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.
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Paul Newman occupies a unique position in Hollywood history.

He’s old enough to be associated with Classic Hollywood and all the glamour that era entailed.  But Newman’s career peaked late enough for him to be simultaneously classed  with the next wave of stars who rejected the glitz and gloss of the previous generation. 

As a result, Paul Newman is both Old Hollywood glamour and the definition of modern cool.

To celebrate Paul Newman this month, here are a few things about the multifaceted star you didn’t know:

Paul Newman

Paul Newman is Older Than You Think

Paul Newman was born January 26, 1925. 

His youthful appearance and modern vibe make it difficult to believe, but with his 1925 birthday, Paul Newman is actually older than many stars so associated with Classic Hollywood, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, and James Garner.

Newman starred in films as early as 1954, technically making him a contemporary of these classic stars.  Even more surprising, Paul was over 40 when his fame and popularity peaked with 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

Yes, Paul Newman was old enough to serve in WWII. 

But barely so—Paul was only 18 when he enlisted in 1943.  And those famous baby blues were color blind, which meant Paul’s 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 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.  Then he resorted 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, selling encyclopedias?  He was quite successful at it, too.  (Not really all that surprising…) 

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

There was a Wife Before Joanne Woodward

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.) 

Newman and Woodward, who became almost as famous for their successful, 50-year marriage as they were for their impressive film careers, actually started their relationship rather scandalously.

Joanne Woodward

Paul and Joanne 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, and she was understudy to the female lead. 

Paul and Joanne just hit it off.  The pull to be together was too strong, and Paul left his wife to marry Joanne. It’s a period of time both Paul and Joanne always felt terrible about.  As Paul once said about the relationship overlap:

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

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

Paul and Joanne married in 1958, and remained married until his death in 2008.  

By all accounts (except this one, which I don’t believe), Paul and Joan remained happily and faithfully married throughout their 50 years together. 

Paul was repeatedly asked by reporters how he managed to stay faithful to Joanne when he so consistently worked on films with other attractive women. His answers were always sweet, comical, and complimentary to Joanne.

Joanne Woodward

My favorite of Newman’s responses:

“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 with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio

Paul Newman was a student of Lee Strasberg’s in New York with the likes of Marlon Brando before he appeared in a single Hollywood film.  And when Newman, Brando, and James Dean first started their Hollywood careers, they were often up for the same roles.

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). 

Take a moment to watch the screen test of these two legends together in the video above.

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).

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 1953 play Paul made his Broadway debut in, told Paul that he wasn’t leading man material because:

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

With age, Newman 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.

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

Paul Newman Liked Beer

Remember that beer bottle opener that Cool Hand Luke Jackson wears around his neck throughout Cool Hand Luke (1967)?

That beer bottle opener on a chain was a fashion piece that Paul Newman wore pretty consistently in real-life too, even before Cool Hand Luke.  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.”

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

Paul Newman was always into cars.  But he didn’t start racing until he began preparation for his role as a race car driver in the 1969 film, Winning

At that point, racing became Paul’s passion, much to the dismay and worry of his wife.  Joanne supported Paul, but was always nervous for his safety behind the wheel.

The racing world initially looked at Paul Newman as a joke: who did this movie star think he was, racing cars with the pros? 

But eventually, the racing world realized that Paul was a serious racer with a natural talent for the sport.  Paul put in the time and energy to get good.  Really good.

Paul Newman

Similar to the relatively late peak of his film career, Paul Newman got really good at racing at an age when most drivers start to slow down or retire.  Newman was nothing if not tenacious, and among other things 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 quite a chef in 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 his kids came home, you could bet they would leave with a wine bottle full of Dad’s homemade dressing.

When Paul 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, the sales of Newman’s Own products have resulted in the donation of over $535 million to various charities.  Paul always believed in giving back. 

I’d say he succeeded, big time.

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

More Paul Newman Next Week

That’s it for my introduction to Paul Newman.

Join me next week for all about an early film from Paul’s career, Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956).

Paul Newman

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