Accessibility options

Paul Newman - Biography

TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Paul Newman - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web

Paul Newman

Personal details

Name: Paul Newman
Born: 26 January 1925
Where: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Died: 28 September 2008 (Aged: 83)
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 1 BAFTA, 6 Golden Globes

All about this star


It was never easy for screen mega-stars to grow old gracefully and stay on top at the same time. Tied to the action genre, even Clint Eastwood began to look stale and a little frail, his body too old to convince us he was still a genuine tough guy. Robert Redford meanwhile, chained to his sex symbol image, chose to play only ladykillers, employing ever-softer focus to get away with it. Marlon Brando simply ignored the whole process.

There was, though, one old-school superstar who pulled it off without too much of a hitch. Where Eastwood waited for age to make him suitable for Unforgiven, and then slipped back into pretending he was far younger, Paul Newman recognised the passing of time, chose his roles carefully and stuck to his guns. Thus he was the only pretty-boy screen-god to retain the absolute respect of critics and public alike. This was why, in late age, he was Sam Mendes' first choice to play gangster John Rooney in Road To Perdition - because he would be wholly on the ball and not the least bit overshadowed by the presence of Tom Hanks or next-generation pretty-boy Jude Law. Indeed, they'd be more concerned that he would blow them off the screen. To the end, his talent and charisma meant he was one of the greatest film actors of all time.

He was born Paul Leonard Newman on the 26th of January, 1925, in Shaker Heights, an affluent suburb of Cleveland. His father, Arthur, was Jewish and ran a profitable sports goods store. His mother, Theresa (nee Fetzer), was Catholic and helped out in the shop, while raising Paul and his brother Arthur (later a producer and production manager). Young Paul was bright and good at sports. He also showed an early interest in theatre, something that Theresa encouraged. He made his acting debut at 7, as the court jester in a school production of Robin Hood.

Paul graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943. He briefly attended Ohio University at Athens, but was expelled for (allegedly) crashing a keg of beer into the president's car. It was clear that young Newman was possessed of the same bravado and sense of mischief as one of his most famous characters - Lucas Jackson from Cool Hand Luke. For a while, he wandered, at one point selling Collier's Encyclopaedias door-to-door.

With the war on, he now tried to enlist in the Naval Air Corps, keen to serve as a pilot. Quickly, though, tests showed that those famous blue eyes were in fact blind to colour. Instead of gallantly strafing the foe, Newman had to be content as a radio operator on torpedo bombers in the South Pacific.

On his return, he won an athletic scholarship to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, a liberal arts college affiliated to the Episcopal Church. Here he played football till the Luke in him burst forth again. After "an incident" at a local bar, he spent the night in Knox County Jail and was summarily thrown off the team. Needing a replacement extra-curricular activity, he returned to drama, appearing in several college productions, and in summer-stock in Wisconsin, with the Williams Bay Repertory Company.

Graduating with a BA in English in 1949, he relocated to Chicago, where he worked with the renowned Woodstock Players. He also met and married actress Jackie Witte, who quickly gave birth to a son, Scott. But as one life began, so another ended. In 1950, Arthur Newman Sr passed away, leaving Paul to run the family store. A decision had to be made - stay in Cleveland where there would be security for his young family, or continue to pursue his dream of acting. Paul chose to risk it. He sold his share in the business to his brother and moved Jackie and Scott to New Haven, Connecticut, where he joined the graduate drama programme at prestigious Yale University.

In the short time he spent at Yale, two more daughters were born, Stephanie and Susan. With his family growing, Paul needed success sooner rather than later. It would not take long. During breaks in classes, he travelled down to New York to seek work, in 1952 scoring a recurring part in The Aldrich Family. This was a popular show based on a radio series and following a middle class family through their lives on Elm Street, Centerville (this Elm Street helped form the American suburban idyll, later so hilariously assaulted by Freddie Krueger).

1952 also brought the single biggest influence on Newman's later career. Moving to New York, he was accepted at the renowned Actors Studio, studying The Method under Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. He learned quickly. By the next year, he was a hit in his big Broadway debut, Picnic, winning a Theatre World Award. More importantly, he was spotted by Warner Brothers executives, who signed him up. (These were the last days of the Star System, when big studios would contract would-be screen gods, and groom them for stardom).

Leaving Jackie and the kids in New York, he took off for Hollywood. But success did not come immediately. Indeed, Newman first had to endure humiliation that would haunt him all his life. In The Silver Chalice, he played Basil (doesn't bode well, does it?), a Greek artisan who makes an ornate holder for the goblet employed by Jesus at the Last Supper. He goes to Jerusalem, he goes to Rome, he struggles to prevent the wicked Jack Palance from conning everyone into thinking he's the New Messiah - it was epic stuff, but terrible. Despite being billed as "the new Brando", reviews were vicious. Indeed, it was so bad Newman actually took out a full-page advert in a trade paper, apologising to film-goers for his performance.

Returning to New York and the stage, he starred in The Desperate Hours. There was plenty of good TV work, too. This was the Golden Age of American television, with many series featuring live performances by the world's best-known actors. He appeared twice in You Are There, historical re-enactments hosted by Walter Cronkite, and twice in The Web, which had earlier starred Grace Kelly, James Dean and an up-and-coming actress named Joanne Woodward. There was The Mask, the Goodyear Television Playhouse and the Philco Television Playhouse (the last two having also featured Woodward). For Philco, he starred in The Death Of Billy The Kid, with Jason Robards, while for the Producers' Showcase he appeared in Our Town, starring Frank Sinatra and Eve Marie Saint, playing the youngster who sings Love And Marriage.

Next it was back to Hollywood for The Rack, with Lee Marvin, which involved the homecoming of a Korean war vet, charged with collaboration after being tortured and brainwashed and trying to convince his comrades they were fighting an unjust war. Again the reviews were poor, and the movie was pulled quickly from cinemas.

Then, suddenly, at the age of 31, Newman's breakthrough came. In Somebody Up There Likes Me (with his Silver Chalice co-star Pier Angeli), he played Rocky Graziano, a young tearaway who finds trouble on the streets and then in jail, gets drafted, goes AWOL and then finds redemption in the boxing-ring. Alternately troubled and effusive, Newman was superb, bringing great depth to the character. At last, he was on his way.

Things moved fast. In The Helen Morgan Story, he played a gun-runner and con-man who gets involved with the '30s singing star of the title. Then in New Zealand-set war romance Until They Sail, back with his Somebody Up There...director Robert Wise, he was involved with four sisters (including Jean Simmons and Piper Laurie) and a murder.

Both these movies were released in 1957, a landmark year for Newman for off-screen reasons, too. For a start, he won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer, an award he shared with Anthony "Psycho" Perkins and John "Er, The Pit And The Pendulum?" Kerr. Then, while filming his next picture, The Long Hot Summer, he became involved with co-star Joanne Woodward, who'd that year won the Best Actress Oscar for The Three Faces Of Eve. Divorce from Jackie Witte soon followed. A year later, he would marry Woodward, beginning one of Hollywood's longest unions. When later asked why he never strayed, Newman said "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?". They'd produce three more children - Elinor, Melissa and Claire. Elinor, taking the name of Nell Potts would become an actress, too. Indeed, when she was young she was down to play opposite her father in Paper Moon, but the director dropped out and so did they, leaving the way open from Ryan and Tatum O'Neal to clean up.

The Long Hot Summer, based on the work of William Faulkner, saw Newman as Ben Quick, drummed out of one Mississippi town for the revenge-burning of a barn, then turning up in Frenchman's Bend. Here he works for big cheese Orson Welles and is pushed into a relationship with Welles' daughter (Woodward). Tense and well-made by debuting director Martin Ritt (like Paul a free-thinker and libertarian and with whom Newman would make some of his better pictures), it was another hit, and won Newman Best Actor at Cannes.

Now came the first real blockbuster. With Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, which paired Method-man Brando with great beauty Vivien Leigh, having been a mighty success, Hollywood was ready for a repeat. So, Method-newboy Newman was teamed with Elizabeth Taylor in Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Here Paul was Brick Pollitt, a drunken ex-football star who's abusing his wife (Taylor, as Maggie The Cat) and destroying his marriage. Meanwhile, Brick's father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) who favours Brick above all his family, is dying and his estate is up for grabs. But he'll only give part of it to sons who have kids - and Brick and Maggie have none (in the play, this is because Brick's a homosexual).

The film was one of the biggest grossers of the year - despite the fact that Williams hated it and went out telling cinema queues to go home - and sealed Newman's image as "a troubled opportunist whose sex appeal was balanced by his seeming contempt for women". It also earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Next came The Left Handed Gun, where he once again played Billy The Kid (a role originally intended for James Dean), this time as an essentially decent child ruined by a tempestuous temper. Incredible, really, that at 32 Newman could still play teenagers. Then came his first comedy, actually a thoroughly out-of-character rough-house sex comedy called Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!, where a small town protests at the building of a missile base nearby. Co-starring were Woodward and a young Joan Collins. Then there was The Young Philadelphians, where he was a young lawyer whose grand social aspirations are set against his sense of loyalty when his best friend is accused of murder. Robert Vaughn was Oscar nominated for his efforts as the alleged killer.

After Rally Round The Flag, Boys!, Newman had returned to the New York stage in another Tennessee Williams effort, Sweet Bird Of Youth. Then, back in Hollywood, he bought himself out of his contract with Warner Brothers, and was soon enjoying two more big hits. First was Otto Preminger's Exodus, an adaptation of Leon Uris's novel about the foundation and early defence of the state of Israel. Then came John O'Hara's From The Terrace, where he played a high-financier who's married into wealth and must choose between his beautiful but faithless wife (Woodward once more) and true love with a much younger woman.

Now came another of Newman's signature roles, as cocky pool-shark Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler. Challenging Jackie Gleason's veteran Minnesota Fats to a marathon duel, he loses big money and goes on the skids. Then, with the help of gritty manager George C. Scott, he hits the road and attempts to rebuild his career. Both Newman and Gleason were Oscar-nominated, as was Piper Laurie, later nominated again as Carrie's mad mum. In The Hustler, Laurie played Newman's horribly mistreated girlfriend, a woman he slaps around. This raises an interesting point about Newman. Despite his use of the Method (Newman himself actually claimed he was fascinated by it, but couldn't make it work for him), he's always a really likeable guy onscreen, no matter what kind of swine he's playing - and he's played some real swine. Thus, he complicates matters, his personality somehow justifying his characters' bad behaviour. Many find this confusing, and lambast Newman for it. Others enjoy the moral challenge.

Next came Paris Blues, another movie with Martin Ritt, this time addressing feminism and civil rights, with Newman as a rising jazz star in France. Louis Armstrong and Diahann Carroll also featured, as did Sidney Poitier. Ten years later, in 1971, Paul would form a new production company with Poitier, along with Barbra Streisand and Steve McQueen. Called First Artists, it would be inspired by United Artists, its role being to give performers a chance to produce their own projects.

Back in the States, Newman starred in the film version of Sweet Bird Of Youth as Chance Wayne, returning to his home town with a faded film star and meeting his old flame, a girl whose father, the town's head honcho, would very much like a word. It was an excellent production though, as with all Hollywood adaptations, much of Williams' earthiness was excised. Ed Begley Sr won an Oscar for his efforts, while Shirley Knight was nominated. If you want serious recognition as an actor, it's always been a good idea to stand near Paul Newman.

After this, and an appearance in Ritt's collage of Hemingway stories, Adventures Of A Young Man, Newman stuck with Ritt once more for another of his best-known roles, in Hud. Here Melvyn Douglas played a straight-laced landowner, battling to keep his ranch going in the face of an arid landscape and a bad boy son. This is Paul, drunken, libidinous and arrogant - another of Newman's total bastards, who comes close to raping housekeeper Patricia Neal. To further prove that point about serious recognition, Neal won a Best Actress Oscar, and Douglas Best Supporting Actor. Newman himself was nominated as Best Actor.

The same year, 1963, saw Newman back in Paris for fashion industry satire A New Kind Of Love, as a journalist interviewing Joanne Woodward in the mistaken belief that she's an expensive prostitute. Then he was Andrew Craig in The Prize, in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and drawn into spy-style intrigue.

Next there was the black comedy What A Way To Go!, where Shirley MacLaine donates millions to the tax-man and is promptly sent to a psychiatrist. In therapy she discusses how each of her husbands was killed by their pursuit of money - Newman featuring alongside Gene Kelly and Robert Mitchum. Then it was back to Martin Ritt for The Outrage, a remake of Kurosawa's Rashomon, which told the tale of a rape/murder from four different vantage-points, Newman playing a Mexican bandit.

Lady L, directed by Peter Ustinov, had an elderly woman recounting her loves and bawdy adventures, Newman co-starring with Sophia Loren and David Niven. Then came Harper, written by William Goldman who'd soon pen one of Newman's greatest roles. Here Paul played Lew Harper, a top-line PD called in by Lauren Bacall to find her missing hubbie, Robert Wagner appearing as her suspect pilot friend and Strother Martin as a manic cult leader. This was followed by Torn Curtain, sadly one of Hitchcock's weaker efforts, where Paul played a rocket scientist who appears to defect to the East.

1967 brought two more classics. In Hombre, yet again directed by Ritt, he played a half-breed Apache who's accepted by whites when they think he's white too, but shunned when they discover he's not. Then, when bad guys attack their stagecoach, they really don't care what colour he is, as long as he saves them. And then came Cool Hand Luke where, as Lucas Jackson, he cuts the heads off parking-meters and is condemned to Road Prison 36. Refusing to ever back down, he gets pulverised then befriended by George Kennedy's Dragline, then wins over the men by scoring them rest-time and very nearly eating 50 eggs. But he doesn't win over Strother Martin's boss-man ("What we have here is a failure to communicate") whose punishments for Newman's escape attempts become ever more brutal. Luke will not stop, though. His prison number, 37 (it's said), was a reference to the Bible, Luke 1:37, which says simply "For with God nothing is impossible".

It was a fantastic movie (and a lucky break, as Telly Savalas was down to play Luke but wouldn't fly back from Europe), with Newman Oscar-nominated once again (Kennedy, naturally, won one). Paul moved on to The Secret War Of Harry Frigg where, as an another incorrigible guard-house escapee, he's promoted to 2-star general and sent to break out five one-star generals captured in Italy. They can't break out on their own because none of them will accept orders from the others. That year, 1968, also saw Newman and Woodward campaign full-time for Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, then battling against Tricky Dicky Nixon.

1969 was another big year. First there was Winning where he played Frank Capua, an obsessive indie-car racer who's losing his wife (Woodward again) to his main rival (Wagner again). The movie was a very public admittance of his real-life love for car-racing, which he'd now take up in deadly earnest. In 1972, he'd drive his Lotus Elan to victory at Thompson, Connecticut. In '77 he came 5th in the 24-hour Daytona meeting, then two years later came 2nd at Le Mans. '76 brought the first of 4 SCCA National titles in the D-production category, and he was still winning big races well into his sixties. Beyond this, he fielded his own indie drivers - big names like Al Unser, Teo Fabi and Keke Rosberg - and, in 1983, joined up with Carl Haas to form the famous Newman-Haas team.

Also in 1969 there was more Oscar glory. Just as he'd take up racing seriously, so he'd seriously moved into producing and directing, in '68 making Rachel, Rachel. Here Woodward played a down-at-heel Connecticut spinster, badly bossed by her mother, who gets one last chance at romance. It was sweet and deep, sorrowful and joyous, and won Academy Award nominations for Woodward, co-star Estelle Parsons, and writer Stewart Stern (who'd years earlier penned Newman's The Rack, as well Rebel Without A Cause). It was also nominated as Best Film.

And '69 also brought that William Goldman-penned role, as Butch in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Here he teamed up with Robert Redford's Sundance, robbed trains, fled from the most persistent trackers in the West, famously escaping by jumping off a cliff, and went to Bolivia (via New York) where they unsuccessfully took on hundreds of soldiers.

Originally, Steve McQueen was up for playing Sundance, but he demanded equal billing with Newman. Having both names above the title, with McQueen's on the right-hand side of the poster, wasn't good enough. People always read the left-hand name first. So, a new solution was worked out. Both names would go above the title, BUT the name on the right would be a little higher, giving the impression that the stars were indeed equal in ability, charisma and manliness. And it STILL didn't work out. Asked whether he wanted his name on the left or right, Newman said he didn't care. McQueen, who really, REALLY cared, suspected that Newman was playing a trick on him, and pulled out of the project altogether. Five years later, McQueen would finally agree to this poster set-up when the two starred together in The Towering Inferno.

Oh, as an aside, there's a reason why the New York segment of Butch is a montage of photos. Director George Roy Hill had wanted to use the sets of Hello Dolly, being filmed on the next soundstage, but was refused at the last minute. Consequently, he took stills of Newman, Redford and Katherine Ross on the Hello Dolly set and mixed them in with genuine old photos of the Big Apple.

As the Seventies began, Newman worked once more with Woodward and - showing that he likes a familiar team around him - Cool Hand Luke director Stuart Rosenberg, on WUSA. Here Paul played another cynical drifter, this time getting work at a New Orleans radio station with sinister connections to a ruthless right-wing organisation. Paul just doesn't care till he's challenged by Woodward and his former Best Newcomer rival, Anthony Perkins.

1971 took him back to directing with an adaptation of Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, in which he also starred. Featuring Henry Fonda and Lee Remick (who'd earlier appeared beside Newman in The Long Hot Summer), this freewheeling comedy-drama concerned a fiercely independent family lumberjacking in Oregon. Keeping up the Newman tradition, Richard Jaeckel would be Oscar-nominated.

Next, he was back with Rosenberg, as well as Lee Marvin and Strother Martin, in Pocket Money, where he played a poor cow-poke getting turned over by a sneaky rancher. Then came a John Huston double-header. In The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean, he was an outlaw, bashed up and left to die, who then creates his own violent scheme of justice in his own town. A very young Victoria Principal featured, while Stacy Keach provided a crazy cameo as Bad Bob. Then came the labyrinthine spy thriller, The Mackintosh Man, with James Mason. A decade later, the pair would have a far more memorable screen confrontation.

Now there were two massive hits. Back with Redford and George Roy Hill for The Sting, Newman played master con-man Henry Gondorff who, down on his luck in the '30s, teams up with young prankster Redford to take revenge on gangster Robert Shaw, who's had a mutual buddy murdered. Smart, funny and possessing a brilliant finishing twist, the movie was a monster. It also re-popularised the ragtime music of Scott Joplin which, as it happens, was WAY out of fashion by 1936.

The second big hit was The Towering Inferno, a combination of two disaster novels, and one of the first all-star disaster epics. Here Newman played the architect of a skyscraper who, attending the opening party, finds that the stupid cheapskates haven't followed his wiring instructions. William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Roberts Wagner and Vaughn - can firefighter Steve McQueen get any of these people out alive? Naturally, with McQueen present, there were yet more shenanigans. Though agreeing to the poster idea, Mr McQueen demanded that he and Newman have EXACTLY the same number of lines. Furthermore, McQueen and Dunaway specified that there would be no interviews and that they must not, on any account, be approached by visitors. Newman, on the other hand, simply requested that he not be "surprised".

Next Newman took a series of more interesting roles. In The Drowning Pool, re-teamed with Woodward and Rosenberg, he reprised the part of Lew Harper, investigating a blackmail case in Louisiana, while getting involved with an old flame (Woodward) and her vampish daughter (a young Melanie Griffith). Then he played William Cody in Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill And The Indians, a sprawling work that discussed the plight of Native Americans as well as the creation of legends.

After this came Slap Shot, the film some critics claim to be the first where Newman finally discarded his pretty-boy rep and became a mature and fully-fledged actor (he was, after all, now over 50). With George Roy Hill back at the helm, here Paul played the player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, the hockey team of a dying Pennsylvania steel town. Charged with turning a bad season around, he encourages some rough-house tactics but then the manager (Strother Martin again), recognising that the crowd loves this new violent approach, brings in the Hanson brothers - hardcore mentalists who just want a bit of aggro. Even Newman is appalled but, hey, a win's a win. At the time, Slap Shot was fairly controversial for its violence but, gritty and realistic in its portrayal of an industrial wasteland, it proved to be thoroughly influential.

Newman now faced a difficult time. First, in 1978, his only son Scott died of an overdose, prompting Paul to set up the Scott Newman Foundation, devoted to educating people about drug and alcohol abuse. Professionally, too, it was said that he was finished. In Robert Altman's gloomy thriller Quintet, he played a seal-hunter in a future ice age, who seeks his brother in a ruined city where dogs feed on the dead. Then came When Time Ran Out, another star-studded disaster flick where Paul had to lead hotel guests to safety when a South Pacific volcano blew up, Jacqueline Bisset providing the love interest. Neither film impressed many.

But 1981 saw a dramatic turn in Newman's fortunes. In Fort Apache: The Bronx, he was tough copper Murphy, battling crime and cynicism in trying to bring justice to a hard-up community. Then came Absence Of Malice where he played the wholly innocent son of a dead Mob boss, who's named by journalist Sally Field as the subject of a murder investigation - an allegation that causes his whole life to fall apart. Both Newman and Melinda Dillon were Oscar-nominated.

And then came another classic, The Verdict, directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet. Here Newman was washed-up lawyer Frank Galvin, a drunken ambulance-chaser who gets a chance at redemption when he risks taking a medical malpractice suit to trial, rather than settling out-of-court. Trouble is, just when all is looking good, James "the f***ing Prince of Darkness!" Mason enters as the defence lawyer. For the second year running, Newman was Oscar-nominated, as was Mason.

Now, with his reputation firmly rebuilt, Paul concentrated on the other aspects of his life. Aside from the racing, as said, both he and Woodward were political animals of a humanitarian bent. In 1978, he'd been appointed by Jimmy Carter as a US delegate to a UN disarmament conference. But now he did something bigger, infinitely bigger. 1982 saw him start up the Newman's Own brand, selling pasta sauces, microwaveable popcorn and the like. All profits were to go to charity, particularly the Hole In The Wall Camp (the Hole In The Wall Gang being Butch Cassidy's crew). This was a summer camp in Ashford, Connecticut, for kids with cancer, AIDS and other blood-related diseases. Julia Roberts would later join the board. In the autumns, inner-city kids would attend on the Discovery programme. Incredibly, Newman's Own would be an outrageous success, launching an organic line run by Paul's daughter and, by 2002, donating over $125 million to charity. Ever-humble, Newman joked that "The embarrassing thing is that my salad dressing is now out-grossing my films". When asked about his philanthropy, he simply stated "You can only put so much stuff in your closet".

Throughout the Seventies, Newman had pretty much put his directorial career on the back-burner. After 1972's The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds, where Woodward played a rough middle-aged woman dreaming of a kinder life, all was quiet till 1980's The Shadow Box. This, again with Woodward, followed the hopes, dreams and cruel realities of three terminally ill patients in hospital, and saw Newman Emmy-nominated as director. Now, after the triumph of The Verdict, he helmed and starred in Harry & Son, where he played a redundant construction worker who can't get work, fighting with son Robby Benson, who could get work but doesn't want it. Woodward appeared once more, as a friend who fancies Newman, with Ellen Barkin as her daughter and Benson's sexy partner. In 1987, Newman would revisit his past by directing Woodward, as well as John Malkovich and Karen Allen, in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.

Including Rachel, Rachel, Paul had by 1985 been Oscar-nominated 7 times and never won. So, as if out of pity, the Academy redressed the balance by presenting him with an honorary statue, recognising his body of work, his integrity and his dedication. And, for it is the Law of Sod, Newman actually won for real the very next year. This was for his deft reprising of the role of Fast Eddie Felson, from The Hustler. This time, in Martin Scorsese's The Colour Of Money, Felson is drawn back into the pool hall to teach the brilliant but wayward Tom Cruise how to live with the big boys.

Three years passed before the next burst of activity. 1989 saw him in Shadow Makers, as General Leslie R. Groves, commander of a secret plant in New Mexico, making the first atomic bomb. Then Blaze had him as Earl Long, pragmatic and hard-living governor of Louisiana in the '50s, who falls for stripper Lolita Davidovich and fights for Civil Rights. And then there was the Merchant-Ivory production Mr And Mrs Bridge, following the stiff marriage of a stuffy Kansas City lawyer and his painfully restrained wife through the '20s and '30s. As his wife, Woodward would be Oscar-nominated again, as she had been back in 1973 for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.

Though now approaching 70, there was still more to come. In the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy, he was Sidney J. Mussburger, devious director of a vast corporation, who plots to install apparent idiot Tim Robbins as president, wait for him to destroy the company, and then pick up all the shares for nothing. 1994 also brought Nobody's Fool where, as naughty loser Sully Sullivan, he seeks compensation for his bad knee, rediscovers his family and flirts once more with Melanie Griffith, the wife of his boss, Bruce Willis. Still convincingly roguish after all these years, Paul was Oscar-nominated for the 9th time. Clearly still guilty about this, the Academy now gave him another statue, this time for his humanitarian efforts.

Sticking with Nobody's Fool director Robert Benton (as he had done with directors so often before), next came Twilight, where he played a retired cop delivering blackmail money for dying actor Gene Hackman. Then he stole all his scenes in Message In A Bottle, as the father of widowed shipbuilder Kevin Costner. Next came another great performance in a weakish movie with Where The Money Is, where he played a bank robber who fakes a stroke to get out of jail and then plots a heist with restless nurse Linda Fiorentino.

Come 2002 and Paul returned to the stage in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, in the deus ex machina stage manager role played by Frank Sinatra on TV back in 1955, when a young Newman had sung Love And Marriage. Solid, sure and benignly detached, he'd unsparingly inform the audience of the fate of the townsfolk as they lived, hoped and died. The play, directed by James Naughton, who'd been Jim, the Gentleman Caller in Newman's production of The Glass Menagerie back in 1987, ran at the Westport Country Playhouse in Paul's Connecticut hometown, where the artistic director was wife Joanne. It would then transfer to the Booth Theatre on Broadway, running through to January, 2003. It would be Newman's final Broadway appearance yet, retaining much of his power, he'd still earn himself a Tony nomination. Amazingly, when the play was then filmed for TV, he'd also be nominated for an Emmy. Indeed, awards-wise, 2003 was an amazing year by anyone standards as he'd also be nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance in Sam Mendes' Road To Perdition. Here he played Irish mobster John Rooney, who sends hit-man Jude Law after the young son of his best hit-man, Tom Hanks, when the kid witnesses one of Hanks' murders. Excellent stuff, and proof positive that, in his late seventies, Newman has more vitality than most actors of one-third his age.

Still wholly vital, Newman would, in 2004, prolong his stage career by sticking with the Westport County Playhouse and taking the lead in Trumbo at Westport's Ridgefield Theatre. He'd then move on to more TV success with his own pet project, Empire Falls, written by Richard Russo who'd penned Newman's Twilight and Nobody's Fool. Newman loved the book, snapped up the rights and, deciding that two hours would not do the story justice, instead turned it into a three and a half hour miniseries for HBO. The Newman connection would draw a starry cast, including Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn and Helen Hunt. Harris would run a diner in a small New England town dominated by matriarch Joanne Woodward, Harris's family having helped build the town up and Woodward's having reaped the profits. Newman would play Harris's grouchy, broke, ne'er-do-well father, with Kate Burton as Woodward's daughter, who loves Harris from afar. As flashbacks reveal Harris's mother Penn to have had a shameful liaison back in the distant past, the connection between Harris and Woodward becomes ever more complex and Harris learns to take control of his life. Moving between high drama and light comedy, it was a classy production and would earn Newman a Golden Globe and an Emmy as Supporting Actor, with a further Emmy nomination as producer. Newman would end 2005 with a voice part as Dave Scott in his friend and former co-star Tom Hanks' IMAX production Magnificent Desolation. Back in 2003 he'd also joined Hanks in the historical documentary Freedom.

2006 would bring yet more activity. First he'd open a new restaurant in Westport, The Dressing Room, intended to provide funding for the adjoining Playhouse. Then he'd lend his voice to the bright and imaginative Cars, where tyro motor Owen Wilson, aching to win the big race, would learn to rely on crusty old-timer Newman. The movie was good fun, with Newman voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet made to look just like him. Sadly, it would be his last role. Fittingly, though, it would be a huge hit, taking nearly half a billion worldwide. And, of course, it concerned cars - Newman's lifelong love.

In 2008, illness would force Newman to step down as director of Of Mice And Men, an upcoming production at the Westport Country Playhouse. On the 26th of September he would die from lung cancer, at the age of 83. On October 3rd, at 8pm, every theatre on Broadway would dim its lights for one minute. Quite rightly so, for Newman was a stage and screen legend, a pioneer who bridged the gap between yesterday's larger-than-life studio stars and today's more realistic variety. He was on top for nearly 50 years, as well as becoming a champion racing driver and a philanthropist of inordinate generosity., having donated something in the region of $175 million to charity. It is to be fervently hoped that future generations of film stars follow his example, both onscreen and off. After all, there neither is, nor was, a better one.

Dominic Wills


Search our film biographies.

Advertisement starts


Advertisement ends

Travel offers

Oxford Thames Hotel

Oxford Thames Hotel

Sandford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire - save 47%

Advertisement starts


Advertisement ends