Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: 1925 - 2008

Paul Newman, the Academy-Award winning superstar who personified cool as an activist, race car driver, popcorn impresario and the anti-hero of such films as "Hud," "Cool Hand Luke" and "The Color of Money," has died. He was 83.

Newman died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near Westport, publicist Jeff Sanderson said. He was surrounded by his family and close friends.

In May, Newman he had dropped plans to direct a fall production of "Of Mice and Men," citing unspecified health issues.

He got his start in theater and on television during the 1950s, and went on to become one of the world's most enduring and popular film stars, a legend held in awe by his peers. He was nominated for Oscars 10 times, winning one regular award and two honorary ones, and had major roles in more than 50 motion pictures, including "Exodus," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Verdict," "The Sting" and "Absence of Malice."

Newman worked with some of the greatest directors of the past half century, from Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston to Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. His co-stars included Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and, most famously, Robert Redford, his sidekick in "Butch Cassidy" and "The Sting."

He sometimes teamed with his wife and fellow Oscar winner, Joanne Woodward, with whom he had one of Hollywood's rare long-term marriages. "I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" Newman told Playboy magazine when asked if he was tempted to stray. They wed in 1958, around the same time they both appeared in "The Long Hot Summer," and Newman directed her in several films, including "Rachel, Rachel" and "The Glass Menagerie."

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I think the first Paul Newman movie I ever saw was Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. What impressed me was Newman more than the movie itself. He shone in the film and managed to stand out in a film packed with great performances. After that it was all downhill for me anyway. I soon discovered his work in classics such as Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Hustler, The Life & Times Of Judge Roy Bean, Absence Of Malice, Fort Apache The Bronx, The Verdict - the list is almost endless. Even in bad movies he rose above the crop, and in his best movies he displayed an acting ability that was unsurpassed. He was as good an actor as anyone you'd care to mention, certainly he was one of the best American film actors of the 20th century and I'll be happy to argue that point with anyone as I'd put his best movies up against anyone else.

I place Newman in that upper echelon of actors. Brando, Olivier - you name them and on his day Newman was probably a shade better. That the Academy chose not to award him with the Oscar until relatively late in his career, and for a movie that really wasn't as good as earlier, and later efforts, shows how short-sighted and bloody minded they really are.

I can understand why he never won more than the one the Oscar though - he was too good and made it look far too easy. There was no visible effort involved. He exploded on the screen and where others have resorted to histrionics he laid back and allowed his force of will to win out. People scream, rant and rave to display anger and emotion, but to me nothing was more terrifying than a quiet Newman and those steely blue eyes. Still, one award proper out of ten nominations (and several more that could easily have been put forward) is a record that Hollywood needs to be ashamed of. How he never got the gold for The Verdict or Cool Hand Luke (to name but two) still staggers me, as it probably does anyone who's seen those movies.

I'll miss looking forward to a new Paul Newman movie, but we all have him, forever captured on celluloid in his prime and peak, to enjoy until we all follow him. As we celebrate the life of a great actor we must also look at the life of a humanitarian, a man who made millions and gave it all away without ever once taking a cut. A man who gave more than his all and whose presence and generosity have helped families and children worldwide. Others talk the talk, Newman never talked it, he walked it and put his money - and fame - where it would do the most good.

Vale Paul Newman. We may never his like again.

2 comments:

Harry Mendryk said...

I really am not very knowledgeable about film, but I do enjoy a good one. And Newman was in a lot of the movies I enjoyed. As to why he never got more Oscars, I am sure your suggestion of how easy his acting looked was part of the reason. But another is that many of Newman's movies were popular hits with an emphasis on the word popular. It always seems that there certain popular movies get short play with the Academy. Certainly Cool Hand Luke falls into that category. I was in high school when it came out and I remember a lot of the critics were not that enthusiastic about it. But for my friends and I it was the movie of the year. We all went about using quotes from it. Of course the most popular was "what he have here is a failure to communicate". Often movies that you enjoyed when very young do not stand up on a more adult viewing. But not Cool Hand Luke, it is still solid gold.

Harry

Tim said...

Newman was a giant as an actor and as a human being. In life, Steve McQueen tried to compete with him as both an actor and a race car driver, but as they say "there can be only one".

Sally Field said that sometimes God makes perfect people, and Paul was one of them.