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September 27, 2008
Paul Newman dead at 83: R.I.P. (updated)
To those of us of a certain age, Paul Newman will forever be "Cool Hand Luke" - the wisecracking, brooding guy who refused to conform to life in prison. Strother Martin's famous line - "What we have here is a failure to communicate" - an understated reference to Martin's sadistic streak - framed the ordeal of Newman's character throughout the film. His performance in the film is considered one of the greatest in Hollywood history.
Newman died today at his farmhouse in Connecticut:
Newman was a liberal who put his money where his mouth was. His food brand "Newman's Own" realized more than $200 million in profits over the years - most of which went to charity. His tireless work on behalf of numerous causes endeared him to the left and the Democratic party.
You never heard Newman trash America or his political opponents. He served in the Navy during World War II and was a strong supporter of veterans. But he was an inveterate lefty until the end of his life, supporting Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd for President.
Newman was one of the last of the big Hollywood studio stars of the 1950's and certainly one of the longest lasting.
Update by Thomas Lifson:
Paul Newman was one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history, in my book. I think that is because he operated from the heart, and had ready access to elements of the human soul. He also cared about his work deeply, and wanted to make a difference in the world, leaving it a better place than he found it.
He and his wife Joanne Woodward lost a son to drugs, and I am fairly certain that this crisis shaped the rest of his life. He wanted to save children and young people from the pitfalls to which the culture we have constructed exposed them. I can only admire that.
The fact that he embraced leftist politics can be forgiven, in my book, because he did soi as an honest mistake, not understanding the second and third order consequences of the seemingly compassionate poilitics of the left. Unlike, say his occasional co-star Robert Redford, he never thrust his personal politics onto the national stage.
Everyone has a favorite Newman movie or scene. For me, his most moving work is the often-overlooked masterpiece Mrs. and Mrs Bridge, in which he and his wife portrayed an aging couple in Kansas City during the Depression. It may sound dull, but if you care to examine the human heart and soul, the process of growing older, and marriage, it is an education in itself. Based on a remarkable pair of novels by Evan Conell, Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, telling the same story from two distinct perspectives, the screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jabvhala is a marvel. This is an American masterpiece.
I never met Paul Newman, but oddly enough I studied drama from his first drama teacher, the great James Michael, professor of drama at Kenyon College, which numbers Newman and me (and AT's Richard Baehr) among its graduates. Jim Michaels said the Paul Newman's most remarkable attribute as a beginning actor was his energy. He was almost indefatigable, and brought that energy to his preparation and performances.
I will miss Newman's presence, but the old cliche is tue. He will live on forever, immortalized in his many great roles. Now he belongs to the ages.
Update from Thomas Lifson:
Kenyon College has posted a tribute to Newman, whose generosity to his alma mater included funding the James Michael professorship of drama. There are some great pictures of Newman as a college student to be found here. A sample: his college yearbook picture:
There is also an interesting video of Newman discussing what he learned from his college education, and how he applied at. There is an interesting clue to his liberal politics: he believed a mistaken cliche about the generosity of liberals versus conservatives.