by Shawn Levy
Paul Newman, the Oscar-winning actor with the legendary blue eyes, achieved superstar status by playing charismatic renegades, broken heroes, and winsome antiheroes in such revered films as The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Color of Money, and Nobody’s Fool. But Newman was also an oddity in Hollywood: the rare box-office titan who cared about the craft of acting, the sexy leading man known for the staying power of his marriage, and the humble celebrity who made philanthropy his calling card long before it was cool.
The son of a successful entrepreneur, Newman grew up in a prosperous Cleveland suburb. Despite fears that he would fail to live up to his father’s expectations, Newman bypassed the family sporting goods business to pursue an acting career. After struggling as a theater and television actor, Newman saw his star rise in a tragic twist of fate, landing the role of boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me when James Dean was killed in a car accident. Though he would joke about instances of “Newman’s luck” throughout his career, he refused to coast on his stunning boyish looks and impish charm. Part of the original Actors Studio generation, Newman demanded a high level of rigor and clarity from every project. The artistic battles that nearly derailed his early movie career would pay off handsomely at the box office and earn him critical acclaim.
He applied that tenacity to every endeavor both on and off the set. The outspoken Newman used his celebrity to call attention to political causes dear to his heart, including civil rights and nuclear proliferation. Taking up auto racing in midlife, Newman became the oldest driver to ever win a major professional auto race. A food enthusiast who would dress his own salads in restaurants, he launched the Newman’s Own brand dedicated to fresh ingredients, a nonprofit juggernaut that has generated more than $250 million for charity.
In Paul Newman: A Life, film critic and pop culture historian Shawn Levy gives readers the ultimate behind-the-scenes examination of the actor’s life, from his merry pranks on the set to his lasting romance with Joanne Woodward to the devastating impact of his son’s death from a drug overdose. This definitive biography is a fascinating portrait of an extraordinarily gifted man who gave back as much as he got out of life and just happened to be one of the most celebrated movie stars of the twentieth century.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Crown/Archetype, May 2009
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