Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman, actor, activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and race-car driver, passed away Friday at age 83. He had been battling cancer for the last several years.

Paul Leonard Newman was born January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Too short and skinny for sports as a boy, he took an interest in theatre and appeared in a number of school plays. He briefly attended Ohio University before enlisting in the Navy in World War II. He hoped to become a pilot but was rejected because he was colorblind. Instead, he spent three years as a radio operator aboard bombers in the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to school, graduating from Kenyon College with a degree in English while also acting in a number of school productions. When his father died in 1950, he briefly returned to Shaker Heights to run the family's sporting goods business. The store was sold a year later, and Newman moved on to study acting at Yale University before arriving at New York's famed Actors Studio, where he learned the techniques of Method acting, an edgy, naturalistic style also made famous by Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Newman arrived in Hollywood in 1954. No longer a skinny kid, the handsome, well-chiseled Newman was sought out at first for beefcake roles that he quickly grew tired of. His first starring role, a toga-clad Greek sculptor in The Silver Chalice, was so embarrassing that when it appeared on TV in Los Angeles in 1963, he took out a newspaper ad apologizing for it. Newman spent the rest of the 50's playing in a wide assortment of bit parts in movies and TV. During this period, he met Joanne Woodward, who he married in 1958, creating one of the most enduring Hollywood marriages.

Newman broke through to stardom in the role of Fast Eddie Felson in 1961's The Hustler. Over the next two decades, he perfected the role of the rebellious iconoclast in films such as Hud, Cool Hand Luke, The Towering Inferno, and Slap Shot. He formed a memorable duo with Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and The Sting. He made eleven movies with his wife, Woodward, and directed her in four others. In 1986, he reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson for The Color Of Money, and won an Academy Award.

While filming Winning in 1969, Newman became drawn to the world of auto racing. He told reporters that he enjoyed racing because unlike in acting, a quality effort in racing was not a matter of opinion. He began professional racing in 1972, and his greatest accomplishment in the sport came in 1979 when he placed second in the 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race. In 1995, at age 70, he became the oldest driver to place in a professionally sanctioned event when his team took third in the 24-hour race at Daytona. He also made a mark as an owner, partnering with Carl Haas in Newman/Haas Racing on the now-defunct Champ Car circuit.

Newman maintained an interest in liberal politics throughout his career. He protested the Vietnam War, actively supported Eugene McCarthy's bid to become President, and gave money to a variety of liberal causes. He invested heavily in the left-leaning The Nation magazine and wrote occasional columns for it. Newman once said that he considered being named to President Nixon's Enemies List as one of his proudest accomplishments.

Newman was as much a perfectionist about cooking as he was about acting. When in restaurants, he would often ask for his own ingredients and make his own salad dressing. Newman's dressings became so popular with his friends that he got the idea to market it nationally, and give the profits to charity. Since 1982, Newman's Own Dressings has donated over $250 million to a variety of charities, including the Hole In The Wall Gang camps. Named after the gang in Butch Cassidy, the Hole In The Wall Gang Camps provide summer camping for seriously ill children.

Paul Newman was one of those rare individuals who was not only exceedingly talented, but also found ways to use those talents to help many people who were not as fortunate. There are far too many great Newman roles to choose only one; let's join Fast Eddie for one last game.