Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.
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Somebody up there likes me (1956)
Cat on a hot tin roof (1958)
The Hustler (1961)
Newman negotiates the stench of stale cigarettes and alcohol that fills the pool halls, in his Oscar nominated role as “Fast” Eddie Felson, a brash competitor with a keen eye and rock steady cue.
The sets and black-and-white cinematography offer a gritty realism, embuing the marathon matches with a palpable tension. Newman’s pool shots were predominantly made by retired champion Willie Mosconi, whose dexterity can be appreciated via the following link.
Travelling the country with an equally unscrupulous manager – played by Myron McCormick – “Fast” Eddie soon makes a name for himself encountering along the way, the vulnerable Sarah (played by Piper Laurie), with tragic results. Jackie Gleason – who performed his own pool shots – portrays the rotund, dapper pool champ “Minnesota Fats,” who is challenged by Fast Eddie, whilst the ver dependable George C. Scott appears as the sinister gambling promoter, Bert Gordon.
The celebrated film critic, Bosley Crowther, was concise and effusive in equal measure when the film initially opened. Providing concise advice to the all American family, he wrote: “The Hustler” is not a picture to take the children to see, but it is one a father might wisely recommend to a restless teen-age son.
The Prize (1963)
Lightweight sub-Hitchcock froth, but a timely reminder of Newman’s heyday as a cinematic hearthrob.
More tailor made as a vehicle for Cary Grant, the film – based on Irving Wallace’s bestseller – depicts events just prior to the annual prestigious Nobel Prize ceremony, as top writers, scientists and leaders converge on Stockholm. This year, however, some honorees will find the event eclipsed by a greater challenge: staying alive. Paul Newman is up to his famed baby blues in danger and intrigue as Andrew Craig, a hard-drinking author and Nobel winner for literature. At first dismissive of the award and only interested in the cash it brings, Craig finds his writer instincts and wit sharpened when he senses the physics prize winner (Edward G. Robinson) is an impostor. He sets out to expose the hoax, freefalling into a Cold War ploy of secrets, pursuits, subterfuge and assassins. Along the way, he’s nearly drowned in the Blue Hill river, run over and somewhat exposed at a nudist meeting.
Theatrically released at a time of national mourning – Kennedy’s funeral was barely three weeks old – this overlong thriller remains entertaining fare, if a trifle hokey. Nationally screened in Britain on the BBC in the early 70’s, it would disappear from terrrestrial screens for more than three decades, ultimately resurfacing on TCM.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Newman’s promotional tour de force for the Egg Marketing Board, “Cool Hand Luke” recounts the tale of one Lucas Jackson, a man sentenced to serve hard time in a tough chain gang in 1940s Florida. Enduring sadistic wardens, an egg-eating contest, and a definite “failure to communicate,” our central character earns the admiration of Dragline (George Kennedy, in his Oscar-winning role) and the other convicts, but the system proves equally determined to break him once and for all.
The film turned up regularly on the BBC in the 70’s and the searing heat depicted in many of the scenes rises a few extra degrees when the nubile blonde economises on her water supply to soapsud both herself and the car. It was a heartstopping scene for all teenage boys and the hot topic of the day at school, but viewed now from the perspective of forty years on, the endless fascination with the female form is somewhat muted and the five minute scene can best be utilised to brew a cuppa and rejoin the film when it matters.
After his early arrest Luke is quickly taken to prison along with a group of other newcomers and in an amusing opening we hear the list of rules the inmates have to abide by. For every rule we learn that transgressors “spend a night in the box,” a harsh solitary confinement with a pot and tin for toiletry requirements being a prisoner’s only company. Luke is revealed to be a war hero, which initially sees him mocked by the other prisoners especially after his first day away from the prison working on the roads. Gradually, Luke begins to win over the other prisoners with his good humour and defiance of the prison authority. His biggest challenge is winning the respect of Dragline who challenges him to a fight one Saturday – this is the designated day of the week when prisoners who have grudges and arguments to settle can do so with their fists and the guards won’t intervene unless it gets serious. Dragline is superior in strength to Luke and proceeds to give him a fierce beating but every time Luke is knocked down he simply stands again to have another beating. It’s a highly disconcerting scene that illustrates some men’s indomitable will.
Newman’s spirit in the film goes to the heart of the central question – Is willpower really a factor in one’s life and death battle?
People undoubtedly want to believe in willpower. In a 1989 survey of medical professionals, close to 100 percent said they recognized it and believed it made a difference, and in obvious ways it inarguably does. I hear many tales from my wife when she’s working in the intensive care unit at her hospital and people with a positive attitude are more likely to follow their doctor’s orders. One study of breast cancer patients showed a direct relation between a positive mental state and compliance with chemotherapy, presumably increasing their chances of getting better.
There have been research studies showing links between avoiding depression and increased cancer survival. A long-term study of 205 cancer patients found that those showing fewer depressive symptoms had a roughly 10 percent greater chance of being around ten years after diagnosis. Following a five-year study of 578 women with breast cancer, researchers reported a “significantly reduced chance of survival” for severely depressed patients and that strong feelings of helplessness and hopelessness had a “a moderate but detrimental effect.”
On the whole though, research shows little to no link between willpower and survival of life-threatening illness. A study published by the American Stroke Association in 2001 showed that while a sense of “helplessness/hopelessness” reduced the chance of survival, having a “fighting spirit” made no significant difference. Similarly, a study of 204 Australian lung cancer patients showed zero link between positive outlook and survival. In light of such results it’s tempting to say that while a positive attitude won’t help your chances, a negative attitude might make them worse. However, even that modest conclusion may be a reach. A British Medical Journal review of 10 studies of fighting spirit and 12 studies of helplessness/hopelessness found no correlation either way with cancer survival or recurrence. What’s more, individual studies purporting to show a link typically had methodological flaws or other problems.
Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a correlation between the will to live and survival; witness the case of Aron Ralston, the mountaineer, who famously amputated his own hand to escape a boulder that had trapped him in a climbing accident. Likewise, after his plane crashed in 1994, Peter DeLeo managed to walk 13 days to safety on a shattered ankle, with a collapsed lung, one eye, no food, but clearly an ample supply of guts. Finally, let’s not overlook the story of Dougal and Lynn Robertson. While stranded at sea for 38 days with only small amounts of rainwater to drink, they gave brackish-water enemas to themselves and others on their life raft on the theory that their rectums would filter out the salt and absorb enough water to keep them alive.
There is nothing more disconcerting to Dragline than the sight of Luke hauling himself to his feet and refusing to admit defeat yet, as his admiration for the smaller man grows, we realise that whilst we’re watching an individual who cannot win, he will continue to absorb punishment indefinitely.
The assault on our sensibilities is subtle. Luke is found guilty of little more than destroying parking meters, an action we might all secretly contemplate yet when he gets sent to prison, he becomes an inspiration to the other in-mates by refusing to let the guards get the better of him. Soon he is up in arms against the wardens which leads to an entertaining series of conflicts but also a road tarmacing scene that suggests Luke could have served his time without the mule headedness that is ultimately responsible for his demise. After winning the egg eating bet midway through the movie, Newman’s character is left in a Christ like pose on the table. Whilst it’s symbolic of the struggle for change in 60’s America, it takes the death of Luke’s mother to tip him over the edge. Even today, we can still rejoice in that winning smile and laconic demeanour, so strikingly at odds with today’s macho, incessantly profane anti-heros yet markedly more memorable; that Newman failed to win the best actor oscar was an injustice overlooked for twenty years.
I picked up the deluxe DVD edition for £1.50, and the remastered visuals positively cackle with sweat and vibrant humour.
The Verdict (1982)
Newman is Frank Galvin, a washed-up lawyer, given one last chance to prove himself with a rather squalid medical malpractice suit. David Mamet delivers a fast-paced, eloquent, and suspenseful screenplay and Sidney Lumet breaks with his directorial tradition, dating back to 1957’s ‘Twelve Angry men’, by focusing on storyline rather than characterisation.
Down on his luck, Galvin is presented with the case of his life when he is approached by the family of a comatose post operative woman in a large Catholic hospital. Intent on an early pay cheque, he takes the case aiming for a fast settlement, but emotional involvement overtakes him and despite the threat of disbarment, elects to keep the family in the dark. The hospital’s sizeable settlement offer is therefore rejected in favour of exposing the venalities of the medical profession, and Galvin goes to trial where he faces formidable opposition from the church’s lawyer, played by James Mason. He is assisted in his endeavours by his new girlfriend, Laura (Charlotte Rampling), a woman with a murky past.
After the forgettable froth of 1981’s ‘Fort Apache The Bronx’, Newman returned to the heavyweight arena to deliver another best actor nominated performance; public fascination with ‘all things Ghandi’ leaving him once again, empty handed on Oscar night.
Whatever his seemingly redemptive qualities, Galvin remains an essentially disagreeable character, punching Laura fully in the mouth when he uncovers her betrayal. Suitably contrite, she implores onlookers to leave him alone and the couple never speak again. Explaining her actions, even her desire to confess before their altercation, count for nothing. The last shot of her, lying disconsolately on the bed awash in tears and liquor, a phone receiver at her breast, is depressingly downbeat. Galvin, on the receiving end of the call, watches the ringing phone with the air of a vindicated man. I’m uncomfortable with any man hitting a woman, whatever the provocation, yet Newman’s character goes one step further and rejects any notion of an apology from his former lover.
Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (Matt Stone) 2006
Newman was an avid, successful and well respected car racer and team owner. A career, begun in earnest at an age when many race car drivers contemplate retirement to the partnership he formed in 1983 with Chicago racing entrepreneur and team owner Carl Haas, this is the tale of a life full of passion and skill, of someone who entered the 24 Hours of Daytona at the age of 70 and incredibly made his last professional race outing at 82. It wasn’t simply the thrill of speed either; his interest in cars extended from the likely suspects to old trucks and new hybrids.
His wife was naturally concerned about his passion for racing yet Newman was eventually prompted to put his life at the speedtrack into proper context when recalling a comical domestic incident.
“Joanne fell out of bed the other night and broke her collarbone. As she lay on the ground, I said to her, ‘I’m not going to listen to any more complaining about my racing!’ “
Paul Newman: A Life (Shawn Levy) 2009
So along comes Levy’s biography, a four year project that purports to be a respectful tribute to the actor, and almost immediately allegations about his womanizing – which take up a mere 5 pages out of 496 – begin overshadowing the rest of his story.
In a shallow industry that perceives a long marriage as one that makes it past its first anniversary, the 50-year union of Paul Newman and his second wife, Joanne, remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring fairy tales.
Famously devoted to his wife, Newman was once asked how he resisted the lure of the scores of beautiful women who threw themselves at him: “I have steak at home, so why should I go out for a hamburger?” he replied. But eleven years into their marriage, according to Levy, the union hit a rocky patch. On location in Mexico, Newman allegedly began an affair with Nancy Bacon, a divorced Hollywood journalist.
“It was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. People used to joke about it. Referring to his old remark, they’d say: ‘Paul may not go out for hamburger, but he sure goes out for Bacon,’” said Nancy. Bacon has claimed she finally ended the affair, tired of watching from the sidelines as Newman appeared in public with his young family. Besides, she says, “he was always drunk.” Poor Nancy, she never worked it out, did she?
Newman enjoyed a period of twenty plus years in which, like a fine wine, he improved with age. By the time he reached his early forties, he was at his most devastatingly handsome, lean, tanned, attractively grey and with those piercing blue eyes. He didn’t require a state of the art sports car. He was Hollywood’s ultimate ‘pussy magnet’ all by himself. That there appears a solitary blot on his copybook and a marriage that subsequently endured long afterwards, is evidence itself of what his feelings for Joanne Woodward truly were. And Miss Bacon? She simply wanted what she didn’t have, and a superstar to boot. Six children from what would have been two previous marriages? A breeze, and little there to put her off. I mean all credit to any of you able to visualize her tied to the kitchen sink preparing one never ending round after round of meals for the Newman tribe. Can’t manage it myself, yet whatever your take on this, Newman’s continued drinking throughout their time together was hardly behaviour becoming of a man embarking on a new chapter in his life. So why did Miss Bascon persist for a full eighteen months? – because she felt she could get him.
Last update – 23/12/16
Donald Mills Pearce travelled to Venice, Spain, Denmark, France, Portugal and Bombay as a merchant marine. Having missed out on combat duty as an infantry soldier for being under age he now encountered a post-war Europe with a thriving black market and at eighteen years of age became involved in counterfeiting American money. He attempted to pass some counterfeit bills to a police officer in Marseilles, and was arrested, tried, and sent to prison. Assigned to a work detail outside the prison grounds, Pearce escaped, making his way to the Italian border. The French officials had taken his seaman’s papers, so he forged new ones and signed on a ship to Canada. He crossed from Canada into the United States, where he began a new career—burglary.
He became a safecracker, and in 1949, at the age of twenty, was arrested for burglary necessitating a two year period of penal servitude in the Florida Department of Corrections chain gangs. Reflecting later on this experience, he published his first novel, Cool Hand Luke in 1965 , and subsequently went on to write the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the 1967 film version which starred Paul Newman in one of the defining roles of his illustrious career…
Newman passed away in 2008 and after a period of low key yet warm critical appreciation of his lifetime work, his memory now appears to be coming under the tabloid microscope. His second marriage in Hollywood terms, was as legendary for its longevity and monogamy as that of Paul and Linda McCartney in music, and with the actor himself no longer around to defend his reputation, it’s going to be a difficult time for the Newman family. If some of the allegations are true, then it’s still fair to say that his was essentially a life of restraint.
His wife Joanne Woodward was moved on occasion to reflect on love and marriage when she said: “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”