Paul Newman, legendary actor, businessman, and race car driver died at his farmhouse near Westport, Connecticut, after a long battle with cancer.
Even for a movie star he was uncommonly handsome and charismatic. And yet, somehow, Paul Newman defied the odds. He was a good man.
Born in 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Newman was the son of a Catholic mother and Jewish father who ran a successful sporting goods operation. Splitting the difference with dad, Newman always described himself as a Jew but credited the idea of a life in sporting goods for his interest in acting. After his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he studied drama at Yale before making his way to the famed Actors’ Studio in New York where he was trained in the vaunted method style of acting by the legendary Lee Strasberg.
Talented and good looking, Newman quickly found work in television and then on Broadway in the original production of Picnic. Hollywood soon came calling and against his better judgment he accepted the lead in The Silver Chalice (1954), an embarrassing costume drama that failed miserably and nearly killed Newman’s film career in the crib. So ashamed, ever after Newman would make fun of his performance, going so far as to take out an ad in the trades apologizing to viewers who might have caught its television broadcast.
A second chance arrived with Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). The film made money, the critics praised his portrayal of boxer Rocky Graziano, and for the next fifteen years Newman would fine-tune his screen personality in a series of roles requiring Brando’s supernatural ability to brood but in a more accessible persona. And brood he did.
In 1958 alone, Newman would portray Billy The Kid as a noble psycho in Arthur Penn’s under-appreciated The Left-Handed Gun; an alcoholic ex-jock, sexually frustrating his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof; and a relentless opportunist in all things love and commerce in The Long Hot Summer.
This was Newman’s early specialty: playing loners who disguised themselves as reprobates in order to hide both their loneliness and that they might give a damn about anything. By the time the audience was introduced to these characters, a harsh world had already forced them into a protective shell of selfish indifference and insolence. The pleasure, of course, was in the watching and waiting for redemption.