Paul Newman Says It's Over: A Look Back

Veteran actor Paul Newman announced last week that he is retiring. Newman says that at 82, he can no longer perform like he used to. Weekend Edition entertainment commentator Elvis Mitchell talks with John Ydstie about some of his favorite Newman films.

JOHN YSDTIE, host:

Long before you had Paul Newman's picture in your refrigeration on the salad dressing and lemonade, Mr. Newman acted in classic films like "Cool Hand Luke", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and "Hud".

(Soundbite of "Hud")

Mr. Paul Newman (Actor): (As Hud Bannon) You got the same feelings below your belt as any man. That's how you got stuck with me for a son, well, like it or not.

YDSTIE: Last weekend, Paul Newman, the man with the most famous blue eyes in the movies, announced he's retiring from act. He told ABC News that at 82 years old, he's just not able to perform like he used to.

Here's to talk about some of his favorite Paul Newman films is WEEKEND EDITION entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell. Hello, Elvis.

ELVIS MITCHELL: Howdy?

YDSTIE: You know, Paul Newman really is sort of the last generation of a group of post-war actors, I guess.

MITCHELL: Not only that but he's the last of that group of guys who are avatars of the Actors Studio who came in and changed acting, guys who were, well, representational rather than presentational. I'm talking about Marlon Brando and James Dean.

YDSTIE: He's a guy who probably could have made his living as a good looking leading man, but he actually wanted to be a serious actor.

MITCHELL: He coasted for a long time, I think. We think about some Paul Newman's (unintelligible) as we like and a lot of them tend to be basically boys in a grown man's body, stuff like the left-handed gun, or Butch Cassidy, or the "Sting", which he plays this charmer's. But he got to a certain point in his career where suddenly his voice went - into sort of this craggy, gravelly kind of thing.

About the early '80s, when he started to give his some of my favorite performances, I think about his turn in "Absence of Malice" where he plays a guy who gets caught up in a newspaper reporter scheme. And just the way he uses that voice for a sense of fear and to really show who this guy is, you can hear the voice sounds like - his age maybe about 10 years.

There's a certain point in the '80s, where he really started to sound like all that sort of youthful hope and optimism that you saw on his face was gone.

YDSTIE: Elvis, we've got a clip from "Absence of Malice". Let's listen to that voice.

(Soundbite of "Absence of Malice")

Mr. NEWMAN: You know something I didn't know? When you kill yourself, it's a homicide, so they do an autopsy. They're going to give a knife.

(Soundbite of woman getting hurt)

Mr. NEWMAN: (As Michael Colin Gallagher) They start here. They're just going to split her open. When they get up here, they use shears. They use shears, Christ's sake. Oh, goddamn you.

YDSTIE: And he was nominated for a best actor Academy Award for that performance, wasn't he?

MITCHELL: Yeah, one of the many - again, when he plays somebody who's not particularly a nice guy, even a decent guy, but somebody who's determined to lead his life the way he wants to. And he often gave performances, great performances in not particularly good movies even. And you would think what roused this guy, at this point, to keep going on? And it's because of his devotion to craft and because of the amount of energy and I think feeling he had for acting.

YDSTIE: WEEKEND EDITION entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell talking about Paul Newman retiring from the movies. Thanks, Elvis.

MITCHELL: So long, green eyes.

YDSTIE: This is NPR News.

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