Those lips, those eyes, that salad dressing: sometimes Paul Newman seemed too good to be true. A handsome, talented, devoted family man with a social conscience who used his fame for the greater good, it would seem to some that Paul Newman had no flaws. Hence the irony: his greatest roles have embraced extreme human fallibility.
Throughout his career Newman excelled at portraying the emotional outsider – men who through choice or circumstance walk the down side of life. From the wandering “barn burner” in The Long Hot Summer (1958) to the small-town handyman struggling to keep his family together in Nobody’s Fool (1994),
Newman’s onscreen appeal stemmed from the nobility he invested in men who would otherwise be thought of as losers.
Acting was something Newman drifted into after growing up in Ohio, where he was born in 1925. Naturally athletic and rather “rambunctious”, he enlisted in the Navy during WWII to become an aviator, but those famous blue eyes turned out to be color blind, so he spent the duration as a radio operator. Newman gradually drifted towards acting as a profession, eventually studying at the Yale School of Drama and later, at the Actor’s Studio in New York.
Live television was in its heyday in the early 1950s, and New York was the epicenter, the perfect place for a handsome, charismatic newcomer to hone his craft. Newman worked steadily on TV before a noticeable Broadway debut in “Picnic” in 1953. Hollywood snapped up the “new Brando,” lusting after his remarkable looks and strong stage presence. But Newman considered his screen debut in The Silver Chalice (1954) so awful he took out a full page ad in the trade papers apologizing for his performance. He rebounded with his portrayal of hoodlum-turned-boxer Rocky Graciano in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and before long was the hottest property in Hollywood.
Through wise script choices and fearless talent, Newman appeared in some of the seminal movies of the 1960’s, and 1970’s including The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Slap Shot (1977). He continued to turn in strong performances throughout the 1980s, playing a boozy ambulance chaser to great acclaim in The Verdict (1982) and finally capturing the long elusive Oscar® for his return to the screen as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money (1986). In the 1960s Newman also began directing the occasional project, usually starring his wife, Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958.
A longtime resident of Westport, Connecticut, Newman devoted nearly as much time to charity as he had to his career. He and Woodward established the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camp for terminally ill children, and the anti-drug Scott Newman Foundation, named in memory of Newman’s only son, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 1978. Through his “Newman’s Own” line of food products, Newman donated more than $100 million to countless charities.
Newman died from lung cancer September 26, 2008 at the age of 83.