Personal detailsName: 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.