“Newman’s first law: It is useless to put on your brakes when you’re upside-down.” – Paul Newman.
Paul Newman Biography
Paul Leonard Newman was born on 26 January 1925 in Shaker Heights, which is on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. He was the second son of Arthur Sigmund Newman who was a Jewish descendant of Hungarian and Polish immigrants. His mother, Theresa, practiced Christian Science and was herself an immigrant, having been born into a Roman Catholic family in Humenné in what is now the Republic of Slovakia. Paul Newman himself was not religious, but when asked, always described himself as Jewish, explaining that it was more of a challenge. His mother worked in the successful sporting goods store owned by his father whilst also being tasked with raising Paul and his elder brother Arthur, who eventually became production manager in the store.
Paul though had no interest in the family business and showed early promise as an actor when he played the part of a court jester in a production of Robin Hood at his school, Shaker Heights High School when he was only seven years old. When he was ten he joined the Curtain Pullers children’s theater program and performed in Saint George and the Dragon at the Cleveland Playhouse theater. After graduating from Shaker Heights in 1943, Newman attended Ohio University in Athens and was initiated into the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
Newman enrolled in the Navy’s V-12 pilot training program at Yale but it was discovered he was colourblind and so had to drop out. Aviation Radioman Third Class Newman served in World War II after qualifying instead for torpedo bombers following training as a radioman and rear gunner. He was sent to Barbers Point, Hawaii and flew as a turret gunner in Avenger torpedo bombers. His and other replacement units were assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill just before the Battle of Okinawa but in the Spring of 1945 when they were supposed to fly out to the ship, Newman’s plane was grounded due to his pilot having an ear infection. The rest of the squadron flew out as scheduled and became casualties when the Bunker Hill was attacked by Kamikaze aircraft.
After the war, Paul Newman attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and economics in 1949. He toured with several theatre companies before moving to New York to study at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg. In the same year as his graduation, he married Jackie Witte and he was accompanied by her when he arrived in New York in 1951. They lived on Staten Island and Paul made his Broadway theatre debut two years later. He would appear on Broadway several more times over the next few years, but also during this time, Newman was introduced to working in television with his first credited role coming in an episode of Tales of Tomorrow called Ice from Space.
In 1954 he appeared in a screen test for East of Eden at the side of James Dean. Newman didn’t win that part but in the same year, he co-starred Frank Sinatra in a live, colour TV broadcast of Our Town, with him being the last minute replacement for James Dean. He would take parts meant for James Dean on two other occasions, the first being the part of Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and then again as Rocky Graziano in Somebody up there Likes Me. Both of these movies were filmed after James Dean’s death.
In 1957, Paul Newman reconnected with an actress he had first met in 1953, when he filmed The Long, Hot Summer, alongside Joanne Woodward. That same year Newman was divorced from Jackie Witte and in 1958, the same year that their movie was released, Newman and Joanne Woodward were married. The movie won Newman the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. He also starred opposite another cinema icon, Elizabeth Taylor in 1958, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. That movie was a smash hit and furnished Paul Newman with his first Academy Award nomination.
Through the 1960’s and 1970’s Newman appeared in a string of box office hits including The Hustler in 1961, Cool Hand Luke in 1967, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid alongside Robert Redford in 1969, The Sting in 1973 and The Towering Inferno in 1974. He also starred alongside his wife in a number of movies following their first in 1958, including Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! in 1958, Paris Blues in 1961, The Drowning Pool in 1975, Harry & Son in 1984 and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge in 1990. An Academy Award for best actor came along in 1986 when he reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson in a sequel to The Hustler called The Color of Money, alongside a young Tom Cruise.
Paul Newman’s final movie where he appeared on screen was in 2002. Called Road to Perdition he starred opposite Tom Hanks as a conflicted mob boss, a part which won him another Academy Award nomination. His final movie overall was in 2006 when he gave his voice to the character of Doc Hudson, a retired racecar in the Disney / Pixar movie, Cars. He retired from acting the following year.
Acting is not the only thing that Paul Newman was involved in. He was known as a philanthropist, co-founding a line of food products called Newman’s Own with the writer A. E. Hotchner. The line includes salad dressing, pasta sauce, lemonade, popcorn, salsa and wine among lots of others and all proceeds after tax go to charitable causes and has as of 2014 raised over $400 million. He donated $250,000 in 1999 to the efforts to help refugees is Kosovo and donated $10 million in 2007 to Kenyon College to establish a scholarship fund. He was also a political activist and was a lifelong Democrat stating once that his greatest achievement was making it to number nine on Richard Nixon’s enemies list following Newman’s support of Eugene McCarthy in 1968.
Other than acting, philanthropy and politics though, Paul Newman is best known as a lover of auto racing, having fallen for the sport whilst shooting the movie Winning in 1969 at the Watkins Glen Racing School. Newman took part in a number of races and owned a number of racing cars. His first competitive event was in 1972 at the Thompson International Speedway. He entered as P. L. Newman and would be forever known by this name in the world of racing. He was a very successful driver but also wanted to get into team ownership. He first achieved this with the help of Bill Freeman and they formed the Newman Freeman Racing team and became very competitive and won the Can-Am Team Championship Trophy in 1979. Newman later co-founded the Newman / Haas racing team with Carl Haas and this team would go on to win eight Champ Car team championships.
Newman always said he would quit “when I embarrass myself”, but he never did, competing into his eighties. He won at Lime Rock in a Corvette which carried the same racing number as Newman’s age, 81. He took his last professional pole position in 2007 at Watkins Glen International.
The following year, it was widely reported that Paul Newman had been diagnosed with lung cancer. On the morning of 26 September 2008, he died surrounded by his five daughters and eight grandchildren.