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.
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.
PAUL NEWMAN | 1925-2008
Paul Newman: A Legend Dies At 83
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