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Paul Newman In the Movies : From A to Z

I’ve settled on Paul Newman as the first actor to be featured in my new A to Z series and I’ve narrowed it down to three reasons. First is the fact that I grew up in the latter half of his movie career and quickly bought into this screen persona. From Luke to Fast Eddie to Reggie and Sully, he had so many characters that I couldn’t get enough of. Secondly because I’m worried he’s to quickly being forgotten. Hope I’m wrong but I always feel a good test of this theory is ask an 18 to 25 year old if they know who he is. You might not like the answer. Third reason? He made a movie that started with the letter Q which makes it a whole lot easier in coming up with a topic for every letter of the alphabet. Still there is that damned X.

So here’s some Paul Newman trivia that comes to mind and while some letters drive me crazy for lack of material others are hard to settle on just one topic. If you know anything about the films and characters Newman played, think of the letter H and try to narrow the field.

A is for …. Academy Award.

For years it seemed as if Newman would never be awarded an Oscar for any one performance. Despite superb work and multiple nominations it seemed as if the statuette would never be his. So just to be on the safe side, the Academy bestows upon him an honorary Oscar in 1986. Had they waited one more year he might never have seen that one. He scored one on his own for The Color of Money. He wasn’t finished there either. He’d be awarded another for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1994. Three in total for the mantel above the fireplace.

B is for …. Billy The Kid. Newman added his name to a long list of actors who played the western outlaw in this sparse Arthur Penn directed 1956 release. In black and white it’s far from flashy when compared to the numerous oaters coming out like the color productions Universal-International was flooding the market with. I’ve always found it a downbeat version of the story but then maybe it’s more in line with the facts than the other versions that made their way to the screen. Others to have played the role include Robert Taylor, Audie Murphy, Kris Kristofferson and Val Kilmer.

C is for …. Cameo. Most actors make a cameo in someone else’s film over the course of their career and two stand out I can recall with Newman. In 1976 he made a brief appearance in Mel Brook’s Silent Movie. The other is more of an elongated cameo when he played one of the many men in Shirley MacLaine’s life in the black comedy, What a Way to Go, back in 1964. A star studded affair sees Shirley complimented by Newman, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke and Bob Cummings.

D is for …. Director.

Not content in front of the camera, Newman, directed 6 motion pictures. Rachel, Rachel in 1969. 1971’s Sometimes A Great Notion as both star and director. A film I’ve always been pushing when his name comes up in conversation. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972). The Golden Globe Winner for Best Television Motion Picture for 1980’s The Shadow Box. Doing double duty again on 1984’s Harry and Son and his final directing gig on 1987’s The Glass Menagerie. Wife Joanne Woodward starred or appeared in all but Great Notion.

E is for …. Embarrassment. According to legend Newman was so embarrassed by his screen debut in 1954’s The Silver Chalice he took out an ad to apologize for it. I’ve never actually seen a copy of it but have heard about it many times.. I lifted the following from the IMDB to help me out. … When the film ran on television in 1966, Paul Newman took out ads in the Hollywood trade papers, calling it “the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s”, apologizing for his performance, and asking people not to watch the film. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect, and many people tuned in to watch it on television. Newman once screened the movie for friends at his house, giving them whistles, pots, and wooden spoons, and encouraging them to make noisy critiques of the film. 

F is for …. Fast Eddie Felson. aka The Hustler.

Easily one of the most identifiable Newman images. Holding a pool cue lining up a shot. It’s still an image you’re likely to see on the wall of any pool hall or restaurant that caters to nostalgia plastered around the dining area. Does the 1961 film contain his all-time best performance? I won’t argue with you if that’s your stance. Let’s not forget that he revived the character to great acclaim and that Oscar win in Martin Scorsese’s 1986 sequel, The Color of Money. It’s one of only two characters that Newman portrayed twice. More on that down the list. And seriously, who doesn’t want to sit back right now and watch Fast Eddie take on Gleason’s Minnesota Fats?

G is for …. Graziano. Starring as boxer Rocky Graziano was a pivotal role for the young Newman in 1956. He supposedly scored the role after the death of James Dean who had been signed to the Robert Wise production. After The Silver Chalice, Newman righted the ship to great acclaim opposite Pier Angeli in what was eventually released as Somebody Up There Likes Me. The film also starred Sal Mineo and another youngster by the name of Steve McQueen in a lesser role. And so the supposed feud began.

H is for …. Jack Harding, Harry Bannerman, The Hustler, Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, Hud, Harper, Hombre, Harry Frigg, Hank, Henry Gondorff, Hank Anderson, Harry and Son, The Hudsucker Proxy, Harry Ross, Henry and finally Doc Hudson, Between movie titles and character names I think it’s safe to say Newman liked the letter H.

I is for …. Irwin Allen.

Like a large number of big names stars, Newman was hooked to headline a pair of producer Irwin Allen’s big screen disaster flicks. The lesser known When Time Ran Out (1980) and the major box office blockbuster, The Towering Inferno opposite Steve McQueen who had come a long way since his minor role in Somebody Up There Likes Me. I recall seeing the film in what was probably it’s television debut in the late 70’s? If memory serves it was presented in two parts on back to back nights. Considering the star power and sense of adventure, this one’s a must see.

J is for …. Judge Roy Bean. Newman played the real life hanging Judge in John Huston’s western of 1972. Too offbeat for my tastes but hard to argue with the cast Huston put together for this production. Among Newman’s many co-stars were Ava Gardner as Lily Langtry, Jaqueline Bisset, Roddy McDowall and Anthony Perkins.

K and L are for Kennedy and Luke.

George Kennedy scored his one and only Oscar starring opposite Newman in the iconic Cool Hand Luke. The 1967 film is a must see and another reason why I point to ’67 as one of the greatest years in film looking back. Like The Hustler there are so many iconic images of Newman in this one. From eating 50 eggs to running from his chain gang captors. And the cast? A who’s who of up and comers and terrific character actors. Hopper, Stanton, Askew, Baker, Waite, Woodward, James and the man who says the line, “What we got here is failure to communicate.” leading to the letter M …..

M is for …. Martin. Strother Martin.

Easily one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation with an unmistakable voice to match, Strother appeared in a total of 5 Newman films. Harper (1966), the not so lovable Warden in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Pocket Money (1972) and Slap Shot (1976) as the Charlestown Chief’s memorable GM, Joe McGrath.

N is for …. Nine Nominations that came up short. Not only was Newman awarded three statuettes but it’s the performances that came up short of the prize over the years that often can leave you scratching your head. He was nominated as Best Actor for the following films. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Absence of Malice (1981), The Verdict (1982) and Nobody’s Fool (1994). A quick plug for this one. His role as Sully is one of my favorite Newman characters and for me represents a look at what Luke may have wound up like had he lived on in old age. Then there was a nomination as a Best Supporting Actor in Road to Perdition (2002). Lastly let’s not forget the Oscar nomination as Best Director for 1968’s Rachel, Rachel.

O is for …. The Outrage. Released in 1964, this western from Martin Ritt was another Americanized version of an Akira Kurosawa film. This time it was the 1950 classic Rashomon. It worked for The Magnificent Seven. Not so lucky this time but it does feature a stellar cast surrounding Newman including Edward G. Robinson, Laurence Harvey and William Shatner.

P is for …. Private Eye.

Newman played the Private Investigator, Lew Harper, on two separate occasions. In the 1966 film, Harper, followed by his return to the role in 1975’s The Drowning Pool. This makes Harper the only character other than Fast Eddie Felson that he played in more than one film. As a side note he passed on returning for The Sting II and it was his old pool playing nemesis, Jackie Gleason, who stepped into the role of Henry Gondorff that Newman played so brilliantly in the original film of 1973.

Q is for …. Quintet

A little seen film from Robert Altman but the proof of the letter Q is on the poster.

R is for …. Robert Redford

Surely Robert Redford is the one actor that Paul Newman is most often linked too outside of his actress wife, Joanne Woodward. And why not. The two films they appeared in together are considered true classics of cinema. Both films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) were directed by George Roy Hill. For years the two actors were linked together by rumors of a third pairing that alas was never to come to fruition. As it is we have the magical screen chemistry they’ve left us for the years to come in a pair of films that demand multiple viewings.

S is for …. Slap Shot.

Hey I live in Canada and there is no way I’m going to do a Paul Newman overview without sliding the whacked out hockey movie, Slap Shot, into the conversation. In the Great White North, this movie is a right of passage. If I’m not mistaken, when immigrants are sworn in as Canadians they have to not only sing O’ Canada but must name three characters from the film and refuse an offer of Root Beer at their induction ceremony. And besides, Newman has supposedly gone on record stating that his role as Reggie Dunlop was the closest he ever came to playing himself on screen … or something like that. Another big box office hit sees Newman as the player/coach of a third rate minor league hockey team who devises a plan to fill the stands in the arenas they play in. Fight. It’s a foul mouthed laugh fest that probably would never get made today in the world of being politically correct. Isn’t that right Reggie? ”

T is for …. Taylor.

Somehow the history of cinema wouldn’t seem right if Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman had never shared the screen together. Two of the greatest stars of their generation and beyond. Thankfully they did in the 1958 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof where Liz memorably starred opposite Newman as Maggie the Cat.

U is for …. Until They Sail. Reuniting with director Robert Wise for this 1957 drama gave Newman the opportunity to star opposite a quartet of well known leading ladies. Miss Jean Simmons, Miss Joan Fontaine, Miss Sandra Dee and Miss Piper Laurie who would reteam with him to great acclaim for her performance in The Hustler.

V is for …. The Verdict.

Saw this one at the theater when it came out in 1982 and Newman again blew me away with his performance of a drunken, washed up lawyer who falls into the case of a lifetime and one last chance at redemption. A great court roomer from director Sidney Lumet. That same Sidney Lumet who directed Twelve Angry Men which should lend some weight to this one if you’ve somehow missed it over the years. If only Ben Kingsley hadn’t starred in Gandhi that same year, surely Paul would have claimed the Oscar for this one.

W is for …. Woodward. Joanne Woodward.

Paul married Joanne in 1958 and their marriage lasted till his death in 2008. Amazing by any standards but when it comes to Hollywood, all the more. Aside from his directing her in 5 films they appeared on screen together in a total of 10 films and the TV miniseries Empire Falls.

X is for …. Again, damned if I know. Had he starred in The Man With X Ray Eyes I’d have no problem here.

Y is for …. The Young Philadelphians 

Long before Newman played a lawyer to great acclaim in 1982’s The Verdict he starred in The Young Philadelphians as a young member of the Bar in this WB release that joined old Hollywood with the new. It was directed by long time studio employee, Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington), and cast veterans like Billie Burke and Alexis Smith among up and comers including Newman, Robert Vaughn and Brian Keith.

Z is for …. Zerbe, Anthony Zerbe. I have this sneaking suspicion that I’ll be using Mr. Zerbe as often as I can when attempting to come up with a connection to the letter Z on most any list associated with the movies. Thankfully as a character actor he appeared in plenty of great movies opposite A List actors. Where Paul is concerned, Zerbe, played the dog handler in Cool Hand Luke and also turned up among the well known faces of 1972’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

Perhaps you might have selected a different subject for any one of the above letters. Do tell but remember to focus on the movies and not the race track or the spaghetti sauces. Thanks for dropping by and by all means grab a Newman movie on DVD, blu ray or stream one to revisit him or if you’re younger then maybe discover him and the many fine films he blessed us with. 

13 Comments »

    • Yes! Too often it’s thought of as a spectacle flick but in the end he was on his game in the big showdown with McQueen. I almost rewatched it last night after getting this list prepared. Maybe this week if time permits. Cheers’

  1. Man oh man, he starred in some good ones…my favorites would be The Sting, Slap Shot, and The Verdict. As for the letter ‘X’…didn’t he star in a few X-rated films? Oh, maybe not…

    • I have a hard time picking just one Newman film as a fave. There are about 6 or so that stand very tall among movies in general. One character I really took a shine to when it came out is Sully in Nobody’s Fool. A real gem from his late career. But again it’s hard to pick between Luke, Eddie, Gondorff etc….

  2. Damn Mike another AtoZ of delight. You’ve certainly picked a winner subject with Paul Newman. What a superb read. Filled to the brim with knowledge.
    Only yesterday I watched “Discovering Film” with Steve McQueen with my daughter and when The Towering Inferno came on I thought I gotta see this again. Two giants of film.
    Top series buddy….. thumbs up

    • Again, these are fun. Time consuming but I’ve been at it for a couple weeks. Easy to change my mind on some letters and adapt. Newman a real movie treasure. So many titles to share with the kids. Including Inferno. I’m due for a rewatch on that one.

  3. Great actor, great humanitarian. He is everywhere in my house: kitchen pantry and DVD collection! 😉 Anyhow, my two favorite Newman performances are the alcoholic lawyer in The Verdict and and the irresponsible blue collar worker in Nobody’s Fool.

    • Glad to see I’m not the only one who really loves to point out Nobody’s Fool. A really great performance but I believe less known amongst the many other bigger box office hits. We too have a number of Newman’s products here in the kitchen.

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