Actor Paul Newman was a bit of a legend and a man who inspired many aspiring actors with his talent and passion for the craft. According to Biography, Newman was particularly known for some of his films, like Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler. Despite being such a legendary actor, there are several things that are still relatively unknown about him. For example, Newman took one of his roles for a 1969 film called Winning so seriously that he trained to get comfortable with car racing. Newman wasn’t afraid to do whatever it took to thrive in a role, even if it meant putting himself in uncomfortable situations and learning new things from scratch.
Also, even though he was a rather accomplished actor, it took him many years to receive formal recognition and feel like he was doing something right. Newman was also a dedicated philanthropist and someone with varied interests. He wasn’t afraid to take a leap of faith and explore what life had in store for him. He experienced setbacks in his personal life but kept going, serving as a fine example of resilience and strength to his countless fans.
Here’s taking a look at Newman’s eventful life, especially the highs and lows that he went through and the several roles that he learned to balance in his lifetime. He was an actor, a film director, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and a race car driver.
Paul Newman came from a stable family
Paul Newman was lucky. He had what most people would call a privileged upbringing. As per the 1989 book, Paul Newman,by Elena Oumano, Newman was born in January 1925. When Newman was just a baby, his folks moved to a fancy community called Shaker Heights. Many years later, when Newman looked back on his life, he said, "Shaker Heights is one of the three most affluent communities in the United States. It had the best educational system in the country, and my one regret is that I didn’t take better advantage of it."
Things seemed stable enough for Newman when he was growing up. Even though there were no financial difficulties, he ended up working part-time after school and during holidays. For example, he held down a gig as a sandwich boy at a restaurant in Shaker Heights and explored other work opportunities in his free time. Basically, his early years were good albeit not as satisfying as they could be for the budding actor, who seemed to be looking for something out of the ordinary.
As explained in Paul Newman, the actor regretted the fact that he couldn’t impress his father. He said, "I think he always thought of me as pretty much of a lightweight…it has been one of the greatest agonies of my life that he could never know. I wanted desperately to show him that somehow, somewhere along the line, I could cut the mustard."
Paul Newman wasn’t sure about his career path
After high school, Paul Newman wasn’t confident about his next steps. He wasn’t keen on leading his family’s business at that point and decided to enroll in the military. He spent four months serving when he received an offer from Ohio University (via Paul Newman, by Elena Oumano). He ended up studying business and economics at the university and also started acting.
Before studying at Ohio University though, the Navy sent Newman to Yale, where he was going to train as an air corps pilot. He then discovered that he was, in fact, color blind and ending up working as an aviation radio gunman in several places, such as Guam and Saipan.
Once discharged, he started exploring drama as a hobby at Kenyon College, simply testing the waters. In just two years, he knew he was good at it and changed his major to English and speech. Interestingly, he was more inclined towards sports than acting but couldn’t quite pursue it after being kicked out of the football team after a fight.
Paul Newman ended up in trouble
Despite being a well-behaved kid, Paul Newman couldn’t escape trouble later when he joined college. As per a piece by The Guardian, Newman was let go from Ohio University, supposedly because he was involved in a controversial incident that involved beer and the rector’s car. He later studied at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
He was also known for courting trouble later in life after drinking later and ended up in jail a couple of times. Newman was, throughout his life, recognized as a goof who enjoyed playing practical jokes on others around him even when they put him in serious trouble. It must be said, though, that Newman never really harmed anyone else when he was goofing around. However, his history with trouble did make him end up in prison a couple of times, but he later said that he could understand why cops are the way they are.
Basically, the actor felt for cops and could sympathize with them on account of his conversations with them. He once said, "I think what I learned about the police is what a difficult thing it is for them not to become anesthetized by the suffering, the blood, everything. My own involvement with the police usually has been on an unfriendly basis."
Paul Newman pursued acting seriously
According to Biography, Paul Newman spent time working in theater after he finished college in 1949. This is how he found his first wife, Jacqueline Witte. They tied the knot sometime after they met, and Newman focused on his acting career until he experienced a major blow in 1950 when he lost his father. Newman and Witte then decided to shift base to Ohio and help out with the family business.
However, Newman couldn’t keep himself interested for too long. He remained fascinated by acting and left Ohio for Connecticut with his family, studying at the Yale School of Drama before experiencing financial difficulties a year after he first joined Yale. Thankfully, Newman didn’t let this demotivate him, and he decided to go to New York where he was mentored by Lee Strasberg at Actor’s Studio, along with other big names like James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Geraldine Page. He mentioned that acting required him to work hard. According to the book, Paul Newman, the actor said that it wasn’t enough to be a part of college theater and Yale. He said, "… it still took me about four years more to understand what acting was all about."
Paul Newman spent some time discovering himself
As outlined by The New York Times, Paul Newman first entered Hollywood in 1954 with the film, The Silver Chalice. It took a year and a half to get noticed, though. It was his portrayal of the boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me that paved the way for his success. However, a tragedy led to this role — his fellow actor, James Dean, died in a sudden car crash before the film’s script was finished.
While it’s fair to say that Newman didn’t have to wait too long to become famous, it did take him much longer to discover where he stood as an actor. It was also important for him to be perceived seriously in the industry. What worked in his favor was that he didn’t hesitate to spend some time getting to know himself as an artist and truly explore his passion for acting.
Paul Newman’s marriage wasn’t always rosy
Paul Newman’s first marriage was not meant to last. According to The Guardian, Jacqueline Witte and Newman ended up parting ways in 1958, after he fell in love with actress Joanne Woodward, who he starred with in several movies. According to 9Honey, Woodward and Newman had a chemistry for a long time but tried to avoid each other on account of the fact that Newman was already married.
Initially, Witte wasn’t pleased and didn’t cooperate with her husband, refusing to grant him a divorce, reports The New York Times. When the divorce did come through, Woodward and Newman made things official and moved to Westport, Conn., where they raised their daughters. The couple’s marriage was a long one that went on for over 50 years. They did face hurdles during their marriage, such as when there were rumors of Newman being involved in an affair in the 1960s.
This didn’t affect the couple, who remained with each other through the years. Woodward once explained how they managed to stay married. "We really liked each other," she explained. "We could talk to each other, we could tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust."
Paul Newman evolved as an actor
Paul Newman didn’t get where he was without hard work. According to The New York Times, the fact that Newman was so good looking sometimes got in the way of people taking him seriously as a performer. He once remarked, "I picture my epitaph. Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown."
However, Newman managed to make things work for him and acted in several important movies, including The Color of Money, in which he won the Oscar for best actor. He found himself tackling challenging roles, such as that of a character who is misrepresented by the press in the 1981 film, Absence of Malice. Plus, as pointed out by The New York Times, his roles got more complex over the years.
Consider this — in 1958, he was a charmer trying to tie the knot with a southern lady in The Long, Hot Summer. By the time 1982 rolled around, the actor played the role of an alcoholic lawyer who finds himself taking on a medical malpractice case in The Verdict.
Paul Newman lost his first son
In 1978, Paul Newman had to live through heartbreak when one of his sons from his first marriage, Allan Scott Newman, died of an accidental overdose. According to the The New York Times, the potent mix involved alcohol and a tranquilizer. Allan was on painkillers in order to cope with the injuries that he sustained in a motorcycle accident. He was an actor, a singer, and a stuntman.
As per the police, Newman’s son died on account of mixing his pills with alcohol, which was a dangerous combination. The death was believed to be an accident. As per Biography, Newman started a charity called the Scott Newman Center the year his son died. The organization’s aim was to help prevent drug abuse through awareness campaigns and aid those who need support. Sadly, the organization was defunded in 2011 and shut down in 2013 (via Vanity Fair). Despite the family’s best attempts to keep the charity running, fundraising was a problem that they couldn’t resolve.
Paul Newman pursued racing
Paul Newman was more than an actor. He was also a businessman, a philanthropist, and a race car driver. As per the The New York Times, Newman first picked up racing when he started working on it for one of his films, 1968’s Winning. He trained for it and became rather fascinated by racing later in life, participating in the sport professionally. He was dedicated enough to spend three years after the film ended to finish learning racing, according to the book, Paul Newman. He once said, "It’s very hard to be competitive about acting…and I’m a very competitive person. So that’s why I like to race cars."
He added that both acting and racing need a person to be dedicated and motivated. Discipline is necessary. For Newman, it took time to truly understand the two and excel at them. Interestingly, there were times when the actor focused more on racing than acting, especially when he wasn’t too impressed with the scripts that were being offered to him.
In fact, the actor was so enthralled by the sport that he competed professionally. According to The Guardian, Newman said that racing was a way for him to get back into the world of sports and added that he felt incredibly happy whenever he found himself racing.
Paul Newman was also an entrepreneur and a philanthropist
Paul Newman was multi-faceted. He could juggle several tasks at the same time without batting an eyelid. According to Biography, Newman came up with his food venture in the 1980s. His beginnings were simple — when he was preparing salad dressing for friends with writer A.E. Hotchner, he figured out that he didn’t have to throw away the leftovers and could market the product and sell it to shops. This led to the start of Newman’s Own, a company that was run by Newman and Hotchner.
The duo’s goal was to donate the company’s profits to charity and to help fund kids’ education. Since the company was first established, it’s estimated that over $250 million has been donated to nonprofit groups around the world. Newman also decided to start something called the Hole in the Wall Camps to ensure that kids battling life-threatening diseases could take a much-needed break and go on a free vacation. The first residential summer camp was started in 1988, and eight camps have been founded since then in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France. Newman’s goals were ambitious, and he made sure to devote his time and energy to fulfilling them.
Paul Newman was a private man
As highlighted by Vanity Fair, Paul Newman was basically a private man who didn’t enjoy sharing details from his personal life. When it was time to let go of Newman’s Own, for example, the actor did so discreetly without making a big deal about the transition. He decided to donate everything from his ownership in the company to charity. And when Newman battled cancer in 2008, he refused to be open about his struggles and remained, as always, guarded about his personal life.
This didn’t stop the tabloids, though, and there were several stories that kept circulating about the actor — that he went through a lung operation, his cancer was killing him, and that he was basically an outpatient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Newman was funny and unperturbed. When he was asked what he was getting medical attention for, he simply said, "Athlete’s foot and hair loss."
Newman refused to boast about being famous or his countless achievements, including the sheer amount of hard work he’d put in as a philanthropist. As far as his personal life was concerned, he remained firm about it until the very end and simply would say, "It’s nobody’s business."
Newman died of cancer in 2008 at age 83.
Paul Newman wasn’t sure about acting later in life
Acting wasn’t a constant in Paul Newman’s life. He was frustrated by the industry at some point. As per The Guardian, the actor was so tired at one point that he simply took a long break. He was back in 1994 when he worked in a couple of promising films, such as The Hudsucker Proxy and Nobody’s Fool. In 1995, the actor focused harder on racing. He was 70 and determined to chase his dreams. He was said to be the oldest competitor ever when he attempted the grueling Daytona endurance race and won.
The actor got back to films in 1998 with Twilight. Although it was an interesting role for Newman, who played a private detective in the film, the movie suffered from post-production troubles and was simply not as appealing as it was expected to be. In 2007, Newman declared, "I think acting is pretty much a closed book to me." That said, he did lend his voice to a few animated films, including 2006’s Cars and Mater and the Ghostlight. He was also present at the Indy Car Series Preview 2008, proving that he was always attached to racing and could never quite let go.