Paul Newman: A Life Well Lived



“If my eyes should ever turn brown, my career is shot to hell,” Paul Newman once joked. No one could deny the magic of those baby blues, not even the heartthrob himself. But after a decades-long screen career and an even more astonishing philanthropic one, the world says goodbye to the gentle-hearted Oscar winner, who died of cancer Friday at age 83.

The world has been awaiting this sad day for weeks following the announcement a few months back that Paul Newman was dying of cancer. Finally, the news came early this morning as reported by Stephen Hunter for the Washington Post:

Paul Newman, who died yesterday at 83 of cancer, was a beautiful man who never seemed to notice his own beauty.

He was at his worst when the camera did.

But far more often, he was at his best when he was too busy thinking to care about the looks he’d been given. He stood for an American archetype: he was the shrewd guy. Practical, tough, urban. He figured angles, calculated odds, charted courses, deployed distractions, maneuvered brilliantly. He wasn’t violent, he wasn’t a leader, he wasn’t Mr. Cool with the babes, he had limited gifts for comedy and highly-articulate, dialogue-driven set pieces. But nobody played shrewd better than Paul Newman. He became great playing shrewd.

You could see it in his eyes, and he probably didn’t care much whether they were blue or not. You’d see them narrow as he lapsed into concentration, then come alive again as they read cues, divined patterns, perceived dynamics, sniffed weaknesses. He figured it out with a gusto he sold to audiences brilliantly and you — with him — enjoyed his triumphant cerebration.

UPDATE: Paul Newman: The Man Who Defined Being a Man by Neil Gabler.
Paul Newman had a face, he once quipped, that did not belong to a thief. But he stole the nation’s heart, and more than any other actor, he helped change who we are.

“…the truest metaphor for Newman’s appeal may have been the old Volkswagen he drove from his Connecticut home to the Broadway theater in which he appeared onstage in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth in the early 1960s. Newman wanted more giddyap to his ride, so he had his mechanic install a supercharged Porsche engine in the Beetle. That was Newman: half-Porsche, half-Volkswagen; half–oversize Superman, half–unaffected Everyman. Other stars may have drawn on either their glamour or on their similarity to us. Paul Newman was the only star who could draw on both.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Paul Newman’s Greatest Film Roles


Thank you, Paul Newman.

Thank you for loving Joanne Woodward as you did, not just because lifelong love is a treasure unto itself, but because the example of your relationship was a charm against cynicism about the frivolity of Hollywood love.
Thank you for burning your tuxedo on your 75th birthday. We all missed seeing you at the flashy Hollywood ceremonies, but we surely salute the independence.

Thank you for sharing yourself with us for over 50 years. Five would have been an honor. Fifty is a treasure we could not measure if we tried.

Thank you for working into the last year of your life, because you had so much to offer.

Thank you for those blue eyes, and sharing them with us, and for never once losing your sense of humor about the whole thing. Did you really once say that your epitaph would be, “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown”?

Not a chance, cowboy.

Richard Corliss reports for Time:

In the decade after World War II, three soulful studs came from Broadway to Hollywood. Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman became movie stars in the 50s and helped revolutionize the craft. Of these three, way back then, Newman seemed the least unique. He wasn’t Brando, though he had studied at the Actors Studio and starred on Broadway in a Tennessee Williams play. He wasn’t Dean, though he nearly played Dean’s brother in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden.

But unlike the other two, Newman stuck it out. Instead of leading his talent in weird and wayward directions, like Brando, or smashing it to pieces on a California highway at 24, like Dean, he just kept getting better, more comfortable in his movie skin, more proficient at suggesting worlds of flinty pleasure or sour disillusion with a smile or a squint. And of the three, he was the most conventionally gorgeous.

BBC News:

The blue-eyed star of movies like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid died in his Connecticut home on Friday, surrounded by family and close friends.

A statement from Newman’s family said: “His death was as private and discreet as the way he had lived his life.”

His Butch Cassidy co-star Robert Redford paid tribute, saying: “There is a point where feelings go beyond words… I have lost a real friend.”

The New York Times:

If Marlon Brando and James Dean defined the defiant American male as a sullen rebel, Paul Newman recreated him as a likable renegade, a strikingly handsome figure of animal high spirits and blue-eyed candor whose magnetism was almost impossible to resist, whether the character was Hud, Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy.

He acted in more than 65 movies over more than 50 years, drawing on a physical grace, unassuming intelligence and good humor that made it all seem effortless.

The Los Angeles Times:

Stunningly handsome, Newman maintained his superstar status while protecting himself from its corrupting influences through nearly 100 Broadway, television and movie roles. As an actor and director, he evolved into Hollywood’s elder statesman, admired as much offscreen for his quiet generosity, unconventional business sense, race car daring, political activism and enduring marriage to actress Joanne Woodward.

Annoyed by the public’s fascination with his resemblance to a Roman statue, particularly his Windex-blue eyes, Newman often chose offbeat character roles. In the 1950s and ’60s, he helped define the American anti-hero and became identified with the charming misfits, cads and con men in film classics such as “The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Newman’s poker-game look in “The Sting” — cunning, watchful, removed, amused, confident, alert — summed up his power as a person and actor, said Stewart Stern, a screenwriter and longtime friend.

“You never see the whole deck, there’s always some card somewhere he may or may not play,” Stern said. “Maybe he doesn’t even have it.”

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate:

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp opened in Connecticut in 1988 to provide a summer camping experience—fishing, tie-dye, ghost stories, s’mores—for seriously ill children. By 1989, when I started working there as a counselor, virtually everyone on staff would tell some version of the same story: Paul Newman, who had founded the camp when it became clear his little salad-dressing lark was accidentally going to earn him millions, stops by for one of his not-infrequent visits. He plops down at a table in the dining hall next to some kid with leukemia, or HIV, or sickle cell anemia, and starts to eat lunch. One version of the story has the kid look from the picture of Newman on the Newman’s Own lemonade carton to Newman himself, then back to the carton and back to Newman again before asking, “Are you lost?” Another version: The kid looks steadily at him and demands, “Are you really Paul Human?”

Newman loved those stories. He loved to talk about the little kids who had no clue who he was, this friendly old guy who kept showing up at camp to take them fishing.

Stephen Metcalf for Slate

Paul Newman was blessed with abnormally good looks and abnormally good scripts, but also something more: that magical quiddity that makes you celebrate someone for his strokes of good fortune. On the evidence of dozens of performances, he possessed no inclination to self-celebration, and so inspired no inclination to resentment. My two favorite stars, after the untouchable Cary Grant, are Newman and Nicholson. But if it’s Jack’s world and we just live in it, Newman always seemed happy to live in ours. He was inclined to “ordinary happiness,” as a professor of mine once beautifully put it, or the prerogative of the celebrity to freely choose the parameters of normal human satisfaction. His channel to godliness paved by good looks, charisma, and infallible instinct in front of a camera, he nonetheless married long, loved well, and did good works. (If there is more to this story—aside from racing cars—then I don’t want to know.) Who could begrudge him that twinkle? It was always on our behalf, never his.

David Eddelstein for New York Magazine

Paul Newman has died, damn it. He was the closest thing we’ve had in a movie star to a saint—and probably he’d say that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, which as far as I’m concerned is more proof. I’m not just talking about the hundreds of millions he earned for charity with his Newman’s Own products, or his persistent but judicious political activism. As an artist, he was self-deprecating, often deeply self-critical; he never assumed we’d love him because he was, you know, Paul Newman. When directors built him pedestals, he worked to earn his place on them. Early in his career, he studied the Method, but he never went in for the fumbly-mumbly self-plumbing that became its hallmark. He always threw his attention onto the other actors—which might be why, opposite him, so many became stars and won awards. Everyone looked brighter in his light.



~ by eaesthete on 09/27/08.

5 Responses to “Paul Newman: A Life Well Lived”

  1. it’s hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman’s Own line–high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes… very smart.

  2. He was a light in the forest; there is a saying, “Things of quality have no fear of time.” Where do we find such individuals? Only in America where they can achieve their greatness. A loss to all of us. God bless America and God bless Paul Newman.

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