Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review- PAUL NEWMAN, A LIFE


Paul Newman is one of our true movie stars, back when that phrase really meant something. His death last year reminded us what a unique individual he was- an actor, movie star, race car driver, husband, father, grandfather, businessman, humanitarian.

Shawn Levy has written a new biography, titled Paul Newman- A Life. And it was quite a life he lived. I vividly remember my mother taking me to see The Sting, starring Newman and Robert Redford. It was one of the first grown-up movies I saw, and I felt very sophisticated. Redford was gorgeous, but it was Newman who charmed me. There seemed something mischievous behind those blue eyes and that knowing smile.

Levy does a great job chronicling Newman's early years, and he footnotes and endnotes extensively, not something you normally see in a biography of a movie star. He quotes from reviews of Newman's plays and movies, and that helps put Newman's work in context of the times.

The author delves into Newman's youth and his college days at Kenyon College, where Newman realized he had the desire to act. Newman was a bit of a rascal who loved to party and was not opposed to imbibing in beer, something that he continued to do throughout his life. Levy states that as an adult Newman would often drink a case of beer a day. (Budweiser sent Newman ten cases of beer a week as payment for advertising for them, and they didn't go to waste.)

Levy spoke with several people who went to school with Newman, and their memories of a young Newman are insightful. Newman loved to rehearse, to dig deeply into his character and their motivations, and as this practice grew with his career, it was not always appreciated by his costars or directors.

He married young and had two children with his first wife, but their marriage didn't last. Levy points out the irony of a man who was well known for having one of the most successful, long-lived marriages in Hollywood, actually falling in love with his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, while he was still married to wife number one.

I did not know that Newman also had an affair (while married to Joanne) with a reporter he met while filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It lasted for over a year, and nearly ruined his second marriage, but after the affair ended, he and Joanne worked it out. Again, they were an example for people that no marriage is perfect, but it takes work, love, patience and forgiveness to make it last.

Newman had such a long career, Levy does his best to get it all in this book without making it 1000 pages, which it easily could have been. The one thing that gets short shrift is Newman's role as a father. It is touched on, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he parented from his children. They seem like people who like their privacy, and after the death of Newman's son Scott from a drug overdose, and the publicity surrounding it, I imagine they were leery of the press.

Newman is quoted as saying that "What I would really like to put on my tombstone is that I was part of my time". Levy makes the correct statement that he was, and that is one thing that shines through in this fascinating biography. Newman really was a man made in his time, an embodiment of a true American individual.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

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