Sunday, September 28, 2008

Newman: We Lost a Great One


Saturday morning I went to HuffingtonPost.com to read the recap of the first Obama-McCain debate from the night before. On the home page, I was greeted with the unwelcome news that fellow Clevelander, Paul Newman, had lost his battle with cancer, succumbing at age 83.

Newman came up in the age of Brando, Dean, McQueen and Clift, actually replacing Dean following his death in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'. Like those great performers, Newman was a student of the 'Method' school of acting, taught by The Actors Studio in New York. Unlike those actors, Newman largely avoided scandal, diminished skills and peculiar behavior. Not a fan of Hollywood, Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward moved to Connecticut shortly after Newman's career solidified and never considered Los Angeles home.

Newman had an unbelievable run of great roles in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Just a few include Hud, Harper, Cool Hand Luke, Billy the Kid, Judge Roy Bean, Rocky Graziano, 'Fast' Eddie Felson and of course, Butch Cassidy. Always a fine actor, the eighties found Newman piercing a deeper layer of performance. A naturalism so real, he just blended into a role and seemed more relaxed than ever. Starting with 'Absence of Malice', continuing through 'The Verdict', 'The Color of Money' and culminating with 'Nobody's Fool' (the role Newman said was the closest to his true self that he'd ever portrayed), Paul Newman became a consumate actor; one that I think we tended to take for granted because he was so consistently excellent.

Shortly after I joined Sony, I had the opportunity to oversee an interview with Paul Newman for the upcoming 'Absence of Malice' DVD. Taking place in New York at a subdued, elegant hotel on the upper West Side, we were due to share a camera crew with A&E's Biography show. Upon arrival, the cameraman told us, "be careful, he's cranky today".

We walked in, and there he was, sitting in a chair, reading a paper, ignoring the crew as they redressed the set for us. We were introduced, he said hello and put his head back in his newspaper. Feeling brave, I said: "Mr. Newman, may I ask you a quick question?" Without looking up, he said "sure". I said, "where was your father's sporting goods store located in Shaker Heights?"

Newman looked up at me, clearly surprised. "What do you know about my dad's shop?" I told him I was from Cleveland and had always heard about it, but never knew where it was. He put the paper down and told me about the shop and what it was like growing up in Cleveland. He asked what part of town I was from and then spent the next ten minutes telling me stories about Cleveland proper vs. Shaker Heights. When he spoke, the glint in his eye and the smile on his face melted at least twenty years away.

The interview ultimately went well. Newman generally didn't like talking about his craft, but he was a good sport and told some great stories. Following the interview, I asked him for any tips to get Robert Redford to do interviews for his DVDs. Newman said it would be rough, because Redford really didn't like to see how he used to look in his glory days.

The next day we did interviews with Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro for 'Taxi Driver'. That was substantial, but Paul Newman, ah...that was the gold standard.

Ten Newman flicks you must see:

1. Hud
2. The Hustler
3. Harper
4. Hombre
5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
6. The Sting
7. SlapShot
8. Absence of Malice
9. Fort Apache The Bronx
10. Nobody's Fool

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a really great Newman story. He always came across as someone who never lost his sense of self and projected true human decency.

Many of the roles for which he will be remembered had him playing flawed characters. I think that's why he resonated with audiences. Apropos of that, I would add "The Verdict" to the list of must-see Newman films. - JVB

hey fella said...

Excellent post. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Loved Newman as "Big Daddy's" favorite son amongst all that "Mendacity" , and will never forget that smile of his at the end of "Cool Hand Luke".

Great post, I can just see you sitting there with Newman telling you in his scratchy voice "What do you know about my dad's shop?"
He will be missed.

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