- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman, who died Friday at his home in Westport, Conn., sustained a remarkable film starring career for half a century. This longevity, rivaled by few performers in the history of the movie industry, began deceptively with a flop: the 1954 Biblical saga “The Silver Chalice,” which prompted the actor to resume theater and television work in New York City for another year or two. In a personal sense he always kept Hollywood at arm’s length for the remainder of his career, which totaled about 60 features, two dozen of them with sound claims on enduring human interest or entertainment value.

The latter half of the 1950s erased the “Chalice” blunder and confirmed Mr. Newman as a dynamic and photogenic new star, beginning with his rambunctious performance as boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” released in 1956. The favorable impressions kept adding up: “The Long, Hot Summer,” the first of ten co-starring vehicles with actress Joanne Woodward, whom he married shortly before the film’s release in March of 1958; “The Left-Handed Gun,” in which Mr. Newman expanded on a provocative television portrayal of Billy the Kid; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, ” which secured the first of eight Academy Award nominations for best actor; and “The Young Philadelphians,” a now obscure crowd-pleaser that reaffirmed a distinctive prowess for impersonating young men on-the-go (or on-the-make) who succeed in reconciling raw ambition with finer impulses, typically romantic impulses.

By the beginning of the 1960s Paul Newman was certainly the most attractive of Hollywood leading men. Since it was the rare year in which he wasn’t headlining at least two new movies, tracking his career became one of the more sensible reasons for keeping tabs on the medium. By the end of the decade he had accumulated three more Oscar nominations (for “The Hustler,” “Hud” and “Cool Hand Luke”) while also enlarging on a heroic-seductive versatility that could extend from a playful thriller such as “The Prize” to a playful Western such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Mr. Newman’s early knack for rebounding after poor vehicles proved a renewable virtue. Stinkers littered his filmography, and some of them were supremely ridiculous, particularly the futuristic allegory “Quintet” and the disaster thriller “When Time Ran Out…” Mr. Newman had the curious distinction of starring in a pair of duds directed by John Huston, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and “The Mackintosh Man,” and another pair directed by Robert Altman, “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” and “Quintet.”

The later misadventures were countered by Paul Newman’s ongoing ability to take advantage of congenial middleaged roles, from “The Sting,” which won the 1973 Oscar for best picture, to “Slap Shot,” “Absence of Malice,” “The Verdict” and “The Color of Money.” The last of these finally secured the Academy Award as best actor, circa 1986, with Mr. Newman cast as an older version of his famous Eddie Felsen character from “The Hustler.” A year earlier the Academy’s board of governors had voted him a career Oscar perhaps fearing that he was destined to remain a bridesmaid in the category. Mr. Newman’s breakthrough came on his seventh best actor nomination, when he was 61.

Continuing to age well as a four-decade star, Paul Newman added impressive performances to his resume in the now neglected “Blaze,” where he was a rousing embodiment of Louisiana politician Earl Long; “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge,” an adroit reunion vehicle with Miss Woodward in which they played an estimable Kansas City couple; and “Nobody’s Fool,” a disarming portrait of a small-town contractor whose failures just might be redeemable. Given one of the conspicuous Newman avocations, race-car driving, it seemed a fitting swan song when he provided the voice of the most seasoned automotive character in the Pixar animated comedy of 2006, “Cars.”

The strictly professional esteem earned by Paul Newman was enhanced by a philanthropic avocation that grew out of his creation of the Newman’s Own food franchise in 1982. Sort of a cottage business hobby at the outset, the enterprise eventually subsidized upwards of $200 million for charitable causes. The actor himself began a charitable foundation for children stricken with cancer and other maladies, the Hole-in-the-Wall-Gang Camps. A single camp near the actor’s home in Connecticut expanded into an international charity.

The enduring marital union of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward also gave both performers an enviable claim on the personal admiration of fans that usually eludes stars of all magnitudes, customarily prone to serial infidelity and marital failure. It was the second marriage for Mr. Newman and the first for Miss Woodward, an Academy Award winner as best actress in the early stages of her career, when cast in “The Three Faces of Eve.” Mr. Newman is survived by five daughters (three from his second marriage) and eight grandchildren.

Born on January 26, 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Paul Newman was the son of a businessman who owned a prominent sporting goods store. It was very much a family affair; his mother also worked in the store. At a press conference in 1990, Mr. Newman reflected that the “romance of business” never imposed itself when he was young, although it caught up with him decades later while launching and then managing Newman’s Own. Acting got an imaginative hold on him from the age of 7 or so. After returning from World War II service in the U.S. Navy, he planned for a professional acting career while completing an undergraduate degree at Kenyon College and then enrolling in the drama school at Yale.

Once in the New York theater orbit, Paul Newman became another successful member of the Actor’s Studio, the most influential training ground of the period. In fact, the early years of his career were somewhat clouded by comparisons to a celebrated alum, Marlon Brando. It was assumed, correctly to some extent, that Paul Newman was offered the movie roles Mr. Brando had declined. Many a great career hinges on inheriting roles that don’t suit the plans of an established performer. The ultimate beneficiary of this choosiness is the public, which got exceptional value from the long and admirable career of Paul Newman.

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