Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Film Night : : Remembering Paul

Anne McAllister takes a look back at the quintessential Male on Monday -- the heartthrob with a brain and a conscience and a sense of responsibility. Not to mention a pair of drop dead gorgeous blue eyes.

If pictures are worth a thousand words, I should just stop writing at once and inundate you with photos of Paul Newman. They would be almost enough.

Because Paul Newman, who died in September at the venerable age of 83, always took a very good pic.

But he was never just a pretty face.

Though his looks would have allowed him to coast through 'leading man' roles, he had much greater range and worked hard at his craft.

After a stint as a radioman and gunner during World War II interrupted his university education, he finished his degree at Kenyon College in Ohio and wanted a career in acting. But marriage, the birth of a son and the death of his father sent him back to Cleveland to run the family sporting goods business instead.

But the desire to act wouldn't be denied, and he, his wife and son moved east so he could attend Yale Drama School, where he graduated in 1954. Afterwards, he continued his studies in New York City with Lee Strasberg at the Actors' Studio.

Always taking his work seriously, he was quoted as having said he doubted that a move to Hollywood would be a good idea because it was, "no place to study."

Nevertheless, he made the move, and over a career that spanned more than fifty years, he starred in a host of memorable films. Oscar-nominated nine times for his acting, he received the award for his portrayal of Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money, a reprise of the role he played in The Hustler.

He played off-beat, frequently laconic, often sly and occasionally bemused characters in such films as Cool Hand Luke, Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Nobody's Fool.

But he also delivered the morally bankrupt Hud, the tormented Frank Galvin, an alcoholic lawyer with one last chance to salvage his self-respect in The Verdict, and John Rooney, the conflicted mob boss in Road to Perdition.

He gave his all to every role. But not content to remain in front of the camera, he did stage work as well, receving a Tony nomination for his performance as the stage manager in a Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

He also directed and produced a number of films, several starring his wife, Joanne Woodward. For one of them, Rachel, Rachel, he received a Golden Globe as best director, the New York Film Critics Circle Best Director award and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

But his film and stage work, extensive as it was, was only a part of what made up the man.

He was passionately interested in -- and good at -- auto-racing. He raced professionally from 1972 until the mid-1990s and at one time owned a racing team. Frequently competing in Sports Car Club of America events, he won several championships and, notably, drove in the 1979 24-Hour Tour of LeMans, finishing in second place.

In recent years he combined his interest in race cars with his film career, doing the voice of old-time car, Doc Hudson, who gives advice and wisdom to a hotshot racing car named Lightning McQueen . And in his last film work Newman narrated Dale, the film biography of legendary NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt.

Famous as an actor, respected as a race car driver, Newman was also well known as a family man and for his devotion to his wife of over 50 years, Joanne Woodward. Asked about how he managed in a life where he was surrounded by frequent Hollywood infidelities, Newman was quoted as saying, "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?"

And apparently having learned something from a broken first marriage, he made sure his home was far from the movie capital, spending his time away from film clear across the country in Westport, Connecticut.

Even so, the darkest moment of his life, he said, was the death of his oldest child, Scott, from an accidental drug overdose.

His determination to honor Scott's memory and try to prevent similar tragedies inspired him to begin the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention. It was only the starting point of philanthropic efforts that became the focus of the rest of Newman's life.

The most famous, Newman's Own salad dressing, began as little more than a Christmas gift to neighbors and friends -- and a joke between him and his friend and neighbor, A. E. Hotchner.

But its success in the marketplace -- along with subsequent additional products of equal appeal -- have turned the back yard enterprise into a multi-million dollar business which has donated all its profits -- to date, over $250 million -- to charities Newman chose himself.

Besides the Newman's Own enterprise, he established The Hole in the Wall Gang camps for seriously ill children, which are renowned for their success in giving kids who desperately need it, a chance to be 'just regular kids' while they are there.

And he did these things because Newman always saw himself as 'just a regular guy' -- albeit one extraordinarily blessed. Never one to focus attention on himself, he spent his life -- and his fame -- making sure that other people got top billing.

In the wake of his death, his daughter, Lissy, said, "He was all about reaching out, doing things for other people. That's what he should be remembered for."

And earlier his wife Joanne, reflecting on their long marriage said, "Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that's a real treat."

I'll buy that -- a man with a sense of humor and a drive to do good works, a man who loves his wife and children, a man works hard and makes it look easy.

In other words, a hero.

But let's be honest, the eyes don't hurt either.

Anne McAllister just got back from researching a book in Cannes where, incidentally, Paul Newman won an acting award some years back.
And she'll be thinking about Paul when she writes it because her hero is -- and this is an absolute coincidence -- an actor turned director who meets a woman he wouldn't mind spending the next 50 years with. She's thinking he might even have blue eyes.

Her next book, Antonides' Forbidden Wife, comes out in UK in November and in the US (as a Presents) in January.


  1. Anne, great post. Thank you. He was a terrific actor wasn't he? And the little I heard about his private life made me think of him and a nice guy too.

    Just the sort of man to inspire a hero!


  2. it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.

  3. Annie, yes, lots of inspiration for a great hero there. He will be missed -- and we were blessed to have had his talent and his generosity for so long.

    Movie fan, I completely agree. He always seemed to be a thoroughly decent human being. I just watched his film, Harper, for the fifth or sixth time recently, and this time I also watched the director's commentary. He had nothing but good things to say about his star!

  4. I believe his birthday was 26 January. He was an Aquarian.

    Says she whose own birthday is around that date.

    But I always have been impressed with his humanity.

  5. Michelle, I've always been impressed, too. And very fond of Aquarians (like my husband).

    Cheri, yes indeed. Sigh...

  6. Paul was the best of the best, a really great guy in every way there is. Love wife Joanne's summary " ...
    but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that's a real treat." So many photos depicted that twinkle in those blue eyes. Sigh ...

  7. Wonderful post Anne. I was recently watching a special celebrating his life....plain and simply any woman's dream and oh did he live life to the fullest. His accomplishments as a family man, actor and what he did for others speaks for itself.

    Anne can't wait for your book and those blue eyes!

  8. I fell in love with Paul Newman when I was 13 and have followed his life and career ever since (I'm not a creepy stalker honest, I just like him). But there is something wonderful about discovering that one of your idols really is as good as they look.

  9. Anonymous, I like that twinkle, too!

    Marilyn, it's an inspiration to write about someone who has lived life to the fullest. It makes you look at your own and try to up the stakes a bit.

    Heidi, it just shows you have good taste! I fell in love with another actor when I was 13 and he turned out to be every bit as good in real life as he was on the screen, too. I felt vindicated -- and still smitten.