Star of the Month: Paul Newman

Paul Newman was a very multifaceted individual, and there is so much more to him than his stellar film career. Here are some fascinating things about him I learned!

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I was really excited to discover that the Star of the Month for May is Paul Newman!  Of COURSE I am familiar with him, is there anyone on the planet over the age of thirteen that isn’t?  Even if you haven’t seen a single one of his films, Newman’s face and name are recognizable, if only from his Newman’s Own salad dressings and products.

Though I have always liked him, and have seen a fair number of his films (14 of his 50 feature films), I have never really considered myself a Paul Newman fan to the point that I would read about him and get familiar with his life. 

So I was excited for the chance to do that in preparation for this month!  And I learned that Paul Newman was a very multifaceted individual.  Here are some things that I found particularly fascinating about him:

He's Older than you Think

Newman was born January 26, 1925.  Can you believe it?  Paul Newman is older than Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, and James Garner. Maybe that doesn’t surprise you the way it surprises me, but I associate the former names, for the most part, with the Hollywood era before Paul Newman.  Newman was actually starring in films as early as 1954, technically making him a contemporary of these stars. 

Newman just always seemed so young and modern in his films of the 1960s and 1970s, when his fame and popularity arguably peaked.  Hard to believe he turned 40 in 1965, before such iconic films as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973).

Also surprising to me, Newman was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where his father, Arthur, owned a highly successful sporting goods store, Newman-Stern.  It was one of the few sports and leisure stores that did not go under during the Great Depression, thanks to the stellar reputation and smarts of Art Newman.  Paul was expected to go into the family business. As we all know, that didn’t end up working out…

He was a World War II Vet

Yes! Paul Newman was old enough to serve in WWII.  Barely so—he was only 18 when he enlisted and was called to duty in 1943.  And those famous baby blues were color blind, which meant his dream of being a flyboy was quickly dashed.  Instead, he trained as a rear-seat radioman and gunner in 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 cool!

He Went to Yale

Newman was quite 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 intention to one day teach Drama.

The GI Bill got Newman through his first few months at Yale.  Then he had to resort to selling the Encyclopedia Britannica door to door to make ends meet.  Can you imagine hearing a knock at your front door, opening it, and finding a young Paul Newman there, trying to sell you encyclopedias?  He was quite successful at it, too.  (Not really that surprising…) 

Newman with his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward.

There was a Wife Before Joanne Woodward

I never knew!  Paul Newman was married for almost 10 years and had three children with wife number one, Jackie Witte, before he and Joanne Woodward tied the knot in 1958.  (Newman had three more children with Woodward, all girls.)  And it seems that Newman and Woodward, who would become almost as famous for their sucessful, 50-year marriage as they were for their impressive film careers, actually started their relationship rather scandalously.

Newman and Woodward met in the early 1950s, and began spending quite a bit of time together in 1953 during the Broadway Production of Picnic—he had a supporting role in the show, she was understudy to the female lead.  And they just hit it off.  The pull to be together was too strong, and Newman left his wife to marry Joanne. It is a period of time in their lives that both Paul and Joanne always felt bad about: “Guilty as hell,” he once said. “And I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life.”

Newman and Woodward in Israel, for the filming of Exodus (1960).

Newman and Woodward married in 1958, and remained married until his death in 2008.  And it seems they remained happily and faithfully married throughout that time.  Newman was repeatedly asked by reporters how he managed to stay faithful to Joanne when he was constantly working on films with other attractive women. His answers were alternately sweet, comical, and complimentary to Joanne, usually all three.  My favorite of Newman’s responses:

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

(I feel I must address this here because someone will bring it up: unsubstantiated rumors of one extramarital affair Newman may have had during Butch Cassidy with an opportunistic (and sleazy, from what I gather…) reporter remain just that, unsubstantiated rumors.  So I give him the benefit of the doubt.  I think he was a nice guy and a faithful husband who was crazy about his wife to the end.)

The young Paul Newman at an Actors Studio workshop.

He Studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio

Didn’t know!  Newman was a student of Strasberg’s in New York with the likes of Marlon Brando before he appeared in a single Hollywood film.  In fact, Newman was “in” enough with the method acting crowd that he, Brando, and James Dean were often up for the same parts in films when the three future legends first started their Hollywood careers. 

Newman 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 the legendary, hilarious, and electric screen test here!)  Newman was skipped over for the part of Dean’s brother in the film.  The role instead went to Richard Davalos, who then…did not become a star…while Newman became Paul Newman!  Davalos eventually played a small supporting role to Newman’s Cool Hand Luke Jackson in Cool Hand Luke (1967).  How’s that for irony!

He Wasn't Sexy

Paul Newman, who would become the man every male wanted to emulate, and the heartthrob of millions of women, was apparently not sexy enough in his 20s and 30s to be a leading man.  Josh Logan, the director of Picnic, the play in which Newman made his Broadway debut in 1953, told Newman that he was not leading man material because

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

With age, Newman obviously shed his “Mr. Shaker Heights” square-ness, and became one of the most desirable men in America!

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

He Liked to Drink. BEER.

Remember that beer bottle opener that Cool Hand Luke Jackson wears around his neck throughout Cool Hand Luke (1967)? (And does anyone else wonder how on earth a convict ever got away with keeping a sharp object like that around his neck while serving time???  Seriously, how was that not taken away from Luke as soon as he was incarcerated??)  Well, apparently that beer bottle opener on a chain was a fashion piece that Newman wore pretty consistently in real life too, before Cool Hand Luke even.  The man liked his beer, and is credited with once saying:

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

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

He Didn’t Start Racing Until his Mid-40s

Newman had always been into cars, but he didn’t actually start race car driving until he began preparing for his role as a race car driver in the 1969 film, Winning.  And then he got way into it, much to the dismay and worry of Joanne!  She supported him, but was always nervous for his safety behind the wheel.  What wife wouldn’t be??? 

The racing world initially looked at him as a joke: who did this movie star think he was, racing cars with the big kids?  But eventually they realized Newman was a serious racer with a natural talent for the sport, and he put in the time and energy to get good.  Really good.  And Newman got really good at an age when most race car drivers started to slow down or retire.  Newman was nothing if not tenacious, and among other things on his impressive racing record, at 70 years old, he 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.  He was still racing up until 2005, just three years before his death.

Newman’s Own was His Actual Recipe

Turns out, Newman was quite a chef in a select few foods: hamburgers, salads, and popcorn were lifetime favorites of his, and he excelled at making all three. Paul and Joanne would actually gift his homemade salad dressing to their neighbors in Connecticut at Christmastime, and whenever his kids came home, you could bet they would leave with a wine bottle full of Dad’s homemade dressing.

When Newman and friend A.E. Hotchner decided to try bottling the stuff, they had no idea that “two bumbling idiots,” in Newman’s own words, would ever make such a success of it.  And guess what?  EVERYTHING, every penny earned, went to charity.  From its inception in 1982 to the present, the sales of Newman’s Own products have resulted in the donation of $535 million to various charities.  Newman always believed in giving back.  I’d say he succeeded in this big time.

(Interesting side note: Frank Sinatra tried his hand at selling spaghetti sauce after Newman had so much success with his pasta sauce and other Newman’s Own products.  “Artanis,” the Sinatra sauce was called, “Sinatra” spelled backward.  Sounds fool proof, right?  The very proudly and famously Italian Sinatra, selling an iconic food from his culture?  Well it didn’t work out, and Artanis pasta sauce was on supermarket shelves for such a short time, I couldn’t even find a picture of what the bottle looked like!) 

Paul with his beloved Joanne, having a grand time with each other right to the end.

Well, I hope at least one of these facts from Newman’s life proves as interesting to you as they all are for me.  Check the TCM film schedule for showtimes, and enjoy Paul Newman’s films with me this month on TCM, starting tonight!

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