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Today would have been the incomparable Paul Newman’s 89th birthday. Screen legend, superstar, and the man with the most famous blue eyes in movie history, Paul Leonard Newman was born in January 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, the second son of Theresa (Fetsko) and Arthur Sigmund Newman. Paul’s father was Jewish (remember that line in Exodus?) the son of immigrants from Poland and Hungary; he owned a successful sporting goods store. Paul’s mother, a practicing Christian Scientist of Slovak decent, and his uncle Joe, had an interest in creative arts, and it rubbed off on him. He acted in grade school and high school plays. The Newmans were a well-to-do family, and Paul grew up in a nice home in Shaker Heights.
By 1950, the 25 year-old Newman had been kicked out of Ohio University for unruly behaviour, served three years in the Navy during World War II as a radio operator, graduated from Ohio’s Kenyon College, married his first wife, Jackie, and had his first child, Scott. 1950 was also the year that Paul’s father died. When he became successful in later years, Newman said if he had any regrets it would be that his father wasn’t around to see it. He brought Jackie back to Shaker Heights and he ran his father’s store for a short period. Then, knowing that wasn’t the career path he wanted to take, he moved Jackie and Scott to New Haven, Connecticut, where he attended Yale University’s School of Drama. While doing a play there, Paul was spotted by two agents, who invited him to come to New York City to pursue a career as a professional actor. After moving to New York, Paul acted in guest spots for various television shows and in 1953 came a big break. He got the part of understudy of the lead role in the successful Broadway play Picnic. Through this play, he met actress Joanne Woodward, who was also an understudy in the play. While they got on very well and there was a strong attraction, Paul was married and his second child, Susan, was born that year. During this time, Newman was also accepted into the much admired and popular New York Actors Studio, although he wasn’t technically auditioning. In 1954, a film Paul was very reluctant to do was released, The Silver Chalice (1954).

Silver Chalice

He considered his performance in this costume epic to be so bad that he took out a full-page ad in a trade paper apologizing for it to anyone who might have seen it. He had always been embarrassed about the film and revelled in making fun of it. He immediately wanted to return to the stage, and performed in The Desperate Hours. In 1956, Newman got the chance to redeem himself in the film world by portraying boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956),

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and critics praised his performance. In 1957, with a handful of films to his credit, he was cast in The Long, Hot Summer (1958), co-starring none other than Joanne Woodward.

Long Hot Summer

During the shooting of this film, they realized they were meant to be together and by now, so did Paul’s wife Jackie. After Jackie gave Paul a divorce, he and Joanne married in Las Vegas in January of 1958. They went on to have three daughters together and raised them in Westport, Connecticut.  He also made The Left Handed Gun in 1958, a cracking revenge western directed by Arthur Penn.

Left Handed Gun

In 1959, Paul received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

Cat on a Hot tin roof

The 1960s began with Exodus

Exodus

and would bring  him  into superstar status, as he became one of the most popular actors of the decade, and garnered three more Best Actor Oscar nominations, for  The Hustler (1961),

Hustler
Hud (1963)

Hud

Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Cool Hand Luke
In 1966 he worked for Alfred Hitchcock on Torn Curtain with Mary Poppins.
Torn Curtain

In 1968, his debut directorial effort Rachel, Rachel (1968)

was given good marks, and although the film and Joanne Woodward were nominated for Oscars, Newman was not nominated for Best Director. He did, however, win a Golden Globe for his direction. 1969 brought the popular screen duo Paul Newman and Robert Redford together for the first time when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) was released. It was a box office smash. Written by the incomparable William Goldman, directed by George Roy Hill.

Butch

Butch and Sundance

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Throughout the 1970s, Newman had hits and misses from such popular films as The Sting (1973)

The Sting

and The Towering Inferno (1974)

Towering Inferno

to lesser known films as The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

roy bean

to a now cult classic Slap Shot (1977) with the Sheriff from Twin Peaks and The Hanson Brothers.

Slap Shot
Hanson Brothers

After the death of his only son, Scott, in 1978, Newman’s personal life and film choices moved in a different direction. His acting work in the 1980s and on is what is often most praised by critics today. He became more at ease with himself and it was evident in The Verdict (1982)Verdict

for which he received his 6th Best Actor Oscar nomination and in 1987 finally received his first Oscar for The Color of Money (1986).

color of money

Friend and director of Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Robert Wise accepted the award on Newman’s behalf as he did not attend the ceremony. Films were not the only thing on his mind during this period. A passionate race car driver since the early 1970s, Newman became co-owner of Newman-Haas racing in 1982, and also founded “Newman’s Own”, a successful line of food products that has earned in excess of $100 million, every penny of which Newman donated to charity. He also started The Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, an organization for terminally ill children. He was as well known for his philanthropic ways and highly successful business ventures as he was for his legendary actor status. Newman enjoyed a 50-year marriage to Joanne in Connecticut, their main residence since moving away from the bright lights of Hollywood in 1960. Renowned for his sense of humour, in 1998 he quipped that he was a little embarrassed to see his salad dressing grossing more than his movies. During his later years, he still attended races, was much involved in his charitable organizations, and in 2006, he opened a restaurant called Dressing Room, which helps out the Westport Country Playhouse, a place that Paul took great pride in. In 2007, he made some headlines when he said that he was losing his invention and confidence in his acting abilities and that acting is “pretty much a closed book for me.” He died a the next year, September 26th 2008. Whether he was on the screen or not, Paul Newman remained synonymous with the anti-heroism of the 1960s and 1970s cinema, and with the rebellious nature his characters so often embodied. One of the truly great screen idols, the like of which we will never see again.

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Newman and Grier
Some shots from Fort Apache The Bronx, almost stolen by an amazing performance from Pam Grier as a razor blade wielding hooker.
Grier
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) Poster
The Coen Brother’s Hudsucker Proxy.