Paul Newman, the Oscar-winning actor with the legendary blue eyes, achieved superstar status by playing charismatic renegades, broken heroes, and winsome antiheroes in such revered films as The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Color of Money, and Nobody’s Fool. But Newman was also an oddity in Hollywood: the rare box-office titan who cared about the craft of acting, the sexy leading man known for the staying power of his marriage, and the humble celebrity who made philanthropy his calling card long before it was cool.
The son of a successful entrepreneur, Newman grew up in a prosperous Cleveland suburb. Despite fears that he would fail to live up to his father’s expectations, Newman bypassed the family sporting goods business to pursue an acting career. After struggling as a theater and television actor, Newman saw his star rise in a tragic twist of fate, landing the role of boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me when James Dean was killed in a car accident. Though he would joke about instances of “Newman’s luck” throughout his career, he refused to coast on his stunning boyish looks and impish charm. Part of the original Actors Studio generation, Newman demanded a high level of rigor and clarity from every project. The artistic battles that nearly derailed his early movie career would pay off handsomely at the box office and earn him critical acclaim.
He applied that tenacity to every endeavor both on and off the set. The outspoken Newman used his celebrity to call attention to political causes dear to his heart, including civil rights and nuclear proliferation. Taking up auto racing in midlife, Newman became the oldest driver to ever win a major professional auto race. A food enthusiast who would dress his own salads in restaurants, he launched the Newman’s Own brand dedicated to fresh ingredients, a nonprofit juggernaut that has generated more than $250 million for charity.
In Paul Newman: A Life, film critic and pop culture historian Shawn Levy gives readers the ultimate behind-the-scenes examination of the actor’s life, from his merry pranks on the set to his lasting romance with Joanne Woodward to the devastating impact of his son’s death from a drug overdose. This definitive biography is a fascinating portrait of an extraordinarily gifted man who gave back as much as he got out of life and just happened to be one of the most celebrated movie stars of the twentieth century.read more
Reviews forPaul Newman: A Life, by Shawn Levy - Excerpt
Paul Newman is one of our true movie stars, back when that phrase really meant something. His death last year reminded us what a unique individual he was- an actor, movie star, race car driver, husband, father, grandfather, businessman, humanitarian. Shawn Levy has written a new biography, titled PAUL NEWMAN- A LIFE. And it was quite a life he lived. I vividly remember my mother taking me to see "The Sting", starring Newman and Robert Redford. It was one of the first grown-up movies I saw, and I felt very sophisticated. Redford was gorgeous, but it was Newman who charmed me. There seemed something mischievous behind those blue eyes and that knowing smile.Levy does a great job chronicling Newman's early years, and he footnotes and endnotes extensively, not something you normally see in a biography of a movie star. He quotes from reviews of Newman's plays and movies, and that helps put Newman's work in context of the times.The author delves into Newman's youth and his college days at Kenyon College, where Newman realized he had the desire to act. Newman was a bit of a rascal who loved to party and was not opposed to imbibing in beer, something that he continued to do throughout his life. Levy states that as an adult Newman would often drink a case of beer a day. (Budweiser sent Newman ten cases of beer a week as payment for advertising for them, and they didn't go to waste.)Levy spoke with several people who went to school with Newman, and their memories of a young Newman are insightful. Newman loved to rehearse, to dig deeply into his character and their motivations, and as this practice grew with his career, it was not always appreciated by his costars or directors.He married young and had two children with his first wife, but their marriage didn't last. Levy points out the irony of a man who was well known for having one of the most successful, long-lived marriages in Hollywood, actually falling in love with his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, while he was still married to wife number one.I did not know that Newman also had an affair (while married to Joanne) with a reporter he met while filming "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". It lasted for over a year, and nearly ruined his second marriage, but after the affair ended, he and Joanne worked it out. Again, they were an example for people that no marriage is perfect, but it takes work, love, patience and forgiveness to make it last.Newman had such a long career, Levy does his best to get it all in this book without making it 1000 pages, which it easily could have been. The one thing that gets short shrift is Newman's role as a father. It is touched on, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he parented from his children. They seem like people who like their privacy, and after the death of Newman's son Scott from a drug overdose, and the publicity surrounding it, I imagine they were leery of the press. Newman is quoted as saying that "What I would really like to put on my tombstone is that I was part of my time". Levy makes the correct statement that he was, and that is one thing that shines through in this fascinating biography. Newman really was a man made in his time, an embodiment of a true American individual.read more
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