When Paul Newman closed his eyes for the last time, Hollywood lost a little bit of its brightness, writes Zelda Cunningham.
Paul Newman died on the 26th September 2008, after a long struggle with lung cancer. The actor was a relic from the now, faded glamour and dignity of Hollywood, but Newman’s strength and appeal survived, keeping him on the silver screen until the last years of his life.
Paul Newman’s striking looks with his steely, luminous stare are undoubtedly what brought him to the attention of the world, however it is his lasting input to his art form and his legacy of philanthropy that will see him remembered.
Despite being borne of an era of onerous studio contracts that moulded stars into a sellable public persona, Newman retained a sense of naturalism and organic realism that was evocative of his strength and power.
Paul Newman was born in Ohio in 1925. His father, the owner of a sports outlet, was of German-Jewish descent.
With the outbreak of WWII, Newman joined the Navy, escaping from the conflict alive due to a twist of fate while many of his comrades died in action.
On leaving the army, Newman graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and in 1949, married his first wife, Jacqueline Witte, with whom he would have three children, Scott (who died of an overdose in 1978), Susan and Stephanie.
After the death of his father, Newman was expected to manage his father’s sports store, but opted instead to uproot his family and move to New Haven, Connecticut. Here he began studying at Yale Drama School with the aim of fulfilling his ambition to become a drama teacher.
Newman always displayed a passion for civil rights, veering more to left wing politics, vocally supporting same-sex marriage and publically displaying his support for Democratic politicians
However fate was to intervene again in the life of Newman. His striking all-American looks and of course, the sapphire blaze of his eyes, were quickly spotted for his commercial appeal.
However, not everything Newman put his name to turned to gold.
His silver screen debut, The Silver Chalice (1954) was unceremoniously dubbed a ‘flop’, a response echoed with reviews of Slap Shot (1977), and Quintet (1979).
His role as an understudy in an adaptation of Faulkner’s Long Hot Summer introduced Newman to his second wife, Joanne Woodward. After divorcing Witte, Newman would spend the rest of his life with Woodward and his three daughters. Describing his commitment to his wife, Newman famously stated, “Why go out for hamburger when you can stay home and have steak?”
Newman’s status as a legendary actor was solidified with his earthy, dignified portrayal of major roles which sealed his fate as a member of the Hollywood elite.
The Hustler (1961), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1971) and his Academy Award-winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Colour of Money (1986), the unofficial sequel of The Hustler, are still extraordinarily popular pieces and have not been surmounted by any new Hollywood pretenders.
His later roles, for example in Road to Perdition and his voice work for Disney/Pixar production of Cars in 2006 emphasised the timeless appeal of Newman to a range of audiences.
Despite his success as an actor, appearing in over 50 feature films, producing and directing both film and stage productions and winning 36 awards, including an Academy Award and an Academy Life Time Achievement Award, Newman was in no way consumed with Hollywood.
Newman always displayed a passion for civil rights, veering more to left wing politics, vocally supporting same-sex marriage and publically displaying his support for Democratic politicians.
In 1982, Newman teamed up with writer, A.E. Hotcher, to form the Newman’s Own company which continues to donate the profits from selling salad dressing and pasta sauces to charity. To date his charity has offered €250 million for this cause.
Through his Hole in the Wall charity, named after the hideout in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Newman has created summer camps for children. Barretstown camp in Co Wicklow for children with serious-illnesses was founded by funds allocated by this charity.
Newman’s daughter, Melissa has asked that her father be remembered for his charity, not his acting. For those entranced by his romantic persona, this may be difficult. However, as the years progress, Newman’s legacy will dissipate from the limelight and he may become a figurehead for more both his performances and humanitarianism.