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Paul Newman, Hollywood Superstar and Salad Dressing Salesman

Updated on July 13, 2014

Did You Say "Salad Dressing Salesman"?

Paul Newman was an American actor, film director, businessman, and humanitarian who became one of the most respected and popular performers of his generation. He was a strikingly handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a lean, muscled torso and he had great acting talent and onscreen charisma.

He was nominated for an astonishing nine acting Academy Awards, including eight times as Best Actor and once as Best Supporting Actor, over the course of his fifty-year Hollywood career and he took part in some of Hollywood's biggest successes, both critical and financial. Paul was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1986 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to film, and the Cecil B. DeMille award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1984. In 1992, Paul and his wife received Kennedy Center Honors in Washington.

In addition he directed five movies, to critical acclaim, and, as a racing car enthusiast, his race teams won several championships in open wheel IndyCar racing. He became a major donator to Charitable causes through his 'Newman's Own' food company, from which he donated all post-tax profits and royalties to charity, amounting to over $150 million since the 1980s.

Oh, the title? - he had a marvellous, self-deprecating sense of humour and once said "Once you've seen your face on a bottle of salad dressing. it's hard to take yourself seriously."

Early Years

Paul Newman was born Paul Leonard Newman on January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Cleveland, Ohio.

Student Paul in 1943

His family was comfortably off and his parents ran a successful sports goods company. He had a brother, Arthur, one year older, who later became a successful movie production manager in the 1960s and 1970s.

At a young age, Paul showed an interest in acting and with encouragement particularly from his mother, he joined a local children's drama group. He was also both sporty and academically bright and after graduating from high school in 1943 he attended Ohio University at Athens, before being expelled for misbehaviour.

In the Navy, 1944

He worked briefly, as a door-to-door salesman for Collier's Encyclopedias before enlisting, on his eighteenth birthday, in the Naval Air Corps.

His ambitions to become a pilot were dropped when a flight physical revealed that he was color blind. He qualified as a rear-seat radioman and gunner in torpedo bombers and he saw service aboard the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945.

The Young Actor

After his discharge he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, for three years, on an athletic scholarship, graduating in English in 1949, before venturing, the following year, into stage work in summer-stock at the Williams Bay Repertory Company in Wisconsin.

He attended Yale from 1951-52, before making his way to New York to work in television in a regular series called 'The Aldrich Family'. Most significantly, he was accepted into the Actors Studio, to study Method Acting under the renowned Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan.

In the Actors Studio, 1955

Career Take Off

Within a year he had scored a hit in his first Broadway play, 'Picnic' with Kim Stanley, winning a Theatre World Award.

Picnic, 1955

He then appeared in the Broadway productions of 'The Desperate Hours' and 'Sweet Bird of Youth' with Geraldine Page and his strong performances were seen by scouts from Warner Brothers who in 1954 signed him up a 7 year contract.

In 1954 he made his movie debut in 'The Silver Chalice', a costume epic for which he was billed as "the new Brando", but it received appalling reviews. Newman actually paid for a full-page advert in a trade paper, apologising for his performance. Nevertheless his career, both on TV and in movies began to take off.

On television he appeared twice in 'You Are There', hosted by Walter Cronkite, as well as the Goodyear Television Playhouse, and the Philco Television Playhouse.

Hollywood Star

His movie career really began to move in 1956 with 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' in which he drew rave reviews for his brilliant portrayal of boxer Rocky Graziano, a role which had originally been intended for James Dean.

From here his career went from strength to strength and he ended the 1950s starring in such memorable movies as 'The Long, Hot Summer' in 1958,' and opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' for which he received his first Oscar nomination. also in 1958, and with Barbara Rush and Robert Vaughn in 'The Young Philadelphians' the following year. In the 1960s he went on to become one of the great Hollywood names giving rich performances starring in high quality films such as 'The Hustler' in 1961, 'The Prize' and 'Hud' on 1963, Alfred Hitchcock's 'Torn Curtain' in 1966 and 'Cool Hand Luke' in 1967 (pictured above).

Other notably successful films include two in which he memorably co-starred with Robert Redford: 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' in 1969 and 'The Sting' in 1973.

In addition to his acting credits he also produced and directed many high quality films, including 'Rachel, Rachel' in 1968 in which he directed his wife Joanne Woodward and which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Personal Life

Paul Newman was married twice, each time to an actress. His first wife was Jackie Witte whom he married in 1949 just after graduating from Kenyon College. They had a son, Scott, and two daughters, Susan Kendall and Stephanie. Scott Newman briefly became an actor in the late 1970s but died in November, 1978 from a drug overdose. In memory of his son, Paul Newman started the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention.

Paul first met Joanne Woodward during the production of 'Picnic' in 1952 and they began an affair shortly after. She was his co-star in 1957 in 'The Long Hot Summer' and the following year in 'Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!'. Newman divorced Jackie and married Joanne in 1958 (pictured right) and they became one of Hollywood's golden couples. Newman was well known for his loyalty and devotion to Joanne, and he said of his split with Jackie: "I felt guilty as hell about leaving my [first] wife and children, and I will carry that guilt for the rest of my life. But the fact that Joanne and I are still together after all those years proves I took the right decision."

He and Joanne frequently collaborated on projects, sometimes as costars, often with Newman behind the lens as director and Woodward as star, as in 'Rachel Rachel' in 1968, 'Harry & Son' in 1984 and 'The Glass Menagerie' in 1987.

One of Newman's offscreen passions was motor racing and he won four Sports Car Club of America national championships and in 1979, aged 54 he came second in the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race. He has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the oldest driver, at seventy, to win a professional race - 1995's twenty-four hours of Daytona. His hobby became a business in 1982 when he became co-owner of Newman-Haas racing. His last active driving season was 2007 during which he won two races at Lime Rock Park.

Charity Work

Away from the world of acting Newman derived great satisfaction from his extensive philanthropic work((He used his influential position to advance many causes. In 1982, he founded Newman's Own, which was one of the first food companies to use all natural products, and later pioneered with his daughter Nell an organic line. Today, Newman's Own is a multi-million dollar a year food business whose proceeds are donated to thousands of charities around the world through Newman's Own Foundation, a total which now exceeds $250 million.

Particularly close to his heart are the "Hole-in-the-Wall Camps" for children with life-threatening health conditions.

Later Career

After becoming one of Hollywood's superstars during the 1960s and early 1970s, Newman started making some brave career moves, taking on projects with an element of risk such as Robert Altman's 'Buffalo Bill and the Indians' in 1976, 'Slap Shot' the following year, and the futuristic 'Quintet' in 1979.

The Color of Money, 1986

During the 1980'and 1990s he took on senior roles with enthusiasm as in 'The Verdict' in 1982, 'The Color of Money' in 1986 for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, 'Blaze' in 1989, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bridge' in 1990, 'The Hudsucker Proxy' in 1994, and 'Message in a Bottle' in 1999.

Advancing years did not lessen his achievements.He received a Tony nomination in 2003 for his ground-breaking performance as the Stage Manager in the Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town', and he received an Emmy nomination when the same drama was televised.

The End

Newman was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. After unsuccessful chemotherapy treatment he told his family he wished to die at home.

Paul Newman died at his home in Westport on September 26, 2008. He was 83.

Paul Newman 1925-2008 - A Life Well Lived

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    • JK Sterling profile image

      Jim Sterling 5 years ago from Franklin, Tennessee

      What an excellent lens. I've always loved Paul Newman.

    • profile image

      PaulNewman 6 years ago

      Well written life overview :)