One of the great ones died today, and by that, I don’t merely mean one of the great Hollywood movie stars, but one of the great men and someone who made a difference. Paul Newman is so many things to so many people, even a list seems both inevitable and pointless. Yes, he was a huge movie star, with a career that lasted for decades, but this was only in a small part of his life overall. Newman was a film legend who could really act, took numerous chances with lots of tricky, complex roles and was enormously accomplished on stage as well as the big screen. Yes, he won an Academy award for acting in a Martin Scorsese picture, but he also gave dozens of other performances that were as good, if not even better, in films that range from excellent to being widely considered classics of American cinema. Yes, he had his own salad dressing, founded by his Newman’s Own company in 1982, but have you tried everything else that company produces (best chocolate-chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted) and did you know the profits go straight to charity? Yes, Newman was an auto racer, but did you know that he won a race at the age of 70 (!) and that his introducing his friend and co-star, Tom Cruise, to the sport lead to Days of Thunder? Yes, he was the voice of a car in Pixar’s Cars, but did you know he acted for the Coen Brothers, Alfred Hitchcock, George Roy Hill, Sam Mendes, Sidney Lumet, Martin Ritt, Robert Benton, AND Robert Altman (to name just a few)? Here are a few other things that not everyone knows about Paul Newman:
He served in WWII in the Navy.
He was married to a Joanne Woodward, a beautiful and brilliant actress, for 50 years.
He founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a camp for seriously ill children suffering from Aids, cancer or a blood disease. The camp provides suffering children with a tremendous experience and is free of charge.
He made Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and Newman, a dedicated Democrat, considered that a “huge honor”.
He was so embarrassed by his film debut in The Silver Chalice, he took out an ad in the Hollywood trade papers apologizing for his work and the movie in general.
His likeness is what inspired Gil Kane’s initial illustrations of Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern.
To name just a dozen of the great films Newman has starred in, notice how many (in this short list) you’ve seen, loved or know are classic American movies:
Hud, Cool Hand Luke, The Sting, Slap Shot, The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Verdict, Absence of Malice, Road to Perdition, The Hudsucker Proxy, and The Color of Money.
My favorite of his, Nobody’s Fool, is one I watch every year and will continue to do so. Playing Donald “Sully” Sullivan, an aging everyman who tries, late in his life, to connect with his grandson and form a friendship with his estranged son, the film is terribly funny and rather moving. It co-stars Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Dylan Walsh, Melanie Griffith and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and, if you haven’t seen it yet, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Newman’s work as a film artist is what made him famous but his contributions as a philanthropist are what made him unusual, humble and remarkable. He is survived by his wife, five children, two grandsons, his older brother and a legacy that will endure. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.