Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Remembrances of the iconic actor from Shirley MacLaine, Kenneth Tynan, Ralph Nader, Helen Caldicott and other notable figures.


Dana Cook
September 28, 2008 7:43PM (UTC)

Joshua Logan, film director: Bit part

For the bit part, Joker [in "Picnic"], a young filling station attendant who made a one-line pass at Madge, there applied a handsome young man who had left the Yale Drama School and was selling encyclopedias to support his wife and three children. He got the part of Joker and he also became Hal's understudy [drifter Hal Carter, played by William Holden]. His name was Paul Newman.

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The understudy we chose for Madge and Mille was talented enough to play either one of them. Her name was Joanne Woodward. (1955)

From "Josh: My Up and Down, In and Out Life," by Joshua Logan (Delacorte Press, 1976)

Rocky Graziano, boxer: Not one thing phony

Robert Wise, the director signed to do my picture, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," spots this kid doing a terrific job on the TV show and signs him to take Dean's place in my story [James Dean had just been killed in an automobile accident] ...

The studio arranges for me to meet Paul Newman and he shows up for the meeting wearin beat up slacks and a T-shirt. We click it off right away, when he grins at me like he's known me all my life. "Whataya say, Rock!" he says. "I read your book, and I saw you fight. It's amazing to see you are a man of letters."

He makes everybody laugh, and even though he kids me I could see right off there ain't one thing phony about this guy. Maybe there was. He was too good looking. In fact, the guy is pretty. That didn't matter because I knew they could fix up an flatten his nose for the part, an if they couldn't I do it for them. I could see in the guy's eyes that he was a fighter. He's got bright blue eyes, but when you look in 'em you see a hard look dancing around inside. Only one other guy I ever see these same eyes on an that was another friend of mine, Frank Sinatra. When their blue eyes spot a wise guy, the eyes say, "Don't fuck with me, man!"

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At that time, Newman was about twenty-nine or thirty, maybe three, four years younger than me, and his weight, around a hunnerd and sixty, was what I weighed during my best fighting days.

I find out the guy's an all-round athlete. Tennis, skis, swims like a fish, great ballplayer. The guy not only does 'em all, he does 'em good, and now I'm gonna teach him how to fight in the ring. When you see this guy with his clothes on, he's a fooler. I find out fast in the gym that Paul is a lot stronger than he looks. (1956)

From "Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too," by Rocky Graziano with Ralph Corsel (Stein & Day, 1981)

Irv Kupcinet, columnist and broadcaster: Assaulted a police officer

Actor Paul Newman was [one] of so many whom I first came to know when they came to my town ... When Newman arrived in Chicago for the opening of the picture that sprung him to stardom, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," he made many people angry. The movie was a hit, and so was Newman's driving. As he left the scene of an accident in Chicago, he assaulted a police officer and made some very tasteless jokes about a recent kidnapping. Paul obviously wanted to be a race car driver even then. In fairness, Newman's energy was later channeled into more admirable avenues, as he developed into a major star. (1956)

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From "Kup: A Man, an Era, a City," by Irv Kupcinet with Paul Neimark (Bonus Books, 1988)

A. E. Hotchner, journalist, screenwriter and biographer: Assuming a pug's persona

The tragic news reached us that [James] Dean had been crushed to death in an accident involving his souped-up sports car ... Arthur [director Arthur Penn] suggested we try to perform the play ["The Battler," for television] with Newman, whom he had worked with at the Actors Studio, in the lead ...

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During the beginning of rehearsals Newman was totally out of sync, floundering, trying to discover something in himself while questioning if indeed it was there at all. This was the way Hemingway described the character Newman had to play: "His nose was sunken, his eyes were slits, he had queer shaped lips ... the face was queerly formed and mutilated. It was like putty in color ... He had only one ear. It was thickened and tight against the side of his head. Where the other ear should have been there was a stump."

Paul went through countless disappointing rehearsals, and I felt sorry for him, because he had been talked into this part that he knew he wasn't suited for. But, then, one morning he started to rehearse a pivotal scene at the trackside campsite, and there suddenly emerged the slurred, halting speech, the stiff-legged shuffle, the jerks and twitches of a stumblebum prizefighter. This accomplishment was not an accident. Paul had started to hang out at the YMCA in downtown Los Angeles, a run-down building that was located next to the grubby gym where the local boxers worked out. Newman had found a punch-drunk old welterweight with whom he had made friends, and now he was slowly assuming the old pug's persona. It was a thrilling metamorphosis that can be likened to the way a sculptor works on a lump of clay, refining its contours, sharpening and defining its shape until it is transformed into the form he wants it to be. (1956)

From "Choice People: The Greats, Near-Greats, and Ingrates I Have Known," by A. E. Hotchner (William Morrow, 1984)

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John Clellon Holmes, novelist and chronicler of Beat generation: Golden glow

Newman and Joanne Woodward took the [restaurant] booth opposite ours. Frankly, they were the most stunning couple I had ever seen; there was a kind of golden glow to them that wasn't merely Bloomingdale's chic or cinema magic, but bespoke the natural accretive process by which character develops, a certain completeness of spirit, that made me gawk with the rest of the room at the sight of people who seemed so fortunate, so fair. They epitomized everything (money, fame, integrity, love) for which all the compacted hungers of that place longed. Nelson [Algren] exchanged a few words with them, and then left them to their quiet supper amid the hubbub. (New York, 1959)

From "Representative Men: The Biographical Essays," by John Clellon Holmes (University of Arkansas Press, 1988)

Adam West, actor: Inspiration

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I got my first film, "The Young Philadelphians," in which Paul Newman and Barbara Rush played an ambitious lawyer and his high-society girlfriend. Though we're contemporaries, I played Paul's rotten stepfather in a flashback.

Paul's work on the film was an inspiration to me. He was very intense and professional, and he was generous with whomever he was playing opposite. His commitment helped make us all look good, and I was surprised to learn from one of the costars that he wasn't happy with the script or the film. In fact, he wasn't happy with Warner Brothers, period. At first I was taken aback to hear that this rocket-hot star who was making prestigious films was disgruntled. Then I learned that his salary was around $25,000 a film, even when the studio loaned him out for three times that (banking the difference). Considering the success of pictures like "Somebody Up There Likes Me," "The Long, Hot Summer," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," I couldn't really blame him for being upset. And just a few months after "The Young Philadelphians" opened, Paul coughed up a half-million dollars to buy out the remaining three years of his contract. It proved to be a good investment: he got nearly a quarter-million dollars for his next film, "Sweet Bird of Youth," and never looked back.

I was still relatively happy to be getting my $250 a week, but I have to admit that Paul's example made a big impression on me. I began to wonder how I'd do on my own. (Hollywood, 1959)

From "Back to the Batcave," by Adam West with Jeff Rovin (Berkley Books, 1994)

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Shirley MacLaine, actor: Defied all the pitfalls of Hollywood

Paul Newman ("What a Way to Go," 1964) is a really pleasant, but reticent friend. In real life, I've always had the feeling he wished he were somewhere else ... racing cars probably. He enjoys speed and defying gravity. I watched him drink nearly a case of beer a day, do hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups, and after a steam bath, look as lean and trim as if he had been on a fast. Paul was a method actor back then with questions like "I need to know whether my character makes love with his boots on or not." When I suggested he probably made love to his boots, we got the scene.

Paul was one of the first actors to display political acumen and courage in his campaign for Gene McCarthy in 1972. He debated Charlton Heston on the evils of nuclear testing and won. He became a stable and well-informed voice for the moderate left of the Democratic party. I admire his social conscience, but more, I have deep respect for his graceful approach to aging, the longevity of his career, and the solidity of his marriage. He is a man who had defied all of the pitfalls of Hollywood.

From "My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir," by Shirley MacLaine (Bantam Books, 1995)

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Marsha Mason, actor: Hanging with his racing buddies

Paul and I ran into each other on an American Airlines flight from New York to L.A. I asked him what was bringing him to the West Coast. He said, "racing," and graciously invited me out to the track. He was racing at Riverside Raceway, in Riverside, California. It was the last race that track would have. He told me how to get there and what to wear so that I could hang out in the pits. I hadn't been that happy since I married Neil [playwright Neil Simon] ...

Having the opportunity to hang out with Paul Newman and his racing team was what heaven is surely like ... That first invitation from Paul led to many others ...

Paul is shy, serious, funny, kind, a little distant, and a lot of fun. Being a handsome movie star there's a big price to pay. You have to search for privacy, and then there's the way men and women go crazy around you. (late 1960s)

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From "Journey: A Personal Odyssey," by Marsha Mason (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Robert Stone, novelist: An obviously shy and considerate man

My London telephone rang ... Paul Newman wanted to make a film of "A Hall of Mirrors" ...

I was flown to Indiana, where Newman was filming a picture about the Indianapolis 500 ... We hung out and talked about the possibilities: It was heady stuff. I really had not known what to expect from him. I thought his politics pretty agreeable, and I knew he could command his space. This could be misleading, I thought; he might prove to be a swaggering superbo and a hectoring know-it-all. Newman, as I met him, in his forty-fourth year, turned out to be an obviously shy and considerate man, of grace and reserve. I thought there was a lot of the Midwest about him. (1969)

From "Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties," by Robert Stone (HarperCollins, 2007)

Tim Rice, lyricist: Almost Elvis-like stature

Paul Newman introduced himself to us on an aeroplane when we were flying from L.A. to New York. He had a cassette of [Rice's musical "Jesus Christ] Superstar" in his pocket and, as he was of almost Elvis-like stature, we were awestruck. We became pals for a while, the three-hour chat on the flight being followed by dinner in New York and eventually an invitation to spend the weekend at his house in Connecticut, which Andrew [Lloyd Webber, Rice's creative partner] bewilderingly declined. I had a marvelous time chez Newman, playing pool with him on the table that had starred in "The Hustler," and becoming entranced with his wife, Joanne Woodward, and one of his daughters, Nell, then only around twelve, who owned and trained a falcon. I was too shy to ask Paul or Joanne if I could have a photo taken with them and, instead, my lasting souvenir of the stay are some pictures of a young girl with a mean-looking bird on her arm. Career-wise, Newman was as hot as he ever was at that time, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" having been his most recent triumph. He was the most dominating of personalities, but not in an arrogant way, an icy armour of detachment slipping into place when on public display, replaced by a slightly intimidating warmth when with family and friends. I shall never forget Joanne Woodward bringing me a cup of tea in the morning. (1970)

From "Oh, What a Circus: The Autobiography, 1944-1978," by Tim Rice (Hodder & Stoughton, 1999)

Michael Medved, movie critic: Knowledgeable and just slightly unhinged

Campaigning [for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Duffey] with the ... star we sent around the state [Connecticut]: the irrepressible and irresistible Paul Newman, who came across as earthy, intelligent, sincerely impassioned, knowledgeable about the issues, and just slightly unhinged. The actor refused to use the stump speeches [campaign manager] Anne Wexler had asked me to write for him, insisting on "speaking from the heart" -- so that those of us who accompanied him lived in almost constant fear of some disastrous comment, or an inappropriately off-color joke (he loved to tell them both in public and private), or the sort of maudlin and meandering incoherence (as he spoke of the need for peace and racial justice and government that helps the little guy) that might attract nasty comments by the press. As it turned out, we needn't have worried: he was Paul Newman, and the youthful, mostly female, hysterically cheering throngs who flocked to his events -- as well as the star-struck reporters who covered those events -- longed to gaze upon his big-screen magnificence rather than to analyze his words. At one airport rally, he began as he usually did, declaring that he spoke not as a movie star but as a citizen, a taxpayer, a husband, and a father of five. When he mentioned the wife and children, a spectacularly buxom blonde in the front row released a disappointed "Awww!" Newman turned his laserlike, blue-eyed gaze directly upon her and promised, "Don't worry, honey! I've still got plenty of mustard left!" (1970)

From "Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons From a Controversial Life," by Michael Medved (Crown Forum/Random House, 2004)

Myrna Loy, actor: Who's that lucky old lady?

When I was touring in "Don Juan in Hell," we played a college town near New Orleans. Paul happened to be there shooting "The Drowning Pool," so I went to see him that afternoon. I remember walking down a country road past every kid in town waiting to glimpse Paul Newman. When he saw me, he rushed over, threw his arms around me, and kissed me, eliciting a collective swoon from those kids, who were probably wondering, who's that lucky old lady? We went off and talked until they called him back to work. (1974)

From "Being and Becoming," by Myrna Loy with James Kotsilibas-Davis (Donald I. Fine, 1987)

Mike Medavoy, film producer and studio executive: A closet biologist

Newman was by far the most important actor UA had a deal with. He was white hot in 1974, thanks to "The Sting" ... I visited Newman at his house in Connecticut to discuss his next project for UA. Personally, I had a loose connection with him -- I had packaged the writer-producer side of "The Sting" -- which I thought would be a good starting point for our discussion.

But there was a blizzard the day of my trip to Connecticut, so I arrived all bundled up. Larger than life, Newman greeted me at the door, shirtless, with an ice cold beer in his hand. "Have a brew," he said. "You'll feel better." Of course, he said, he remembered my role in putting together "The Sting," but after the small talk ended, the big star broke the bad news to the desperate, neophyte studio executive. Not only did he not have a film in mind, Newman told me that he was quitting acting altogether to pursue something far more important to the world as a whole. He was going to study to become a marine biologist. So after a two-year negotiation, we had a production deal with a closet biologist.

From "You're Only As Good As Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot," by Mike Medavoy with Josh Young (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Kenneth Tynan, theater critic: His politics have veered to the right

Dinner last night at Ma Maison ... Spent most of evening talking to Newmans [Paul and his wife, Joanne Woodward], whom I haven't seen for ages. Paul's looks seem to improve with time: to call him a mature version of the Michelangelo David wouldn't be an exaggeration. He tells me that until a few years ago he could consume up to twenty-four cans of beer per day (on the set) plus a fifth of Scotch and a few bottles of wine. Now he drinks only beer, with the odd glass of wine after dinner. His face bears no signs of a hard-drinking past: I assume that cosmetic surgery has cleared up the pouches and broken veins. His politics have veered to the right since I first knew him, twenty years ago -- e.g. "I'd rather have illegal Mexican immigrants coming in to do the dirty jobs at low wages than legal ones living on welfare out of my pocket." He expresses admiration for John Wayne. (London, 1977)

From "The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan," edited by John Lahr (Bloomsbury, 2001)

Paul Mazursky, filmmaker: No pretense

"Tempest" was a complicated and adventurous script based on Shakespeare's "The Tempest." I'd had the idea of doing this film for years and had tried several forms. Every time I'd finish a film I would think about doing "The Tempest" ....

"Who do you see as Phillip?" Frank [Price] asked me. I went down a short list of names. When I got to Paul Newman, Frank stopped me. "Let's get it to him." A few days later I had lunch with Newman at the 20th Century Fox commissary. He was much smaller than I expected, but he was beautiful. His blue eyes went right through you. There was no pretense to the man. I told him the story of "Tempest" and gave him the script. He promised an answer within a few days. I felt that he was perfect. Not only that, his presence would make the film more commercial. Several days later Newman called me at home from his house in Connecticut. "Pablo [for some reason he called me 'Pablo'] I just don't get it." He told me how much he admired my films, but this was not the one for him. "I just don't get it, Pablo." I made no effort to dissuade him. (1980)

From "Show Me the Magic," by Paul Mazursky (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Helen Caldicott, physician and Nuclear Freeze advocate: So restrained

I stood before a gathering of film stars at the Playboy mansion in Hollywood ... It was a meeting to promote a forthcoming edition that featured excerpts from Robert Scheer's book "With Enough Shovels," which described the [Reagan] administration's ludicrous defense plans for the American public in the event of a nuclear war ... For the first time I met Paul Newman, who smiled from those brilliant blue eyes, bowed, and kissed my hand.

Paul spoke first, and though he was articulate and well prepared, I was surprised to find him so restrained. It was as if he was aware that he was a film star, but when he spoke against nuclear war, he had to be an ordinary person, very serious with no hint of acting. I knew he felt passionately about the subject, but as I was to observe on later occasions, he always pulled back when he discussed it, perhaps thinking that too much emotion would lessen his credibility. (1983)

"From "A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography," by Helen Caldicott (Norton, 1996)

Susan Mulcahy, gossip columnist: Shit-listed

Though Page Six [of the New York Post] functioned separately from the news desk, it couldn't escape some of the internal decisions that affected all editorial departments. Like the shit list.

The shit list -- containing the names of people who were Not Our Friends ...

Paul Newman occupied the apex of the shit list. During the filming of "Fort Apache, the Bronx" in New York in 1980, a photo taken on the set of the movie appeared on Page Six, with this caption: "Paul Newman stares in astonishment as a 'Fort Apache' crew member wards off a group of Hispanic youths protesting the film." The story involved supposedly anti-"Fort Apache" groups criticizing the film's content.

An outraged Newman slammed the story as untrue and unfair, and, after that, never talked to the press without expressing his opinions of the Post and its owner.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1983, he said the film "Absence of Malice" was "a direct attack on the New York Post. Well, put it this way: I was emotionally receptive to doing a piece about sloppy journalism. I wish I could sue the Post, but it's awfully hard to sue a garbage can."

Newman told the magazine that he hated Rupert Murdoch almost as much as he hated nuclear warheads ...

From "My Lips Are Sealed: Confessions of a Gossip Columnist," by Susan Mulcahy (Dolphin/ Doubleday, 1988)

Ralph Nader, consumer crusader and one-time presidential candidate: Steeped in policies

There seems to be no end to Newman's talents. At the top of his craft as an actor, he entered professional auto racing at the age when most racers complete their careers. He's a smart and effortlessly charming figure who was so steeped in military weapon policies that one would have felt sorry for Gore or Bush had either had to debate him. A longtime advocate of international arms control, Newman for years has taken this issue to television talk shows and the like.

Paul Newman was not turning Green. He was and still is a Democrat and has endured much evasion, cowardliness and dissembling by Democratic politicians without splitting from the party. But he and his celebrated wife, Joanne Woodward, seemed to be near their limits and saw my candidacy as at least shaking up the stagnation of the Democrats and broadening the political debate on issues about which they cared deeply.

From "Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President," by Ralph Nader (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2002)


Dana Cook

Dana Cook is a Toronto freelance editor and literary ambulance chaser. His collage portraits of Marlon Brando, Johnny Carson, Saul Bellow and Hunter S. Thompson have appeared previously in Salon.

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