There are some Hollywood stars that make only a fleeting impression on the industry, and there are others that go onto become true legends of the Big Screen. One of the true Hollywood greats was Paul Newman, a man who appeared in cinemas around the world for over fifty years. Newman though was more than just an actor, he was someone who also took an interest and the time to give to those less fortunate than himself.
Paul Leonard Newman was born on the 26th January, 1925. Paul was the son of Arthur S. Newman Sr, a successful German Jewish sporting goods store owner, and Theresa Newman, nee Fetzer, a Catholic Slovak. Theresa helped out in the shop as she raised Paul and Arthur, his brother. The family was not short of money, and Paul grew up in Shaker Heights, a relatively affluent suburb of Cleveland.
From an early age, with the encouragement of his mother, Newman showed a keen interest in acting and the theatre. His debut is often quoted as being a jester in a school production of “Robin Hood” when Newman was just seven. Newman followed this debut with other roles in high school productions.
Newman graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, and immediately enrolled at Ohio University at Athens, Ohio. Though initiated into the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, Newman’s stay at the university was short-lived, as he was supposedly expelled after a prank involving a keg of beer. By this time, the Second World War was well underway, and so at a loose-end Newman enlisted into the Navy. Failing a pilot’s test due to colour blindness, meant that Newman spent the remainder of the war as a radio operator and rear gunner in an Avenger torpedo bomber.
Discharged from the navy in 1946, Newman enrolled at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in order to complete his degree. Though he was initially on an athletic scholarship he was thrown off of the football team, following an incident in a bar. With free time on his hands, Newman again looked to acting and drama, appearing in a number of college productions as a result.
Newman moved to Chicago in 1949 following his graduation from Kenyon with a BA in English. In Chicago he took up an acting career joining up with the Woodstock players. At the same time Newman married his first wife, the actress Jackie Witte, and they soon had their first son, Scott. Within a year Newman’s life though was at a crossroads. His father passed away leaving a half share in the family store. The decision needed to be made, the safety of the business or the uncertainty of acting.
Newman went for the brave decision, selling his share in the sporting goods store to his brother. With a bit of money in his pockets, Newman moved with his family to New Haven, Connecticut. A year spent at Yale Drama School, then saw another move to New York, and a period of study at the city’s Actors Studio.
The Actors Studio taught method acting, and gave him opportunities to earn as he studied. The benefits of a handsome face, and the name of the school behind him, meant that by 1951 Newman had a regular part in the CBS production of “The Aldrich Family”. Broadway also beckoned, and in 1953 he was performing in William Inge’s “Picnic”, and winning awards. Theatre also gave him a way into cinema, based on his Broadway performances, Warner Brothers signed him up on a film contract. Newman’s first film was almost his last; in 1954 Newman appeared in the costume epic “The Silver Chalice”. The film proved to be a huge flop, and Newman considered his performance so bad that he took out an ad to apologise for it.
Luckily for Newman and the movie world his next efforts were far better. 1956 saw Newman star as the boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, a film which saw critics heap praise on Newman for his Brando-esque performance. Around the same time though, he failed a screen test for “East of Eden”, a role which would have seen him star alongside James Dean.
There followed a steady stream of performances alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood; “Long Hot Summer” with Orson Welles and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Elizabeth Taylor, to name but two. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” earned Newman his first Academy Award nomination.
The 1960’s saw Newman become one of the biggest draws to the movies. Second, Third and Fourth Oscar nominations arrived with “The Hustler” (1961), “Hud” (1963) and “Cool hand Luke” (1967). His appearances with co-star Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “The Sting” (1973) are often praised as two of the best films ever made.
The 1960’s and 70’s saw Newman spread his wings into directing with some success. “Rachel, Rachel” (1968) saw Newman direct his wife, Joanne Woodward, and receive another Oscar nomination for best picture. Films though were where Newman’s talents really lie, in the 1970’s “The Towering Inferno” and “Slap Shot” were huge successes.
His Oscar win came relatively late in his career, and at the seventh time of nomination Newman finally won with his performance in “The Color of Money” (1986).
Since 1990, Newman withdrew from film-making, picking and choosing the best scripts. Though in 2003, “Road to Perdition” did see his welcome return to the big screen. In 2007 Newman announced his retirement from the industry, as he felt his memory wouldn’t allow for performances to his own high standards.
For a screen legend, Newman was under-recognised by award ceremonies. Eight times nominated for an Oscar, he had but one award to show for it. He won other awards including Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an Emmy award.
Newman’s marriage to Jackie lasted until 1958, and in that time he had two further children, Stephanie and Susan, in addition to Scott. Scott died from an accidental drugs overdose in 1978, leading to the inception of the Scott Newman Centre for Drug Abuse Prevention.
In 1958, Newman married actress Joanne Woodward, a marriage which has lasted almost fifty years. Newman had a further three daughters, Elinor, Melissa and Claire. Newman also made a point of making his home in Westport, Connecticut, so he could be as removed as possible from Hollywood.
Newman passed away on the 27th September 2008. Newman was 83 and the cause of his death was quoted to be cancer. When he announced his retirement he specifically said that he “was doing nicely” and didn’t have cancer.
It is surprising how many similarities in his personal life there are with his biggest rival, Steve McQueen. Both actors had a great desire for motor racing. Newman though was allowed to race at Le Mans, finishing second in 1979. Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties, Newman raced Nissans for the Bob Sharp Racing team. Newman also invested his money into his own race team, co-founding the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team.
Whilst McQueen was alleged to have been on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, Newman was definitely on it, appearing at number nineteen. Newman was extremely proud of this, coming about as it did for his strong support of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 Presidential elections, and for his strong anti-war stand.
As Newman’s wealth increased from his acting career he looked for other investments. The most famous of his investments was “Newman’s Own”, a food production company, whose products still bear the face of Newman. All profits from the firm are given to charity, and as of 2007 this stood at $220 million. Newman has given money around the world to worthy causes. Refugees in Kosovo received $250,000 in 1999. $10million went to Kenyon College to help establish a scholarship fund. $20,000 went to Wales for assistance for breast cancer sufferers.
Newman was a true screen legend. His reputation has been enhanced by his philanthropy; it is good to know that he impacted on the lives of many thousands of people with his charity work.