Happy Birthday

paul newman
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Paul Newman, Pioneering Actor and Philanthropist

January 26, 2010
by Christopher Coats
Praised for his generosity and good nature as much as his acting career, Paul Newman passed into Hollywood history as a renowned philanthropist, loving husband and one of cinema’s most reluctant stars.

Early Days

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1925, as the son of a Jewish father who owned a sporting goods store and a Catholic mother, Paul Newman earned a football scholarship to Kenyon College, from which he graduated with a degree in English.  When his father died in 1950, Newman briefly managed the sporting goods store, but was drawn to the stage, acting in local theaters and briefly studying drama at Yale University.

Known for being remarkably handsome and deliberately quirky, Newman often chose to play unconventional roles, his Los Angeles Times obituary reports. “Acting,” Newman once said, “is really nothing but exploring certain facets of your own personality trying to become someone else.” In his career, he freely drew from different parts of himself, while always bringing charisma and a singular energy to his performances.

This professional philosophy led to a slew of stage roles after he left the Yale program, including a 1953 play called “Picnic” where he met and fell in love with Joanne Woodward, a woman who would become his second wife.

However, Newman’s rise to the top was not without missteps. His first film, “The Silver Chalice,” was so bad that, when it was first shown on television, Newman took out a full-page ad in a newspaper to apologize for the movie, and asked viewers not to watch it.  And he lost his only son, Scott (he had five daughters as well) to a drug overdose in 1978.

Notable Accomplishments

By 1961, the year he appeared in the film “The Hustler,” Newman was well known for his performance opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 1958’s film version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and he was ready for stardom. “The Hustler” was the film that truly established Newman as an actor with staying power.

Newman’s career flourished from that point on. He claimed nearly 100 credits as an actor, director and producer, and though he captured only one Academy Award, he was nominated nine times. 

Hindered by his failing health, Newman’s onscreen output slowed in his later years, with his final film appearance coming opposite Tom Hanks in Sam Mendes’ “Road to Perdition.”

Still active in stage, television projects, and voice work until 2007, Newman stopped performing completely and retired to his Connecticut home. He passed away on September 26, 2008, after a long battle with lung cancer.

The Rest of the Story

Despite his standing in Hollywood, Newman was never a traditional star, shunning the spotlight in favor of his personal passions and, most notably, his wife.
A rarity among industry couples, Newman’s marriage to actress Joanne Woodward lasted 50 years and set a standard among Hollywood couples.

An article in Vanity Fair called Newman a "remarkably private, deeply honorable man," explaining that he "saw his movie-stardom as a trap and worked to find his way around it—to keep fame from corroding his life." In addition to guarding his privacy, Newman was also known for his sense of humor. The magazine reported that when Newman was asked what he was being treated for at a renowned New York City cancer center, he responded, "Athlete’s foot and hair loss."

Outside of his family and cinematic life, Newman’s loves ranged from car racing to political activism, leading to a place on President Richard Nixon’s famed Enemies List and a memorable 1982 meeting with actor Charlton Heston to debate the merits of a freeze on nuclear weapons.

After a role in a 1969 film called “Winning,” Newman’s passion for car racing led him to getting behind the wheel himself, as well as investing in a team of his own. The high point of Newman’s life on the track came in 1979 when the actor’s team won second place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.

However, it was Newman’s philanthropic endeavors that garnered the most attention and greatest legacy. After selling a homemade salad dressing that he once gave to friends on a lark, Newman launched Newman’s Own in 1982, directing 100 percent of profits to charity.

Decorated with the actor’s face, the product line has since expanded to an array of products, including cookies, juices and even wines. Still thriving after Newman’s death, the company brought in $28 million in profit last year, all reserved for charity.

Most Recent Features