Paul Newman: Old Hollywood Class & Modern Cool

Paul Newman
Paul Newman Goes to Yale, Sells Encyclopedias, Races Cars, Gets Better with Age, and Prefers Steak at Home.
Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts!

Now streaming

Paul Newman represents Old Hollywood class and modern cool. 

Newman began his career during Hollywood’s Golden Age.  His stardom arguably peaked in the mid to late 1960s, but Paul continued to deliver standout performances through each decade of his career.

To celebrate his unique position in Hollywood history, here are a few things about Paul Newman you didn’t know:

Paul Newman

Paul Newman is Older Than You Think

With his youthful appearance and modern vibe, it’s hard to believe that Paul Newman is older than many Classic Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, and James Garner.

Newman was born January 26, 1925, making him technically a contemporary of these stars.  Paul’s earliest film role was in 1954, and his first starring role in 1956. 

Even more surprising, Newman was over 40 when his fame and popularity peaked in such films as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973).

Paul Newman

Paul Newman was a World War II Vet

Paul Newman was old enough to serve in WWII, but barley so.

Paul was only 18 when he enlisted in 1943.  The blue eyes that would one day captivate audiences were colorblind, and dashed Paul’s dreams of becoming a Navy pilot.  Instead, he trained as a rear-seat radioman and gunner for torpedo bombers.  

For his service, Newman earned the Navy Combat Action Ribbon, the American Area Campaign Medal, the Asian Pacific Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, and the WWII Victory Medal. 

Pretty admirable.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman Went to Yale

Paul Newman was an educated guy, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College in Ohio.  After his WWII service, Newman took advantage of the GI Bill, and pursued a master’s degree at the Yale School of Drama, with the intent to one day teach Drama.

The GI Bill only got Paul through his first few months at Yale.  To make ends meet, Paul sold the Encyclopedia Britannica door to door. 

Can you imagine hearing a knock at your front door, and opening it to find a young Paul Newman selling encyclopedias?  

Perhaps not surprisingly, Paul was an effective salesman.

Joanne Woodward
Newman with his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward.

There was a Wife Before Joanne Woodward

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward became as respected for their successful, 50-year marriage as they were for their impressive film careers.  But the Newman/Woodward relationship began rather scandalously.

Before Joanne, Paul was married to first wife Jackie Witte for almost 10 years.  The couple had three children.

Joanne Woodward

Paul met Joanne in the early 1950s.  In 1953, Paul and Joanne were both cast in the Broadway production of Picnic.  Paul had a supporting role in the show, and Joanne was understudy to the female lead. 

During long hours of rehearsals, the two hit it off.

Ultimately, the pull to be together was too strong.  Paul left his wife for Joanne.  The two married in 1958, and eventually had three daughters.

Joanne Woodward
Newman and Woodward in Israel, filming Exodus (1960).

Paul and Joanne were ashamed of the scandalous start to their relationship, and the marriage they broke.  It was something Paul never got over.  When asked how he felt about the relationship overlap, Newman responded:

“Guilty as hell…And I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life.”

Joanne Woodward

It was hard work, but according to most accounts, Paul and Joanne remained faithfully married to each other until Paul’s death in 2008.

Over the years, Paul was asked repeatedly how he managed to stay true to Joanne when film work constantly paired him with other attractive women. 

My favorite of his responses sums up Paul’s philosophy best:

“Why go out for a hamburger when you can have steak at home?” 

The young Paul Newman at an Actors Studio workshop.

Paul Newman Studied at the Actors Studio. And was Mistaken for Marlon Brando.

Before his film career, Paul Newman was a student of Lee Strasberg’s at the Actors Studio in New York. 

When Paul began his Hollywood career, he was frequently up for the same roles as fellow Actors Studio alumni James Dean and Marlon Brando: Paul was considered for the Brando role in On the Waterfront (1954), and screen tested with Dean for a part in East of Eden (1955). 

Watch James Dean and Paul Newman screen test together for East of Eden (1955).
Interesting side note: Newman was skipped over for the part of Dean’s brother, Aaron Trask, in East of Eden (1955).  The role instead went to Richard Davalos, who then…did not become a star.  Davalos eventually played a small supporting role to Newman’s Cool Hand Luke Jackson in Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Both James Dean and Marlon Brando were contenders for the Rocky Graziano role in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) before Newman was eventually cast.  The film not only launched Paul’s Hollywood career, it also inspired a slew of comparisons to Marlon Brando.  According to film critics, Paul even looked like Brando. 

Newman insisted that during this early period of his film career, fans often mistook him for Brando.  Paul once estimated that he signed at least 500 autographs:

“Best wishes, Marlon Brando.”

He Wasn't Sexy

For decades, Paul Newman was the heartthrob of millions of women, and the man every male wanted to emulate.

But apparently, Paul wasn’t sexy enough in his 20s and 30s. 

Josh Logan, who directed a young Paul Newman in the 1953 Broadway production of Picnic, explained to Paul why he wasn’t leading man material:

“You don’t carry any sexual threat at all.” 

Hud

It was only with age that Paul shed his “Mr. Shaker Heights” (a nod to his Ohio hometown roots) square-ness, and became one of the most desirable men in the world.  Despite the hyperactive attention Newman began to receive for his looks in 1962—when he was pushing 40—Paul remained refreshingly modest.  As Paul himself said at the time:

“Some of the fan mail I’m suddenly receiving makes me blush.  I’m as sexy as a piece of Canadian bacon.”

Cool Hand Luke
Newman as Cool Hand Luke Jackson, sporting one of his real-life favorite fashion accessories: a bottle opener.

Paul Newman Liked Beer

As Cool Hand Luke Jackson in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman wears a bottle opener on a chain around his neck.  Newman made the accessory look so cool that, even today, there are countless replicas available for purchase.

But even before Cool Hand Luke, Paul wore a bottle opener necklace in his personal life.  This real-life Paul Newman fashion piece served a very practical purpose: Newman liked his beer.

He’s often credited with coining the phrase:

“24 beers in a case, 24 hours in a day.  Coincidence?  I think not.”

But Paul later took issue with the quote attribution.

Since the 1970s, students at universities across the US have used the quote as an excuse to celebrate “Newman Day,” a day on which students challenge each other to drink one beer an hour for 24 hours.  When Paul learned what Newman Day entailed, he asked the administrators at such universities as Princeton and Bates to encourage students to use “Newman Day” for a greater purpose.  As Paul wrote in a letter to the President of Bates College in 1987:

“I was surprised to learn that a day which was held in my honor was actually an excuse for drunkenness…

I would like to propose that Paul Newman Day be reinstated under somewhat different guidelines; i.e., a day in pursuit of athletic excellence with paid attendance.  The proceeds to be returned to the community in ways of your own choosing.  I would be grateful to learn if the students find any merit in this.

Sincerely,

Paul Newman”

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Newman with Robert Redford in the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

Paul Newman Didn’t Start Racing Until his Mid-40s

Fast cars were a nearly lifelong interest for Paul.  But he didn’t start racing until the late 1960s, in preparation for his role as a race car driver in the 1969 film, Winning.

Racing became Paul Newman’s passion.  He was 44-years-old.

It was a passion that Joanne supported, though she always worried about her husband’s safety behind the wheel.

Initially, the racing world didn’t take Paul seriously.  They viewed him as a joke; an untrained celebrity who wanted to “play” race car.

But it became clear that Paul Newman was a serious racer with a natural talent for the sport.  Paul put in the time and energy to get good.  Really good.   Eventually, he won the respect of the racing world.

Paul Newman

Similar to the relatively late peak of his film career, Paul Newman became an accomplished race car driver at an age when most drivers start to slow down or retire. 

Paul was nothing if not tenacious.  Among other achievements on his impressive racing record, at 70-years-old, Paul drove on the team that placed first in their class, and third overall, at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona, making him the oldest driver ever to win in a major sanctioned race. 

Paul was still racing up until 2005, just three years before his passing.

Paul Newman

Newman’s Own was His Actual Recipe

Paul Newman was an accomplished chef when it came to a select few foods.  Hamburgers, salads, and popcorn were lifetime favorites, and Paul excelled at making all three. 

Paul and Joanne routinely gifted his homemade salad dressing to their neighbors in Connecticut at Christmastime, and whenever the Newman kids came home, they’d leave with a wine bottle full of Dad’s homemade dressing.

When Paul and friend A.E. Hotchner decided to bottle the dressing for sale, they never imagined that “two bumbling idiots,” to use Newman’s own words, would ever make such a success of it. 

What started as Newman’s Own salad dressing on grocery store shelves eventually grew to include a whole line of foods and beverages that remain popular today.

Since the company’s inception in 1982, every penny earned from the sale of Newman’s Own products has gone to charity, resulting in the donation of over $535 million to various charities. 

Paul always believed in giving back.  With Newman’s Own, he unquestionably succeeded.

Joanne Woodward
Paul and Joanne, still happy and beautiful in Paul's last years.

More Paul Newman Next Week

That’s it for my introduction to Paul Newman.

Join me next for the film that jumpstarted Paul’s career, Somebody Up there Likes Me (1956).

Paul Newman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Now Streaming

Vanguard of Hollywood Cleanse eBook

Seven days of Curated Recipes
Inspired by the Stars of the Golden Age

Suggested Recipes

Stay Updated

Recipes and Red Carpet, Directly to Your Inbox Weekly!