Paul Newman 1925-2008


“Joanne has always given me unconditional support in all my choices and endeavors, and that includes my race car driving, which she deplores. To me, that’s love.”

“Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”

“You should see us when we get back to the bedroom.”

Paul Newman on his relationship with Joanne Woodward.

There is going to be so much written about Paul Newman today and in the coming weeks that it seems ridiculous to add to the cacophony of noise surrounding his death, but I can’t help myself. I keep wondering how his wife and partner of 50 years, actress Joanne Woodward, must be coping with the loss.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s 50-year marriage is the stuff of Hollywood legend. The two actors met on Broadway in 1953 while performing in the play Picnic together. Newman was married at the time and had two young children with his first wife but he was immediately attracted to Woodward. Five years later they found themselves working together again in the first screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Long, Hot Summer. Sparks flew and Newman decided to ask for a divorce. He married Joanne Woodward in Las Vegas in 1958.

After they were married they moved to Connecticut and had three daughters there. They also appeared in more than 10 films together. My own favorite Newman/Woodard acting collaborations can be found inThe Long, Hot Summer (1958), From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), A New Kind of Love (1963) and The Drowning Pool (1975).

If I had to pick just one favorite Newman/Woodward film it would probably be Paris Blues. The film was directed by Martin Ritt, who was behind the camera for some of Newman’s most celebrated movies, including The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Hud (1963), and Hombre (1967). In Paris Blues Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier play American jazz musicians living in Paris whose lives are disrupted when two beautiful tourists (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll) visit the city of lights for a two-week holiday.

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward in Paris Blues (1961)

Romance and Paris seem to go together like peanut butter and chocolate (so much better than peanut butter and jelly!) so I’m sure my affection for the film is clouded by my own romantic inclinations. But I have no problem admitting that I just enjoy seeing a gorgeous couple like young Newman and Woodward, as well as Poiter and Carroll, walking through the city streets holding hands and making love in a shabby Paris apartment. Newman and Woodward had only been married a few years before making Paris Blues together and you can still sense the sexual energy between the two actors. When they fall in love on screen their relationship feels fresh and full of life. There’s a closeness and easy-going give and take between them both that is just undeniable.

Paris Blues was released the same year as Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and many will probably find Paris Blues somewhat dated in comparison. Even though the relationships between the two couples is the central focus of Paris Blues, the film was also attempting to deal with important questions about race relations and equality that were eating away at America in 1961. By using Paris as a backdrop, the film was able to explore topical issues involving African-American ex-pats who had found acceptance in the French jazz community at the time. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong appears in the movie and Duke Ellington composed the film’s wonderful score. The great music showcased in the film is what really makes Paris Blues special but I also like how the romantic relationships between the two couples in the film are played out. Unfortunately Paris Blues is only available on video at the moment but if you’re interested in seeing Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward at their loveliest, I highly recommend seeking out the movie.

Trailer for Paris Blues (1961)

12 thoughts on “Paul Newman 1925-2008

  1. I suppose I knew that Newman had been married before Joanne Woodward but I guess I forgot that piece of his biography and that his son Scott was from that first marriage. I saw Scott in the couple of acting jobs he got in the 70s (most memorably as a rookie fireman in The Towering Inferno and in the larger role of a campus bully in the college drama Fraternity Row and remember his tragic death in 1978. I’ve seen a parent’s anguish at the death of a child and I know what a, what’s the word… something more than a burden… well, I know what a weight that is and even if I didn’t know he’d lost a son I’d know just by looking at Paul Newman in anything from 1980 on that he was shouldering something. I think it colored those later life roles, in Absence of Malice (God, that speech to Sally Field about his dead sister’s autopsy), The Verdict and even forgettable stuff like Harry and Son or The Road to Perdition where both of his characters are fathers with difficult (if not impossible) relationships with their sons. People often wrote that Paul Newman had a twinkle in his eye and I’d be willing to bet that more than half of the time it was tears.

  2. Damn, I’m gonna miss him. An amazing person, and almost hypnotically gifted. I personally prefer Woodward in a kind of sappy, weak film from a year ealier – “From the Terrace”, not only was she lovelier, IMHO, she was hard as nails, and very bitchy, not her usual role; still very seductive, but wasted there, too. Newman showed how good he was in even such a flawed film, as his scenes with the beautiful young Ina Balin were full of some kind of seductive magic from Newman that she fed off of – her innocence was cast away like an old coat, and all because of that certain something he had. And remember, he didn’t make too many weak films – his career was full of phenomenal roles. Another set piece I like is when he has a crackling time changing a will with good ol’ Billie Burke in “The Young Philadelphians” – they played well off each other in a marvelous fashion. I think “The Hustler”, “Cool Hand Luke”, “Butch Cassidy..” et al, were easy – they were during his young stud era; I think it was harder playing an aging con-man, or an alcoholic shyster in his later years – he had something deep down that enabled him to make those real, and not just the lows of life, but the highs that make the comparisons so telling. Helluva wheelman, too. Amazing man.

  3. A terribly sad loss and our thoughts and prayers are with Joanne. I’m hard pressed to select my favourite Newman performance as there have been so many real gems, so I’ll just continue to admire his body of work. I’ll also remember that he conducted his life on both sides of the camera in the manner that we would associate with a true movie star and a human being who is aware of the world around him and the pain it can bring. His work with Newman’s Own is another example of his compassion for others, and he’d be pleased to see the good work continuing. Thanks for such a nice tribute. I have yet to see Paris Blues but will endeavour to seek it out. Sounds like a real celebration of a very special love story.

  4. I know the music of Paris Blues well having a great version performed by Terence Blanchard but I still haven’t seen the film. I’d like to though and think I will soon. I think his best performance came in The Verdict. It’s a performance so extraordinary I still get aggravated thinking of him losing that year. Ben Kingsley is a superb actor and did a great job as Ghandhi, but his performance didn’t operate on as many levels as Newman’s.

    Joanne seems like such a lovely person. I can’t imagine her sense of losss right now.

  5. Hey Kimberly. I am so sad over the passing of Paul Newman. He was an amazing actor. He played in so many films, too many to name, that I love. He gave so many outstanding performances. He will be sorely missed. I knew he was losing his battle against cancer, but it was still a shock to hear of his death. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. R.I.P.

  6. I had the chance to watch him at work for several days when I appeared as an extra on one of his films. I was one of a group which was harrassing his character he had to come up to us and kinda back us off. He would smile broadly when the take was done and immediately crack a joke with us or say we were doing good or say something self deprecating. He just seemed like a totally unpretentious, regular guy who was having fun at what his was doing and didn’t have anything HOLLYWOOD about him. That really impressed me. My favorite of his roles and films is THE LONG HOT SUMMER.

  7. Arbogast – I don’t know much about his son’s death but it seems to have deeply effected Newman as it would any parent who lost a child. I tend to agree with you that as he got older, Newman seemed even more world-weary. Getting up close and personal with death tends to do that to people. It drains you. Makes you angry. And you don’t suffer fools lightly anymore. I think you can see all of that in Newman’s later roles.

    Vanwell – I really like From the Terrace too and Woodward does look lovely in the film, I do have problems with her being all dolled up though. I just can’t take her too seriously when she’s wearing a ton of makeup, jewelry and tight dresses. All the bling bling and warpaint seems unnatural on her. I do agree that Newman did some amazing work as an actor later in life. The Verdict is a prime example of that.

    Steve – It’s impossible to pick just one favorite Newman film. I’m really fond of all the early literary adaptations he was in like The Long, Hot Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. He really knew how to bring those stage roles to life in a film. The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are some of my favorites too. I have a special place in my heart for a lessor known film he did with Lee Marvin called Pocket Money. It’s easily one of Newman’s best films from the ’70s in my opinion but I seem to be alone in my affection for it.

    Jonathan – I think you’d really enjoy Paris Blues if you get the chance to see it. Hopefully TCM will show it when they have their Newman tribute, which I’m sure is coming soon. Newman was magnificent in The Verdict. I haven’t seen Ghandi or the Verdict since the ’80s so I’d have a hard time comparing the films and the performances in them now, but at the moment I can tell you that I’m much more inclined to watch The Verdict again.

    Keith – It’s strange to see icons like Newman pass on since they dominated popular cultural when I was a kid. He was an incredible person and a talented actor.

    Robert – Thanks so much for sharing your Newman story! I really enjoyed reading it.He seemed out of place in Hollywood even though he was a great looking man. He always stood outside the system and was often fighting against it. The Long, Hot Summer is one of my favorite Newman films too.

  8. I did take advantage of finally seeing Paris Blues when it showed on cable a few years ago. I don’t know if it affected the showing of the film in the South, but the scene that introduces Woodward and Carroll must have raised a few eyebrows when Newman sets his sites on Carroll first.

    Looking back at his filmography, 1958, what I think is one of the best years of American film includes Long, Hot Summer, Rally ‘Round the Flag,Boys!, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Left-Handed Gun.

  9. Peter – I’m sure the entire film raised a few eyebrows in 1961.

    Left-Handed Gun is one Newman film I’ve never seen but it was just mentioned in a Newman tribute at TCM’s Movie Moorlocks blog and now I’m curious to see it myself. Few actors look as good as Newman did in a cowboy hat.

  10. Sadly, his death has just reminded of all the performances I have yet to see. I’ll always love him in Cool Hand Luke.

  11. Thank you, Kimberly, for mentioning PARIS BLUES. I got my first taste of this movie in 35mm when a trailer for it was shown at a local repertory theater during an Antoine Doinel festival. That trailer was the perfect aperitif to an already enchanting night at the movies. I had to come back and see it, and it’s still one of my favorite Newman movies.

  12. You’re more than welcome Tim! I was hoping that TCM would play Paris Blues during their Newman tribute since the movie isn’t available on DVD but it doesn’t seem widely known. Hopefully it will get a DVD release soon. It’s a terrific film that’s actually rather ahead of it’s time considering the subject matter it tackles. Newman does an amazing job of playing a jazz musician! I really believed he could bow that horn when I first saw it.

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