Remembering Paul Newman
by J Blair Brown
It’s been five years since I heard the heartbreaking news. The rumors were true after all: Paul Newman had succumbed to cancer at his home in Westport, CT.
Paul Newman was bigger than anything that could ever been written about him, than any melody, any book, or than any film could portray. But before I go on about his award-winning roles, his charitable food empire, his race car career, and more, I absolutely must begin with his love for his beautiful and equally-talented wife, Joanne Woodward. Their love transcended far above the average Hollywood union, where newfound lovers are as common as a pair of worn socks, and discarded just as quickly.
Regarding his devotion to his wife, he once stated, “I have steak at home. Why go out for hamburger?” Something tells me he meant just that. Not that I am privy to all details of Newman’s lifestyle (or any details of theirs for that matter), but in all the years of the paparazzi hounding the Hollywood elite, very little, if any, trash has ever surfaced about this couple. And in Hollywood, that’s saying a lot.
The fact that they’d been married since 1958 says something much, much more. Theirs was a love of integrity.
Paul Newman was also a man of deep conviction. Years ago I watched him in an interview with Barbara Walters, who asked about the death of his son. This man, who seemed always to be more than gracious and open, simply stated that the interview was contingent upon not discussing the death of his son. He tactfully told Walters that he would not continue if she persisted. Naturally, she relented.
Even then I understood that Paul Newman was no show-boater. He stood for what he believed in and the rest be darned.
I remember the first time I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My favorite part was Butch (Newman) laughing at Sundance (Redford) when Sundance hesitated to jump off the cliff into raging waters to escape a posse because ‘he couldn’t swim.’ Butch (as only Newman could play him) threw his head back and gave a hearty laugh before saying, “The fall will probably kill ya’!” It was classic cinema at its finest.
Newman’s Michael Gallagher, the role he played opposite Sally Field in Absence of Malice, was one of my all-time favorites. As the unaffiliated son of a mob boss, Newman plays a quiet yet proud man who turns the tide on an overbearing federal agent bent on destroying him. Bad move, Mr. FBI-guy.
In The Verdict he played Frank Galvin, an extremely down-and-out attorney who goes head-to-head with a large law firm, when he takes on a client in an effort to sue a large hospital. As usual, Newman gives a stunning performance throughout, but the best part of the movie is the absolute last 30 seconds of the film. In that defining moment you see a man who has redeemed himself, albeit through pain and anguish. And as only the best actors can, he does so without a word.
I was only a child when I saw Cool Hand Luke for the first time. Even then I knew there was something too cool about this blue-eyed soul brother and his penchant for right and dignity. I didn’t really get the whole meaning behind the film at that time, but Luke wasn’t completely lost on me. The last time I saw it, I was so affected I swore I’d never see it again. It was just too good to repeat.
Newman and Redford reunited to make The Sting, the first movie ever to make me wish I had learned how to be a con-artist. Seriously. While watching The Towering Inferno, I wondered how bad could it be — you got Paul Newman there! I mean, seriously, if ya’ gotta go … Okay, totally kidding, but as soon as he was onscreen (alongside Steve McQueen), my anxieties disappeared.
His role with Kevin Costner in Message in a Bottle showed a kinder, gentler but stern father who helps his son heal from years of grief. Not a fan of the movie as a whole, but I could watch the film’s clips of Newman all day long.
And this is just the “work” stuff. Anyone who really followed the man knew that his race car was more his mistress than any Hollywood starlet could hope for. He loved driving fast cars – and like anything else he did – he was great at it.
But perhaps the most gracious of Newman’s accomplishments was his philanthropic nature. His Newman’s Own Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization, has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity – feeding, housing, clothing and educating people from all walks of life – all over the world. Whether it was popcorn, salad dressing or any of the other “anonymous” donations he made throughout his lifetime, it was Newman’s mantra to pay forward to those in need, the ones who are often forgotten. And he never benefited from a dime of monies earned through his organization.
There’s much more to say, but time and space elude me. The world has lost an enduring, endearing, phenomenal cinematic legend. But more than that, the world lost a man of redeeming quality … and Hollywood will never be the same.Tags: Absence of Malice, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kind, Cool Hand Luke, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, J Blair Brown, Legacy, Message in a Bottle, Newman's Own Foundation, Paul Newman, The Sting, The Towering Inferno, The Verdict