Remembering Paul Newman
An actor, filmmaker and philanthropist among many other things, Paul Newman was one of the last great 20th century actors -- and he was also the most famous alum of my undergraduate alma mater, Kenyon College. He entered Kenyon in 1946 as a Navy veteran and majored in "speech" (the field that covered drama) and starred in nearly a dozen campus theatrical productions. He also earned a reputation for charm, mischief, and good-natured rowdiness. Graduating in '49, he had long been a quiet if generous supporter of the school -- recently making headlines for a $10 million scholarship gift.
Naturally, Kenyon grads like myself have a soft spot for ol' Paul, and I've become a big fan of his films. Certainly, anyone with even a passing interest in cinema knows at least a few of his classics, be it Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, The Sting or a number of others. I thought the best way to remember Newman would be through some of his great performances -- which, conveniently, YouTube has plenty of. Here are a few of our favorites.
Not his best-known film, but one of my favorites. Newman plays a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer who gets one last shot at redemption -- and his summation during the final courtroom scene is one of film's greatest. (Fun fact, an uncredited young guy named Bruce Willis is a background extra in this scene -- can you spot him?) Screenplay by David Mamet, directed by the masterful Sidney Lumet -- how can you go wrong?
Cool Hand Luke
"Nobody can eat 50 eggs." One of filmdom's classic scenes, referenced and parodied in everything from The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle to Reality Bites (remember that one?), it's one of Newman's finest hours. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
This classic adaptation of Tennessee Williams' masterpiece -- also starring Liz Taylor -- earned a young Newman his first Oscar nomination. (He would finally win one of the golden guys in 1986, for The Color of Money (not one of my faves)). Check out his bravura performance here, as Liz Taylor hisses, "We don't live here, we just occupy the same cage, that's all!"
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Loosely based on historical fact, Cassidy might've been just another amazing role for Newman, but it was a career-maker for co-star Robert Redford, who almost didn't get the part -- Jack Lemmon was offered the role instead, but said he didn't like riding horses. The real-life Cassidy's outlaw gang was called "The Wild Bunch," but in order to avoid confusion with the Sam Peckinpah film of the same name, screenwriter William Goldman changed it to "The Hole in the Wall Gang," which became the namesake for a series of camps for sick children Newman would found -- something he considered one of his greatest legacies.
Adapted from the Larry McMurtry novel Horseman, this 1963 western stars Newman as a modern-day, self-centered cowboy (or, as the movie's tagline would have us think of him, "the man with the barbed-wire soul!")
Another of my favorite Newman roles is that of Sydney J. Mussberger in the Coen Brothers' oft-overlooked (but hilarious) The Hudsucker Proxy -- I couldn't find a good YouTube clip of Newman in this film, but if you haven't seen it, give it a rent.