This stunning portrait of Paul Newman is from the Paul Newman Tribute page.
Film scholars, note that early screen test footage actually exists of Newman vying with James Dean, for ‘East of Eden (1955).’ Dean got the role, early death, the immortality of myth. Newman got the lengthy career, happy marriage and mere legend status.
He was the right stuff, with Yale Drama School and Actor’s Studio pedigree, stage and early TV experience. By 1956, Newman was an affecting Rocky Graziano in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me (in arguably his most likable role).’
But the camera found in him a sexy opportunist, outsider-misfit characters, largely defined by uneasy relationships with women: ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘The Left-Handed Gun,’ ‘The Long, Hot Summer (all 1958),’ ‘The Hustler (1961),’ ‘Sweet Bird of Youth (1962),’ and ‘Hud (1963).’ Although these represent his best work, it’s as if Newman himself noticed, flinched and withdrew.
He became distracted by racecar driving and interested in directing projects. Out of a respectable quintet of the latter, best was ‘Rachel, Rachel (968),’ starring his wife, Joanne Woodward (Newman won Best Director from the New York Film critics).
His legend status became inextricably cemented to buddy turns in ‘Cool Hand Luke (1967; expert, but the start of something), the dull ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968),’ the slightly more entertaining ‘The Sting (1973)’ and ‘Slap Shot (1977).’
Having lost any number of years when actors find their richest roles, the senior Newman seemed to gauge his own diminished legacy; returning to anti-heroes, in ‘Absence of Malice (1981)’ and ‘The Verdict (1982),’ while finally winning Best Actor for ‘The Color of Money (1986).’ (He’d earned an honorary Oscar the year before.)
When Newman passed in 2008, audiences realized the measure of the man was better seen off set. Newman’s Own Foundation, begun in 1982, still donates 100% of its annual earnings to thousands of worthwhile charities. Profits now total over $525 million.
How many millionaires have generous instincts, anyway? Clearly, Newman was something lost between his bad boys and buddies: A truly rare man.
★ Paul Newman ★