Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman


Actor, Director, Humanitarian.

Lots of accolades, well-deserved, will be heaped on this Hollywood superstar. But when he comes to my mind, it is always with someone else. With Jackie Gleason in The Hustler:

With Strother Martin ("What we've got here is failure to communicate...") in Cool Hand Luke:

And of course, with Robert Redford:

My greatest sadness is for Newman's wife and partner, Joanne Woodward:

Newman was undeniably a sex-symbol when they first met, and Woodward, a well-respected young actress on her way up. The marriage lasted 50 years, a phenomenal length, by any one's standards and certainly by Hollywood's. Newman explained their longevity years ago in Playboy, when he was asked why he never had the desire to stray. "I have steak at home. Why would I go out looking for hamburger?"

Newman's acclaim as a film actor overshadowed his concurrent career as a director. He was not prolific in that respect, helming less than a handful of films and a singular television project, The Shadow Box. He placed Woodward at the center of these projects, which included Rachel, Rachel, for which he won the New York Critics Circle Award, and one of my favorite films, The Effect of Gamma-Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The latter featured a tour-de-force performance by Woodward, playing an embittered single woman raising two daughters in a depressed urban neighborhood. She won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her work, but in spite of its heavy pedigree (it also starred the couple's daughter in her only film appearance, as well as Roberta Wallach, whose parents are Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson), Fox Studio had no idea how to promote the thing, and it never achieved the success it deserved. (It still hasn't; it has yet to be released on DVD).

The Newmans have my personal admiration for their decision to abandon Hollywood and settle in New England, where Woodward has been artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. Newman was due to make his regional theatre directing debut this year, with Of Mice and Men, before his illness overtook him. Several years ago he appeared at the theatre as the Stage Manager in Our Town, in a production which transferred to Broadway and earned him a Tony nomination. PBS broadcast the show, and he snagged an Emmy nomination as well.

As Betty the Loon, Woodward's nickname in ...Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds often said:

"My heart is full."