One of the most famous stars in Hollywood, Paul Newman’s career spanned across several decades. Whether he was viewed as a Hollywood hunk or a seasoned thespian, Newman appeared classic film after classic film. It wasn’t just that he was a talented or successful actor, however. Newman was a highly respected figure within his circle and across the world for his activism and his philanthropy. Most people have at least heard Newman’s name, but how much do you really know about the man? Read this list and find out!
Newman was born on January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio. His father was descended from Jewish immigrants out of Hungary and Poland, while his mother was a Slovakian immigrant from the time when Slovakia belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
From childhood, Newman was interested in acting. His first real performance came when he acted in his school’s production of Robin Hood. If you’re wondering what the seven-year-old Newman did during that play, he was cast as the court jester.
Based in Cleveland, Newman’s family owned a sporting goods store. Newman also worked at the store before his acting career took off. Does this mean that there’s a timeline where Newman was just a friendly shopkeeper talking about how he used to dabble in acting?
In the early 1950s, Newman shot a screen test for what became the 1955 film East of Eden. He lost out on a role in the film to a gorgeous actor six years younger than him. This young man was none other than James Dean, who infamously perished in a car crash before East of Eden was ever released. In the wake of Dean’s passing, Newman was cast in two films (The Left Handed Gun and Somebody Up There Likes Me) which had originally cast Dean.
Despite his early forays into acting, the young Newman didn’t get any formal acting training until he was 26 years old.
Six of Newman's films have been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by Library of Congress and are being preserved as part of the National Film Registry. These films are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Hustler, King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis, Cool Hand Luke, and Hud.
Newman had one older brother, who was named after their father. Unlike his younger brother, Arthur Newman Jr. developed his career behind the camera as a production manager and producer.
You never know who will become famous when you meet them before their fame begins. Such was the case with Newman. In the 1940s, Newman studied at Kenyon College in Ohio and befriended Olof, a young man in his classes. Some of our Factinate audience might know that young man as Olof Palme, who served as Sweden’s Prime Minister.
Of course, if Newman bragged about knowing Sweden's Prime Minister, Olof also got to brag that he went to school with Paul Newman, so it’s pretty even between them.
One of Newman's lesser-known talents was his musical ability. Just like his contemporary, Clint Eastwood, Newman was an accomplished jazz and blues pianist. He was alleged to have performed music alongside the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
If you want further proof of Newman’s musical ability, look no further than his work on the film Road to Perdition. In the movie, he and his co-star Tom Hanks perform a piano piece together. The two of them did all their own playing in the scene.
On February 1, 1994, Newman was given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone who wants to find it need only go to 7060 Hollywood Boulevard.
Not only was Newman present for Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “March on Washington” in 1963, but he was also an attendant for the very first celebration of Earth Day in Manhattan in 1970.
Some of the film roles that Newman turned down over the course of his career were Quint in Jaws, Dirty Harry in Dirty Harry, and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur.
Aside from acting, Newman was a passionate fan of auto racing. After he first developed this love when he was preparing for a film in 1969, Newman became a frequent racer of cars, going under the name “P.L. Newman.” He even formed his own team with professional racing driver Bill Freeman. Newman continued to race cars into his 80s!
One funny Newman anecdote occurred when the actor was participating in a charity event in Westport, Connecticut. While handing out punch, Newman was approached by an old woman who asked Newman to stir her cup of punch with his finger. Ever the class act, Newman quipped, “I’d be glad to, but I just took it out of a cyanide bottle.”
In the early 1940s, Newman enlisted into the United States Navy, training as a radioman and rear gunner. He spent part of his service in units which trained replacement combat pilots and aircrewmen.
Newman was married twice in his life. His first wife was Jackie Witte, to whom he was married from 1949 to 1958. Following that, he married actress Joanne Woodward. The two of them remained married for nearly 50 years until Newman’s passing in 2008. Newman had three children with each of his wives (five daughters and one son in total).
Newman was nominated for ten Academy Awards during his lifetime. His first nomination was for acting in the 1958 drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His last nomination came nearly 50 years later, when he was nominated for his performance in the 2002 historical crime film Road to Perdition, which was also the last time he physically appeared in a feature film.
If you’re curious about the other eight films, they were Nobody’s Fool, Cool Hand Luke, The Verdict, Absence of Malice, Hud, The Hustler, The Color of Money (which he won for), and a producing nomination for Rachel, Rachel.
Speaking of Newman’s Oscar nomination for Road to Perdition, that was the first time an actor was ever Oscar-nominated for acting in a film that was adapted from a graphic novel or comic book. Eat your heart out, Heath Ledger!
Prior to serving in the Second World War, Newman enrolled in the United States Navy’s V-12 pilot training program. However, he was dismissed from the program when it was discovered that he was colorblind.
Newman is one of very few men to direct his wife in an Oscar-nominated performance. In 1968, Newman made his directorial debut with the film Rachel, Rachel. The film starred his wife, Joanne Woodward, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
After Rachel, Rachel, Newman directed four other feature films (The Glass Menagerie, Harry & Son, Sometimes a Great Notion, and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds). He also directed a made-for-television film titled The Shadow Box.
Aside from his film career, Newman had his own line of food products, mostly consisting of salad dressings and spaghetti sauces. And this wasn’t the usual venture by a celebrity into a business they know nothing about. “Newman’s Own,” as it was called, has made over $100 million. During his lifetime, Newman donated all the profits he made from his company to charity.
Newman had a rather interesting way of celebrating his 75th birthday. He burned his tuxedo, insisting that he was old enough to no longer care about formalities. Frankly, we’d say fair enough to that kind of thinking.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newman’s movie star good looks inspired the appearance of a DC superhero. When Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern, was reintroduced in 1959, his revamped look was clearly drawn as a tribute to the 34-year-old Newman.
Newman is one of just six people in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for two acting Oscars for playing the same character in two different films. Nominated for playing Eddie Felson in both The Hustler and The Color of Money, Newman is the only one of the six to actually win one of those Oscars (he won for The Color of Money). In case you’re curious, the other five are Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth I), Bing Crosby (Father O’Malley), Peter O’Toole (King Henry II), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), and Al Pacino (Michael Corleone).
In one of Newman’s many classic films, Cool Hand Luke, Newman’s character eats an extraordinary amount of hard-boiled eggs in one sitting. The production crew prepared over two hundred eggs for the scene, which the crew all took part in eating. Newman himself allegedly just finished off eight eggs, and when the director yelled “Cut,” he promptly threw up into a nearby garbage can!
Given all the great films he made over the course of his life, people have always had a lot to work with when debating their favorite Newman film. As for Newman himself, he was also asked what his favorite performance was. He ultimately chose Slap Shot, which didn’t just contain his favorite performance, but was also the most fun he had on a production.
While filming Absence of Malice, Newman became embroiled in an intense competition between himself and the film’s director, Sydney Pollack. The two men both prided themselves on being gourmet chefs, and they urged Sally Field, the film’s star, to judge which one of them was the better chef. The competition dragged on, however, as Field grew tired of the various gourmet meals prepared for her night after night. Eventually, she had to beg them to let her go eat at local diners, just for a change of pace.
We sadly don’t know who ended up winning overall, but we have a suspicion that the real winner was whatever diner got to host Sally Field in their establishment.
Aside from his other Oscar nominations, Newman was honored with two special awards by the Academy. In 1986, he was given an Honorary Award for his “many and memorable and compelling screen performances” as well as his “personal integrity.” Then, in 1994, Newman was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Speaking of those awards, Newman is actually one of just two people to win an Oscar for acting, an Honorary Oscar, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The only other person to get that trifecta was singer and actor Frank Sinatra.
Near the end of his life, it was widely rumored that Newman was struggling with lung cancer, though he neither confirmed nor denied it. On September 26, 2008, Newman passed on at the age of 83, surrounded by his family.
During the late 1960s, Newman was a vocal opponent of American involvement in the Vietnam War. For this, US President Richard Nixon placed Newman on his infamous “enemies list.” Newman’s name was #19 on the list, which he declared to be his greatest accomplishment.
During the 1950s, Newman was repeatedly mistaken for his equally talented (and at the time, equally hunky) contemporary, Marlon Brando. According to Newman himself, he would frequently go along with the confusion. He claimed to have signed hundreds of autographs as Brando rather than himself. To be fair, whether he was signing as himself or as Brando, that autograph is pretty epic for a film buff to have!
To prepare himself for his performance in his classic film The Hustler, Newman became proficient at the game of pool. At the same time, he developed a friendly rapport with his co-star, Jackie Gleason. Newman’s confidence got the better of him when he challenged Gleason to a game of pool, betting $50 that he’d win (keep in mind that this was 1961, so that money meant a lot more back then).
Gleason, however, was a highly skilled player, so after Newman broke, Gleason proceeded to sink all of his balls on his first turn!
One isn’t always the most gracious loser, particularly when they get wiped out in the first round of a game. Such was the case with Newman and his game with Jackie Gleason during the production of The Hustler. To be fair, Newman did pay his $50 to Gleason, but he made sure to give the amount in the form of 5,000 pennies!
The last feature film in which Newman was involved as an actor was Pixar's Cars. Lending his voice to the character Doc Hudson, Newman passed on around two years after Cars was released. In 2017, Newman reprised his role in Cars 3, despite having been dead for nine years. This was due to the studio making us of audio footage that Newman recorded but was never used in the first film.
One of the most bizarre aspects of Newman’s legacy is a tradition that he inadvertently began at Princeton University. Allegedly, Newman once remarked “24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.” Unsurprisingly, this kind of challenge wouldn’t go passed up by the students of Princeton. They’ve since made an unofficial holiday out of April 24, where they drink 24 beers in as many hours.
This day is known as “Newman Day,” even though the Princeton officials and Newman himself have refused to endorse the occasion.
Newman made his film debut with the 1954 costume drama The Silver Chalice. Unfortunately for him, the film was a major disappointment critically and commercially. None took it harder than Newman himself, though. We know this because the young actor actually paid for ad space in Variety just so he could apologize to the public for his performance!
Newman was very close friends with his contemporary, Robert Redford. The two men acted alongside each other several times and remained in close contact throughout their lives. In a tragic coincidence, they both had sons named Scott who predeceased them.
Reportedly, Newman quickly disliked the business of signing autographs, even as he became more accomplished and more recognized as an actor. After a particularly frustrating incident, Newman completely quit giving out autographs. What sort of incident, you ask? He was approached by a man for an autograph while he was in a restaurant, using the urinal. Yeah, we’d get pretty annoyed too!
In the spring of 1945, Newman was assigned to an aircraft carrier known as Bunker Hill. Just prior to the Battle of Okinawa, the pilot of the aircraft to which Newman was assigned developed an ear infection. Because there was no replacement pilot on hand, Newman was forced to stay behind as the rest of his unit flew to the Bunker Hill in time for the battle.
The carrier was hit by a kamikaze, leading to the deaths of Newman’s comrades-in-arms.
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