Saturday, September 27, 2008

 

Paul Newman (1925-2008)


By Edward Copeland
In the field of acting, being a sex symbol and a great actor don't often exist within the same performer, but when they do, as in the case of Paul Newman, it's electric. What's even more amazing about Newman, who has succumbed to cancer at 83, is that his sex appeal lasted well into his AARP years and his acting only seemed to get better as he aged.


Like many actors of his generation, he got his start mostly in early 1950s television. He openly disdained his first feature film, 1954's The Silver Chalice, but did better his next time out in 1956's biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano, Somebody Up There Likes Me.

Newman scored the first of his Oscar nominations for the de-fanged 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Even if the subtext was excised, Newman's Brick did balance well the torture and sexuality of the character. It was his second nomination for the great 1961 film The Hustler where Newman showed audiences as Fast Eddie Felson that he truly was more than just a pretty face.

Throughout the 1960s, Newman was often the go-to guy when a cad was needed in films such as Sweet Bird of Youth and Hud (Oscar nomination No. 3). He could also show a flair for comedy as one of Shirley MacLaine's doomed husbands, a loopy painter, in What a Way to Go! He scored another nomination with Cool Hand Luke and teamed with Robert Redford for the first of two times in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

He worked with some of film's greatest directors (Hitchcock, Huston, Altman, Scorsese, the Coen brothers, Lumet, Preminger, James Ivory), albeit not on the filmmakers' most notable movies.

His second teaming with Redford, The Sting, is still a joy to watch today and one of the most underrated best picture winners. He later scored two more best actor nominations for Absence of Malice and The Verdict.

The Academy, feeling guilty that one of the biggest movie stars was zero for six (zero for seven if you count his producing nomination for Rachel, Rachel), gave him an honorary Oscar in 1985. The following year, he was nominated again for best actor for reprising Fast Eddie in The Color of Money and the makeup Oscar was unavoidable.

He earned two more acting nominations for Nobody's Fool (and he should have won) and Road to Perdition.

He made a late career return to Broadway and earned a Tony nomination as the Stage Manager in a revival of Our Town.

He also gave a great late career turn in the HBO miniseries Empire Falls, winning an Emmy. It also was the final time he worked with his longtime wife, the great actress Joanne Woodward. The pair teamed in 10 features.

Newman's lifetime love of car racing ironically colored his final role as the voice of Doc Hudson in Pixar's Cars. His racing interest led to a friendship with David Letterman, where he memorably appeared in the audience of the first episode of his CBS show asking, "Where the hell are the singing cats?"

Newman earned a third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in recognition of the amazing amount of money he raised for charity through sales of his salad dressing, popcorn and other products.

RIP Mr. Newman.


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Comments:
When I saw young, I knew Newman mostly from a few of his "big" films, Butch Cassidy, The Sting, The Hustler. He always seemed to me to be ultimate in cool, and a for a while he seemed like the ultimate movie star.

Then by the time he did The Verdict, I was in awe. That's a film I really loved, and a performance that may be his finest. I began to appreciate him much more as an actor than just a star.

I remember some interviews he gave over the years. He was never too impressed with himself, but cared a great deal about his craft.

He was one of the greats. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
 
it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.
 
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