion and a profession.
The following year saw Newman enter into a partnership with actor Robert Redford that would be one of the most successful and memorable in movie history — even though the two only made a pair of films together. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a shaggy-dog history of the infamous Western bandits in which the pair raced across the West and as far as Bolivia to avoid a super-posse on their tails. The film sold more than $100 million in tickets — a massive take for its time and one of the highest-ever grosses when adjusted for inflation. “The Sting,” the 1973 film in which the actors reunited as con men in Depression-era Chicago, did even better: $156 million in receipts and an Oscar for Best Picture.
In the ’70s, Newman continued to work with quality directors (John Huston, Robert Altman) and make engaging films, including “Sometimes a Great Notion,” an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic novel which Newman himself directed in Oregon in 1970. But he was increasingly devoting himself to auto racing, excelling in regional stock and sports car competitions in several different classes and winning national championships in various of them in the ’70s and ’80s. He cemented his credentials as a race driver in 1979 when he was part of a team that narrowly missed winning the 24-hour grand prix race at Le Mans; his team finished second; he was 54 years old. Sixteen years later, he was on the winning team at the 24 Hours of Daytona, making him the oldest driver ever to win a sanctioned auto race.
In 1978, Newman’s oldest child and only son, Scott, died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription pills. Scott had been flailing at a movie career but never seemed to be able to handle the burden of having an icon of the screen for a father. In response to his death, Newman founded the Scott Newman Center, which funds research into drug addiction and its treatment as well as educational outreach efforts.
Newman’s acting changed after his Scott’s death. Whereas he had played outright rascals in the ’70s — Judge Roy Bean, Buffalo Bill, the over-the-hill hockey player-coach Reggie Dunlop — he began to play grown men haunted by hurtful events in such films as “Fort Apache: The Bronx,” “Absence of Malice,” and “The Verdict.” These were some of the very best performances in his career, and yet he still couldn’t crack the Oscar ceiling. In 1986, he was finally accorded an honorary Academy Award for his life’s work. Ironically, he accepted it via satellite from Chicago, where he was filming “The Color of Money,” a sequel to 1961′s “The Hustler”; the following year, he won an actual competitive Oscar for that performance.
There was a third honor from the Motion Picture Academy: In 1994, Newman was given the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award for his charity work, which was yet another aspect of his life that seemed to stem from the loss of his son. In 1980, with his neighbor and fishing buddy, author A. E. Hotchner, Newman began to bottle his famous homemade salad dressing and sell it with the intent of making a few dollars for charity. The first dressing, marketed under the name Newman’s Own, was a hit, so more flavors were added to the line, followed by spaghetti sauces, microwave popcorn, lemonade, limeade, breakfast cereal, salsa and even wine. All of the products featured Newman’s face on the label, accompanied by comical text describing the product often written by Newman himself. A second business, Newman’s Own Organics, was begun by his daughter Nell to promote healthy food and agricultural practices; it sells snacks, coffee, pet food and other products.
All of the proceeds form Newman’s Own, and a portion of the profits of Newman’s Own Organics, is earmarked for charitable donations, which Newman and Hotchner themselves would mete out at the end of each year. As of the most recent tallies, it has been estimated the two have given away more than $240 million. And it was recently learned that Newman has donated another $120 million of the remaining assets of the companies to a charitable foundation for similar distribution.
Among the charities benefiting from all of this largesse is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, actually a chain of camps, started by Newman in Connecticut in 1988. The camps provide free vacations to children suffering from serious illness. With on-site medical staff and frequent visits from Newman and his show biz friends, the camps are now set up in four U. S. states as well as Ireland, France, Israel and Africa. In two decades, more than 17,000 children have been guests at the various camps.
After “The Color of Money,” Newman still had a dozen films in him, including two, “Nobody’s Fool” and “Road to Perdition,” which earned him Oscar nominations. But his signature role in the decline of his career was probably that of the Stage Manager in a 2002 production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” that originated at the Westport Country Playhouse and went on to Broadway. Nearly 50 years earlier, Newman had filled the role of George Gibbs, the rambunctious high schooler whose courtship, marriage and widowerhood are chronicled in the play, in a musical version on live television. Having portrayed impetuous youth and sage old age in the same vehicle, a pure piece of Americana, he had come full circle in his career and his life.
Most of that life, of course, was spent as the partner of Joanne Woodward in one of the most storied and longest-lasting marriages in the history of Hollywood. Woodward won an Oscar at the very start of their marriage, in 1959, for her performance in “The Three Faces of Eve,” but she seemed to maintain a lesser acting career and be supportive of her husband, taking interests in ecological issues and ballet as her children grew up. He returned the favor of her support by directing her in four films after “Rachel, Rachel,” including a 1987 production of “The Glass Menagerie,” and they acted together in 11 films that spanned almost the length of their marriage. Age 78, Woodward survives him along with his five daughters and two grandchildren.
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