Book Review Twenty-Eight
June 10, 2009
Paul Newman. If you are over the age of 45 or simply enjoy movies, I could stop right here and you could easily fill up this space with memories of scenes or unforgettable lines of his.
Shawn Levy's Paul Newman, A Life is a well documented, (22 pages of notes and bibliography) balanced biography. Although it was published less than a year after Newman's death, Levy began his research for the book in 2005. Despite several attempts, however, Levy was unable to conduct any personal interviews with Newman.
To remember that Paul Newman grew up as the son of a sporting goods salesman in Ohio and then become one of the most respected actor and philanthropist of his time is something rarely accomplished by any individual. It's seldom that award winning actors equal the same stature in life as they due on film. Paul Newman was one of the few who did. Shortly after his death his public donations alone to charities had reached over $250 million. Newman made it a point to keep the public access to his life strongly separated from his private side. To quote from Levy's book "I'm me, Paul Newman. And I'm Paul Newman the actor. The first one is not for sale. When they hire the second one, I do the best job I can, but nobody has the right to tell me how to live, how to dress, or how to think."
Levy provides an excellent overview of Newman's acting skills and the development of his many films. The index provides easy access to where they are located in the text. Levy also shows the less than successful side of Newman in revealing the divorce from his first wife, the life-long guilt he felt at its failure and the devastating effect of the death of Newman's son Scott. In contrast there is also his joy of competitive auto racing and his fifty year marriage to Joanne Woodward.
Unlike other actors with similar longevity, Paul Newman acted in very few if any really bad movies. Fortunately you can still see a number of these on cable. It's hard to pick just one favorite Newman film. Everyone can quickly come up with a short list of their own. Newman's ferocious raw honesty in "Hud" ranks it near the top of my personal few. "The Verdict" has often been described as one of Newman's most critical and overlooked successes because of his ability to translate the pain of his son's death into the earthiness of the main character. In "Nobody's Fool" Newman plays a hard-drinking rascal of a man who is trying to rescue a broken relationship with his son and grandson while still yielding few compromises to the things he enjoys the most. Levy states that Newman felt that his role in "Nobody's Fool" was closer to himself than in any role he had performed. The name of the film almost could be used as a subtitle for Levy's book. Biographies are usually limited in their appeal to most readers. Paul Newman, A Life, has something for anyone; a quality book about a truly remarkable man.