- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

The remarkable career of Paul Newman, who died Friday at his home in Westport, Conn., began with a famous flop, and he always kept Hollywood somewhat at arm’s length.

But his longevity was rivaled by few performers in the history of the movie industry, and his body of work over a half-century aged as well as he did - from intense or on-the-go young men to the handsome leading roles of a middle-aged star and then as an acting institution, both on and off the screen.

Publicist Jeff Sanderson said Mr. Newman, 83, died at his farmhouse after a long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his family and close friends.

“There is a point where feelings go beyond words,” fellow actor and frequent co-star Robert Redford said Saturday. “I have lost a real friend. My life - and this country - is better for his being in it.”

Mr. Newman’s career totaled almost 60 feature films, about two dozen of them with sound claims on enduring human interest or entertainment value.

But it started off badly, with the 1954 biblical saga “The Silver Chalice.” The notorious turkey prompted the actor to take out a trade-paper ad apologizing for it and to resume theater and television work in New York for another couple of years. In fact, he never entirely abandoned live theater - which, combined with his fiercely private nature, kept him somewhat apart from the Hollywood glitter for the rest of his career.

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 and intense performance as middleweight-champion 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 10 co-starring vehicles with actress Joanne Woodward, whom he married shortly before the film´s release in March 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; 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, Mr. 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, 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 the aforementioned “Quintet.”

The later misadventures were countered by Mr. Newman´s ongoing ability to take advantage of congenial middle-aged roles, from “The Sting,” which won the 1973 Oscar for best picture, to 1977’s “Slap Shot,” 1981’s “Absence of Malice,” 1982’s “The Verdict” and 1986’s “The Color of Money.”

“Sometimes God makes perfect people,” said “Absence of Malice” co-star Sally Field, “and Paul Newman was one of them.”

“The Color of Money” finally secured the Academy Award as best actor, his seventh nomination, for a role in which a 61-year-old Mr. Newman was cast as an older version of his famous “Fast” Eddie Felson 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. All told, Mr. Newman was nominated for nine acting Oscars, eight times in the lead category and once as a supporting performer (for “Road to Perdition,” his last nomination).

Continuing to age well as a four-decade star, Mr. 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.

After playing a race-car driver in the 1969 film “Winning,” Mr. Newman became fascinated with the sport in the 1970s - he called it the “best way I know to get away from all the rubbish of Hollywood” - and made strong showings in several major races, including fifth place in Daytona in 1977 and second in the Le Mans in 1979.

Given that conspicuous Newman avocation, it seemed a fitting swan song when he provided the voice of the most seasoned automotive character, the 1951 “Doc” Hudson, in the 2006 Pixar animated comedy “Cars.” In these same twilight years, he also won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the 2005 HBO drama “Empire Falls.”

The strictly professional esteem earned by Mr. Newman was enhanced by a philanthropic avocation that grew out of his creation of the Newman´s Own food company in 1982. Sort of a cottage business/hobby at the outset - the first product was an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing - the enterprise eventually subsidized upward 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. In 1994, he won his third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his charitable work.

The enduring marriage of Mr. Newman and Miss Woodward, his second and her first, 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. When asked by Playboy magazine whether he was tempted to stray, he said: “I have steak at home; why go out for hamburger?”

Mr. Newman directed Miss Woodward, herself a best-actress Oscar winner for 1957’s “The Three Faces of Eve,” in several films, including “The Glass Menagerie” and “Rachel, Rachel,” the latter of which nabbed Mr. Newman’s one Oscar nomination in a non-acting category (as producer of the film, its best-picture nomination was his).

Mr. Newman is survived by Miss Woodward, five daughters (three with Miss Woodward; two with his first wife, Jacqueline Witte), two grandchildren, and an older brother.

“Our father was a rare symbol of selfless humility, the last to acknowledge what he was doing was special,” his daughters said in a written statement. “Intensely private, he quietly succeeded beyond measure in impacting the lives of so many with his generosity.”

Born Jan. 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Paul Leonard 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, Mr. Newman became a 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 Mr. 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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