SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Paul Newman has died. The screen legend, philanthropist and race car enthusiast was 83 years old, and he died of cancer on Friday, according to a spokesman. He leaves behind five decades of film work, as well as a legacy of charitable giving. From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando has this remembrance.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Paul Newman had a way of making everything look easy. He navigated celebrity without scandal. He gave effortlessly to charity, and he even made getting old a graceful process. On screen, he hustled pool, solved crimes, argued cases and bucked the system with just a hint of impertinence. He took whatever anybody dished out and greeted it with a smile or even a laugh.
As Luke Jackson in "Cool Hand Luke," Newman gave us his quintessential screen character, a complex and flawed individual who fought a personal rebellion. In a 2003 interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Newman described being part of a new generation of actors in the '60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF MEN'S LAUGHTER)
(SOUNDBITE OF 2003 INTERVIEW)
SIMON: I don't know at the time that you really know that you're part of something new. You just know that you're part of something that's really exciting. Although, I must say, I had no idea what I was doing until maybe 10 years ago. Less is more. You know, I was working awful hard in most of the early stuff.
ACCOMANDO: But the hard work paid off, and Newman had a career that successfully spanned more than five decades of stage, television and film work, far too much to cover here. Also spanning a half century was his marriage to actress Joanne Woodward. In 1958, they made the first of 10 onscreen appearances together in "The Long, Hot Summer." Newman played Ben Quick, a brash, young man intent on marrying the prim, well-to-do schoolteacher played by Woodward.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LONG, HOT SUMMER")
SIMON: (As Ben Quick) I can see you don't like me, but you're gonna have me. It's gonna be you and me.
SIMON: (As Clara Varner) Not the longest day I live.
SIMON: (As Ben Quick) Yes, sir. They're gonna say, there goes that poor, old Clara Varner, whose father married her off to a dirt-scratching, shiftless, no-good farmer, who just happened by. Well, let 'em talk. I'll tell you one thing. You're gonna wake up in the morning smiling.
ACCOMANDO: Roles like Ben Quick established Newman as both a critically acclaimed actor and a Hollywood heartthrob. Newman, however, preferred to view himself as a character actor. He felt that his good looks sometimes limited him to leading man roles. But Newman relished playing unsavory characters like pool shark, fast Eddie Felson in "The Hustler."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE HUSTLER")
SIMON: (As Eddie Felson) It's a great feeling, boy. It's a real great feeling when you're right and you know you're right.
U: I think all of the sudden I got oil in my arm.
SIMON: (As Eddie Felson) Pool's just part of me, you know? A pool cue has got nerves in it. It's a piece of wood. It's got nerves in it.
U: You gonna roll those balls?
SIMON: (As Eddie Felson) You don't have to look. You just know.
ACCOMANDO: 1961's "The Hustler" ushered in a decade of vivid roles that cut through Hollywood conventions with bold energy. He could be a heel in "Hud," a wise-cracking anti-hero in "Harper," or a rebel loner in "Hombre" and "Cool Hand Luke." Newman also excelled behind the camera, directing Joanne Woodward to acclaim in "Rachel, Rachel."
Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar eight times, and won in 1986 for "The Color of Money." In that film, he reprised the roll of fast Eddie Felson, who finds himself rejuvenated by Tom Cruise's pool prodigy.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE COLOR OF MONEY")
SIMON: (As Eddie Felson) You remind me that money won is twice as sweet as money earned. Twenty-five years ago I had the screws put on me. I mean, it was over for me before it really got started. But I'm hungry again and you bled that back into me.
ACCOMANDO: The Oscar was sweet and long overdue, but Newman never rested on his laurels. Instead, he sought challenges, many of them off screen. He believed in social and political activism and proudly pointed to the fact that his outspokenness won him a spot on President Nixon's infamous enemies list.
He also had a passion for auto racing, as he explained to NPR in this 1997 interview.
(SOUNDBITE OF 1997 INTERVIEW)
SIMON: The actual act of strapping yourself into a racecar is sensational because you create a cocoon for yourself. You know, the objective is very clear and clean, and you don't have one critic saying, well, yes, it's a good film, and another critic saying, oh, it's a bad film. You're either there and cross the finish line first or you're back some ways. So the definition of good is very cleanly delineated.
ACCOMANDO: In 1979, Newman finished second in the grueling LeMond 24-hour race. But no matter what he accomplished off screen, or how quietly he lived in Connecticut, Newman could never escape his Hollywood celebrity. He eventually gave in to what he called, "shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good," by allowing his face to appear on a line of food products called Newman's Own. Newman made his food products almost as successful as his film career.
(SOUNDBITE OF 1997 INTERVIEW)
SIMON: Things kept escalating, and at the instant that I decided that it would be a business, then I realized that you really have to give all the money away.
ACCOMANDO: And he did. Every penny of after-tax profits has gone to charity. Since 1982, donations from Newman's Own have exceeded $220 million.
In later years, Newman's film projects grew more infrequent, but his talents continued to mature with roles in "The Verdict" and "Nobody's Fool." In 1997 he told NPR that his approach to acting had changed.
(SOUNDBITE OF 1997 INTERVIEW)
SIMON: I think that for a very long period I really tried to make myself go toward the character. And for the last couple of years, I've tried to make the character come to me. And you know, acting is really nothing but exploring, exploring certain facets of your own personality, trying to become somebody else.
ACCOMANDO: In 2002, he returned to live theater after more than a three-decade absence to play the role of Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." It wasn't his final performance, but it provides a fitting cap to a long and varied career, one full of accomplishments obtained gracefully and without fanfare.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY "OUR TOWN")
SIMON: (As Stage Manager) There are some things that we all know but we don't take 'em out much and look at 'em. We all know that something is eternal, and it ain't houses. It ain't names. It ain't theater. It ain't the stars. We all know deep down that there is something eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.
ACCOMANDO: Paul Newman lives on in his films and through his charities. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "RAINDROPS ARE FALLING ON MY HEAD")
SIMON: (Singing) Raindrops keep fallin' on my head And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed Nothin' seems to fit Those raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'. So I just did...
SIMON: You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.
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