Paul Newman was a stage actor who became a movie star. A sex symbol who celebrated 50 years of marriage with his second wife. A grieving father who turned to philanthropy after the death of his only son. A citizen activist who campaigned for liberal politicians and against nuclear weapons. A lover of fast race cars, beer and his own popcorn. And then there were those blue eyes.
"Oh, he was like a Greek god when I first met him," Estelle Parsons said Saturday. She knew Newman when he was president of the Actors Studio in the 1980s. "You could not believe those beautiful blue eyes, and that face looked like something made by Michelangelo. But I think the amazing thing about him was that he was such a wonderful human being, so kind and thoughtful to his friends and colleagues.
When you worked with him, you felt like you had a friend for life."
Newman died Friday of cancer at the Westport home he shared with his wife, Joanne Woodward. He was 83.
Initially a stage actor trained at the Yale School of Drama in New Haven, Newman soon became a movie star in the era of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Ultimately he surpassed them both, as the great Brando failed to find the right roles and grew overweight, and Dean passed into legend in a fatal sports car crash after only three movies. Unlike Brando, Newman, returned to the theater after he rose to stardom — creating the role of Chance Wayne in Tennessee Williams "Sweet Bird of Youth" and carrying a Westport Country Playhouse revival of Thornton Wilder¹s "Our Town" to Broadway in 2002. By coincidence, his taking on the role of the Stage Manager in a production that was later filmed for HBOcarried an echo of his early career in the so-called Golden Age of Television.
After his turn in "Our Town", Newman's career consisted largely of voice work -- as Doc Hudson in the animated 2006 "Cars", and as Dave Scott for television's 2005 "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon." He appeared as Max Roby in "Empire Falls" for HBO in 2002, again playing a character written by Richard Russo, who also wrote "Nobody's Fool." In 2003, he played Justice Earl Warren in two episodes of "Freedom: A History of Us." Then came the onset of the cancer, forcing him to give up acting.
"When we did 'Rachel, Rachel', we rehearsed it for three weeks as if it were a play and it made an enormous difference. I remember, in the film, I had to kiss Joann Woodward and I started to think about the character as a lesbian and all that back story. But he said: 'Just think of the moment, think of it as an impulsive thing' and that just opened the skies for me. I also learned a lesson from him: take every moment that comes along.
"I think he was profoundly aware of how lucky he was and what opportunities he had because of the way he looked and his talent," Parsons said.
Newman's self-mocking, whimsical humor can be seen in his biography in the Westport program for "Our Town": "Paul Newman is probably best known for his spectacularly successful food conglomerate. In addition to giving the profits to charity he also ran Frank Sinatra out of the spaghetti sauce business. On the downside, the spaghetti sauce is outgrossing his films. He did graduate from Kenyon College magna cum lager and in the process begat a laundry business which was the only student-run enterprise on Main Street. Yale University later awarded him an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters for unknown reasons. He has won four Sports Car of America National Championships and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest driver (70) to win a professionally sanctioned race (24 hours of Daytona, 1995). He is married to the best actress on the planet, was number 19 on Nixon's enemy list, and purely by accident has done 51 films and four Broadway plays. He is generally considered by professionals to be the worst fisherman on the east coast."
James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama, said Saturday that although Newman left the Yale School of Drama after a year to start his career, he managed to be supportive of that instutution over the years, contributing not only with dollars but with his time with students. He also recalled seeing Newman's performance at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2002 in "Our Town."
"It had this wonderful combination of star magnetism and humility. I was pinching myself because I was seeing Paul Newman on stage but he was not at all impressed with himself," Bundy said. "His example was not only of the highest aspirations of art but showed how an artist could also be a public citizen."
With his understated, sometimes ironic style, his comic-book hero looks and taut physique, Newman made icons of many of his movie parts.
A whole range of characters come to mind: Ben Quick ("The Long Hot Summer"), Brick Pollit ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), "Fast Eddy" Felson ("The Hustler" and "The Color of Money'), Ari Ben Canaan ("Exodus"), Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, Henry Gondorff ("The Sting").
He has played men created by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ken Keysey, John O'Hara. When he took on a character from Evan S. Connell's book, as in "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge," he did not disappoint.
Rather he brought new dimensions to a fictional creation. He was also adept in playing real-life people, ranging from Rocky Graziano to Gen. Leslie R. Groves in "Fat Man and Little Boy." He played cowboys, from Billy the Kid to Hud, and adeptly took on athletes — boxing in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," hockey in "Slapshot," and pool, of course.
Oscar worthy roles
His skill with cues brought him two Oscar nominations, first for "The Hustler" in 1961, then for "The Color of Money," for which he finally won, in 1986. In between, he was in competition for best actor for "Hud" (1963), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "Absence of Malice" (1981) and "The Verdict" (1982). He was nominated again, for best supporting actor, for Robert Benton's "Nobody¹s Fool" (1994), Sam Mendes' "Road to Perdition" (2003). "Rachel, Rachel," his directorial bow, won a best picture nomination, and a best actress nod for Woodward. He took home a Special Award for lifetime achievement in 1985, and a Humanitarian Award in 1993.
Not all of his efforts succeeded at the box office, but over his long career, Newman managed to work for some of the cinema's most distinguished directors: Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Alfred Hitchcock, George Roy Hill, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Joel Coen. And he was at home in any number of genres, including his detective series, "Harper." He even brought a measure of credibility to disaster epics such as the star-crammed "The Towering Inferno."
After a false start in the ridiculous, sub-camp costume melodrama "The Silver Chalice," Newman eschewed historical films except for westerns and built himself a rangy career as men of the city and country boys. Before he repeated his gigolo's role in "Sweet Bird of Youth," he was a potent/impotent Brick to Elizabeth Taylor¹s alluring Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He brought sex appeal and humor to "The Long Hot Summer," an adaptation of William Faulkner that also starred Woodward. Yet his breakthrough role, Rocky Graziano in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," cast him as a graduate of New York¹s mean streets.
Newman¹s film career seemed to grow stronger in his later years, though two of his notable successes, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting," came when he was in his 40s. Both paired him with Robert Redford. Earlier triumphs included "Hud," a dark-edged modern western, and "The Hustler," a stinging portrait of a pool shark. Among the triumphs of his later years were "The Verdict," in which he excelled as an alcoholic Boston lawyer, and the underrated "Fort Apache the Bronx." Belatedly, he won his only Oscar for Martin Scorsese¹s vividly photographed sequel to "The Hustler," "The Color of Money"(1986).
Actor as director
Though best known as a primal Actors Studio film star, Newman also enjoyed success as a director, often with Woodward as his star. After acting together on a number of films, their first collaboration as director and actor was "Rachel, Rachel," the Oscar-nominated 1968 film about a lonely spinster teacher caring for her ancient mother. His later films with Woodward include "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" (1972), and "The Glass Menagerie" (1987).
A Saturday release from his West Coast representative noted that Newman's Own was "one of the first food companies to use all natural ingredients and he later pioneered an organic line with his daughter Nell. Today, Newman's Own is a multi-million food business whose proceeds are donated to thousands of charities around the world....a total which now exceeds $250 million.
"Particularly close to his heart were the Hole-in-the-Wall camps for children with life-threatening health conditions. One day, over 20 years ago, while sitting in a rowboat on a little woodland lake, then full of snapping turtles and surrounded by the Connecticut woods, he envisioned an old Western town like the one in "Butch Cassidy" stretched along the shore. But its facades would hide not only "roughing it"accommodations for children who would come for two weeks, strictly for summer fun, but all the modern equipment that health emergencies might require, and a top cadre of medical personnel in western costume. Today, there is an association of such camps -- 11 member camps around the world, all on different themes, in Connecticut, New York, Florida, California, North Carolina, Ireland, United Kingdom, Hungary, France, Italy and Israel -- with additional programs in Vietnam and Africa."
More than 135,000 have enjoyed a Hole-in-the-Wall camp for free, since the first one opened. "When asked why he opened started the... camps, Newman said: "I wanted to acknowledge luck: the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, who might not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it."
In recent years, Newman became as well known for his food products as for his acting and directing. His salad dressings, pasta sauces, popcorn, salsa, chocolate and "fig Newmans" — among other edibles — show the actor in various guises. He took no profits from his business but instead channeled the earnings into various charities, including his Hole-in-the-Wall camps for terminally ill children (the first is in Ashford) and the Westport County Playhouse, recently restored and modernized under Woodward's stewardship.
Newman's Own began almost by accident before Christmas in 1980 when the actor and his friend, the writer A. E. Hotchner, were holed up in Newman¹s basement, filling old wine bottles with homemade salad dressing, presents for friends. The following spring, Newman decided to sell the dressing in local gourmet shops, in partnership with Hotchner, a writer who had specialized in Hemingway. In the first year, Newman's Own made nearly $1 million in profits. The Industrial Strength Venetian Spaghetti Sauce made its debut in 1983, with Newman and Woodward singing a duet. The company hit a snag in the late '80s when the owner of a delicatessen argued that Newman reneged on a promise of a share of the profits, but the case ended in a mistrial.
Newman and Woodward were also well known for their political efforts. He was among the delegates who fought for the antiwar candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., at the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention.
Speaking to delegates In August 1968, he said:
"We're going to lay things really on the line. We're looking for a candidate who can win and become president. My sentiments are well known.
"Let's ask these questions: What is the Democratic Party about? To whom is it responsible and responsive to? I am new to participatory politics. I hope the convention won't reject me because I am new to participatory politics.
"If you're looking for unity, McCarthy is not afraid to accept new blood. Unless we initiate and accept new blood, the Democratic party is in for serious trouble. The McCarthy banner is the banner of hope. I would like to see a thoughtful man in the Presidency."
But amid the bitter turmoil that racked Chicago that summer, Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy prevailed. Of the maneuvers of the party to hold support for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Newman told a television reporter: "It was sickening to watch the machine in action." Later, Newman's reputation as a liberal was so long-standing that it won him the No. 19 spot on the infamous Enemies List compiled by Charles Colson for Pres. Richard M. Nixon.
In November 1969, Newman became a magnet in the U.S. Senate campaign for Joseph Duffey. At the announcement, he popped a stick of gum in his mouth, and said in a low voice that he would do "quite a bit of campaigning for the candidate." Earlier that fall, one of his greatest hits, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" opened after the first movie premiere in New Haven's history, with Newman, Redford, Woodward and Barbra Streisand on hand at the Roger Sherman Theater.
Often chomping gum and saying "um," Newman became the main attraction in Duffey's 1970 campaign, whisking around the state in a six-seat, two-engine plane. He campaigned, he said because he did not want a tombstone that read: "Here lies Paul Newman. He never was part of his times." His humor often showed through. He told a crowd, "I always feel I should do something dramatic while campaigning, like setting up a stage and bringing in Raquel Welch."
Newman remained active in politics thereafter, serving at the United Nations General Assembly's special session on disarmament in May 1978. Then, in February 1987, Connecticut's Democratic State Chairman John F. Droney cited the actor as an "intriguing and serious choice" to challenge Connecticut's Republican U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker, the following year. Newman ended the boomlet. "I'm happy to issue a denial for something I never intended to do."
From then on, he was no longer a highly visible figure in state politics. But he continued to pursue his love of auto racing at full-throttle through the years.
He gained a measure of fame of an auto racer, a sport he pursued well into his 70s, despite Woodward's efforts to sideline him. He often competed at Connecticut's Lime Rock Park, successfully handling a Chevrolet Corvette, as a star of the track in recent chapters in the American GT Challenge. He competed at Le Mans and Daytona as well.
He was still racing at 81, having taken on the voicing of "Doc" Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet in the 2006 Disney/Pixar in "Cars." At that point he told USA Today, "I¹m running out of steam. I¹ll keep driving as long as I'm competitive and as long as I don't embarrass myself. And so long as I don't dissolve into a tub of sweat, Those cars get awfully hot."
Lime Rock Park was closed down for 90 minutes in mid-August so that Newman could tour the track in his Corvette race car a few last laps. Reports said that he was accompanied by his family, close friends, mechanics on his race team and Skip Barber.
Newman was a revered, even beloved figure, but his love of racing sometimes drew fire, In May of 2006, the New York Times carried an op-ed piece opposing his desire to put a Grand-Prix style racing to Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field, a 1,115-acre retreat for fishing, camping, nature hiking, community gardening and investigating marine life.
After "Cars," he had no future roles in view, though he and Redford both hoped to work together again. "We're working on it," he said.
Truly, he was a man of many parts, yet he will be remembered and enjoyed in perpetuity for his long and varied career as a movie star.
Born Paul Leonard Newman on Jan. 26, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, to the successful owner of a sporting goods store, a Jew, and a mother of Hungarian descent, (who converted to Christian Science), he played Robin Hood in a grade school play, in a forecast of his future as an actor and as a liberal. Barely out of high school, he served in World War II as a radioman with the Navy Air Corps in the South Pacific. After his discharge in 1946, he entered Kenyon College in his native Ohio, with plans to study economics. Instead he found himself drawn into theater. Upon graduation in 1949, he took over the family business after the death of his father, but soon became bored and sold out to his older brother, Arthur. Roles in community theater and stock led him to the Yale School of Drama in New Haven for a year and then to Actors Studio in New York during the reign of Lee Strasberg and "the Method."
After working in radio, and sporadically in the television version of "The Aldrich Family," he landed his first Broadway part. On Feb. 19, 1953, William Inge's "Picnic" opened, with Newman as the preppy Alan Seymour, the good boy who lost out to Ralph Meeker's muscular drifter stud, with the legendary Josh Logan as his director. Newman's acting won him a Theater World Award. Two years later, he was cast as Glenn Griffin, the leader of a trio of prison escapees who take over the house of a middle-class family and terrorize them, in "The Desperate Hours." (Bizarrely, the playwright Joseph Hayes reworked his novel and play to make Glenn a much older man, fitting the role for Humphrey Bogart in his penultimate film). Robert Montgomery directed the play.
Newman was not drafted for either of the roles he created, but Hollywood had already seen Newman's potential, though Warner Bros. badly miscast him in "The Silver Chalice," based on the Thomas B. Costain best seller about a slave freed by the apostle Luke to fashion a chalice for the Last Supper. Newman took out an ad in a trade magazine apologizing to anyone who paid to see the 1954 film. But his movie career took off after "The Desperate Hours," when he won the role of Rocky Graziano, the bad boy turned middleweight champion in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," directed by Robert Wise and based on the boxer's autobiography. He landed the breakthrough role after the death of James Dean, who was originally cast. Newman showed his range in another 1956 release, "The Rack," when he played a Korean War veteran accused of collaborating with the enemy after his brainwashing and torture. Rod Serling directed. In 1957, he worked in both "The Helen Morgan Story" and "Until They Sail," a romance of four New Zealand sisters in wartime, directed by Wise.
Not all of these pictures are remembered today, but most were major projects with top stars. And 1958 pushed Newman to real stardom, with the release of "The Long Hot Summer," with the shirtless star as the redneck Ben Quick, directed by Martin Ritt; "The Left-Handed Gun," the star¹s first shot at a western as an actor's studio Billy the Kid, directed by Arthur Penn, and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," directed by Richard Brooks. His playing of the alcoholic ex-football star Brick Pollitt brought his first best actor Oscar nomination. The year also featured a second pairing of Newman and Woodward, in "Rally 'Round the Flag Boys!,"the Max Schulman service-sex comedy, directed by Leo McCarey. This was also the year Newman and Woodward married. They met in 1953, and his eight-year marriage to actress Jackie Witt ended in 1957. They had two daughers and a son.
The year 1959 brought only the admired "The Young Philadelphians," with Newman as a lawyer battling his way up under a cloud of illegitimacy. But 1960 was indeed a very good year, capped by one of his most famous roles up to that time, the Haganah leader Ari Ben Canaan in Otto Preminger¹s epic "Exodus," adapted from the Leon Uris best seller by the once blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, and by his return to Broadway to create the role of the gigolo Chance Wayne in "Sweet Bird of Youth." Another of the year's releases found him in John O'Hara territory, "From the Terrace," with Woodward. This was also the year that brought him back to Broadway in "Sweet Bird of Youth," opposite Geraldine Page.
Another benchmark role came in 1961, when Newman starred as the pool shark "Fast" Eddie Felson in Robert Rossen's "The Hustler." It brought him his second Oscar nomination for best actor, in a powerful, painful, dark film which garnered four acting nominations. He also starred in "Paris Blues," Martin Ritt's atmospheric depiction of American jazzmen in Paris, with Woodward, Sidney Poitier and a Duke Ellington score.
He made the film version of "Sweet Bird of Youth" in 1962, along with "Hemingway¹s Adventures as a Young Man." Ritt's "Hud," which brought him another best actor Oscar nomination for his playing of the contemptible but engaging "man with a barb wire soul," led his 1963 credits, which also included "A New Kind of Love," a so-so Paris comedy pairing Newman and Woodward, and "The Prize," an OK thriller with Newman as a Nobel Prize winner caught up in an espionage plot. The following year, 1964. cast Newman as one of Shirley MacLaine's husbands in "What a Way to Go!" and a Mexican bandit in "The Outrage," Ritt's revision of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon." It was also the year Newman returned once again to Broadway, with Woodward, in James Costigan¹s "Baby Want a Kiss," a minor effort that ended his stage work until he elected to do "Our Town" in Westport and on Broadway. His stay in New York limited his 1965 output to Peter Ustinov's "Lady L," with Sophia Loren.
But 1966 put Newman into "Harper," the first and best entry in a short-lived franchise based on Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer mysteries and paired him with Julie Andrews in the disappointing "The Torn Curtain," another Cold War caper that is one of the lesser efforts of the great Alfred Hitchcock. Then in 1967, he created one of his more admired roles as the rebellious inmate in Stuart Rosenberg¹s "Cool Hand Luke," and reteamed him with Ritt as a white man raised as an Indian in "Hombre." His role in the prison drama resulted in another best actor nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1968, he pulled down an Oscar nomination for directing Woodward in the admired "Rachel, Rachel," and also found time to work in the minor "The Secret War of Harry Frigg."
Then came one of the pictures that made him a legend, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," George Roy Hill's hip western with a very blond Redford providing brilliant buddy chemistry. The year, 1969, also put him into the driver's seat in "Winning," kicking off a longtime love for auto racing. In 1970, he joined with Rosenberg — and Woodward — again, for "WUSA," about a right-wing radio station in the Old South. He took over the direction and also starred with Henry Fonda in the 1970 "Sometimes a Great Notion," based on a Ken Kesey novel. A pair of westerns, neither classic, occupied him in 1972: Rosenberg's "Pocket Money" and John Huston's "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" — a change of pace role. But Newman's major project was directing Woodward and their daughter, Nell Potts, in the film version of Paul Zindel's bizarre comedy portrait of a strange family, "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds."
In 1973 Newman and Redford paired again in Hill's fast, colorful con man comedy, "The Sting," and also matched him with Huston in a Cold War thriller, "The MacKintosh Man." The lone 1974 release was that all-star blockbuster disaster picture, "The Towering Inferno," one of the better entries in a then hot genre.
In 1975, Newman played Lew Harper again, in the rather routine "The Drowing Pool" that put an end to that franchise. The next year put him together with Robert Altman in the handsome but hollow "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull¹s Mistake." Newman looked great as William Cody, but the colorful view of the Wild West Show fell well short of the hypnotic original play, Arthur Kopit¹s "Indians." Hill and Newman collaborated again in the 1977 "Slap Shot," which cast the athletic star as Reggie Dunlop, the aging player-coach of a low-rent hockey team. The brawling picture won some admirers, obscenities and all. Then, in 1979, Newman took another chance on Altman in a venture into a frozen future, the tiresome "Quintet."
Death of a son
The missing year in Paul Newman's life in film, 1978, brought tragedy. On Nov. 20, 1978, Scott Newman, his 28-year-old actor son, died of a drug-alcohol overdose. He was Newman's only son, one of three children to his first marriage to Jackie Witte. In 1980, Newman created the Scott Newman Foundation, based at the University of California School of Public Health.
Later renamed the Scott Newman Center and moved to Hollywood, the organization is an educational one, aimed at preventing drug abuse. Allied to it is another Newman charity, the Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp, which works with abused women.
The '80s, a generally impressive decade in the star's resumé, opened with a big-budget dud, the Irwin Allen disaster epic, "When Time Ran Out." Newman was Hank Henderson, a maverick oil driller who hits a gusher on Hawaii before nature strikes back in a big way. But 1981 brought forth one of Newman's strongest performance as a beleaguered cop named Murphy in Daniel Petrie's gritty, undervalued "Fort Apache the Bronx." Not quite as good is "Absence of Malice," the 1981 Sidney Pollack inquisition of the press, which pitted Sally Field's misguided reporter against Newman's innocent Michael Colin Gallagher. But the film brought Newman yet another best actor nomination.
In 1982, Newman traded places with Woodward, who directed him in the made-for-television "Come Along with Me," which starred Estelle Parsons as an eccentric widow at the center of an unfinished novel by Shirley Jackson. A real triumph followed as Newman worked with the veteran Sidney Lumet as an alcoholic Boston lawyer Frank Galvin, who find redemption in David Mamet's finely drawn screenplay in "The Verdict." Deservedly, he received another Oscar nomination.
Newman turned to directing again, and also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1984 "Harry and Son," with the star's Harry Keach as a depressed widower who loves his job and splits with his kids. Two years later, Newman returned to the character of Fast Eddie Felson, with Tom Cruise as his pool hotshot protégé and Martin Scorsese as his director in "The Color of Money."
Though it brought Newman his long-deserved best actor Academy Award, the sequel lacked the tragic dynamism of "The Hustler."
The following year, Newman directed Woodward again in a definitive screen version of "The Glass Menagerie." Woodward had previously acted Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams' play at Long Wharf Theatre.
As the decade neared its end, Newman played two historical figures, Gen. Leslie R. Groves in Roland Joffe's ambitious account of the making of the atomic bomb in "Fat Man and Little Boy," and an absurd Earl Long in "Blaze," with Lila Davidovich as the good ole boy¹s favorite ecdysiast.
In 1990 Newman and Woodward co-starred in the superb Merchant Ivory version of Evan Connell's "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge," a portrait of a desiccated marriage. Both are gripping, and Newman's Walter Bridge expresses the pain of a frustrated, upper middle-class life.
A break of four years followed. But 1994 saw Newman in fine fettle as the cynical tycoon Sidney J. Mussberger in the Coen brothers' witty variation on screwball comedy, "The Hudsucker Proxy." He played a much more rumpled, working-class no-good, Sully Sullivan, in "Nobody¹s Fool," Robert Benton's fine-grained treatment of Richard Russo's novel, which inspired his first nomination for best supporting actor.
Another gap followed. Then, in 1998, Newman teamed with Benton again in " Twilight," to play an ex-cop and private eye, Harry Ross, living with Gene Hackman's dying actor and Susan Sarandon's wife. The intriguing though not quit gripping plot centers on the 20-year-old murder of the wife's first husband. Somewhat less fortuitous was Luis Mandoki's 1999 "Message in a Bottle," with Newman stealing the show in another old codger role playing father to Kevin Costner's grieving boat builder son. Robin Wright Penn plays the reporter in search of the author of the title message. The year 2000 gave him another con man's role as Henry Manning, a malingering bank robber, who conspires to pull off one last heist in the German-financed "Where the Money Is."
One final feature followed, with Newman at his fiercely growling best as the gangster kingpin John Rooney, bent on killing off his once trusted lieutenant, played by Tom Hanks, in Sam Mendes' taut and finely crafted "Road to Perdition." Two television ventures followed, the 2003 film version of "Our Town" and a mini-series based on Russo's "Empire Falls," which also featured Woodward. Fred Schepisi directed this portrait of the Roby family in a small Maine town, with Newman as the layabout father of a restaurateur played by Ed Harris. Newman was also a producer for the prestigious HBO presentation.
At a press conference for "Empire Falls," Newman spoke of his future in show business. "I'm prepared to go out almost immediately. But the one slogan I have is: 'It's useless to put on the brakes when you¹re upside down.' I don't know what¹s happening, and I don't plan ahead. Something may come up, and it may not. So I'm loose." He went on to lend his voice to "Doc" Hudson in the animated "Cars."
In January of 2005, Newman celebrated his 80th birthday party with a lavish fete at his home, with music by the Emerson Quartet and a cake shaped like a racing car. Then he was off to Daytona, Fla., as a member of a four-man team in the 24-hour race.
As the millennium approached and slipped by, Newman increasingly involved himself in Woodward's campaign to renew the Westport Country Playhouse, then still located in a converted barn with uncomfortable pew seating and poor sight lines. In 1999, rumors that developers planned to buy the property and to replace the 700-seat theater with a small mall summoned Woodward into action, seconded by her husband. In February 2000, the couple paired on a benefit reading of A. R. Gurney's "Love Letters" in a benefit, with tickets priced from $150 to $750. By April, 2000, her group had raised $1.5 million to settle with the property owners and make some repairs.
Newman's Own contributed generously to the fund raising. But his big moment came after he volunteered to play the Stage Manager in "Our Town." They were vacationing on Cape Cod, when he suggested, "You know, I could do it." Woodward responded, "Sure, of course you could," and went off to take a bath. When she returned, he asked, "Now listen to me," and performed the first speech.
Then, in June 2002, he took the stage at the Playhouse, and won admiring reviews, selling out the run, even as Woodward unveiled a $30 million plan to rebuild the theater while preserving its red barn look.
Frank Converse, who was in "Our Town" with Newman, said Saturday that he "was very good for morale and he was a real company leader" who went out of his way to people feel comfortable. Converse remembered Newman as charming, modest and self-deprecating and he said that although he was clearly a private person he was never aloof. He said Newman didn't talk much about his career except for one day when he told stories about practical jokes and funny things that had happened during various rehearsals or on sets.
"Plus, he was always there. There were never concessions to his schedule. And he knew his lines from Day One," Converse said.
A Broadway transfer was inevitable, if Newman was willing. And he was. In the first five days, the Booth Theatre took in a $1.5 million advance, and ultimately sold out. His low-key yet strongly affecting projection of simple wisdom brought him a Tony nomination for best actor.
Then, on Oct. 9, Newman served as the auctioneer at a benefit that included music by Carole King and comedy by Robin Williams, as well as appearances by Woodward and Christopher Plummer. And in the summer of 2004, with the Playhouse closed during its reconstruction, Newman took to the stage again in the Ridgefield Playhouse in the one-man portrait of the black-listed screenwriter, "Trumbo," with tickets priced between $250 and $750. In October, he came together with Redford at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich for a benefit dinner, with the cheapest seats at $1,000 that raised $1.2 million — not counting the silent and live auctions. At last, having completed the restoration, Woodward announced in January 2005 that she would step down after that season.
During the same period as the efforts for the Playhouse, Newman and Woodward also helped to preserve 730 acres in Weston known as Trout Brook Valley. Newman's Own donated $500,000 to the cause. The couple's daughter Lissie asked her parents to become involved in saving the land from becoming a golf course and the site of luxury housing. In that same year, 1999, Newman donated $25,000 to help save the 1856 Lock Building in Norwalk and helped to save 68 acres of forest in Westport — near the family home — from development. Speaking of the Aspetuck Land Trust, Newman said: "If a community like this doesn't protect the few parcels of open space now, we'll be kicking ourselves 50 years from now."
The Saturday release from his West Coast representative said: "A week ago, Paul sat with his daughter in the arbor of the garden, breathed in all the late summer beauty and said very quietly: 'It's been a privilege to be here.' "
In addition to his wife, Joanne Woodward, Newman is survived by five children: Susan, Stephanie, Nell, Melissa (Lissy) and Clea; two grandchildren, Peter and Henry Elking; sons-in-law Raphe, Kurt and Gary and his brother, Arthur Newman.
Donations can be made to the Association of the Hole in The Wall Camps,www.HoleInTheWallCamps.org
Courant Staff Writer Frank Rizzo contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun