“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.
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)