Saturday, September 27, 2008

Somebody Up There Liked Him: A Tribute to the Late Paul Newman

Paul Newman
(January 26, 1925-September 26, 2008)

Paul Newman, who died last night at the age of 83, was one of the most talented actors in film in the last fifty years. He made more than 56 movies in his half century on screen and was nominated for 10 competitive Oscars. He finally won his first competitive Oscar for the so-so Color of Money in 1987—too bad, in a way, because he was in so many other Oscar worthy films. Any of his roles in the films for which he was nominated and did not win—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice and The Verdict, to name a few—could and should have won him Oscars. And some of the parts for which he was not nominated are possibly even better. Among those, my favorites are Newman as: Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (a sad and funny movie with Newman in an endearing, once-in-a-lifetime part); detective Lew Harper in Harper and The Drowning Pool (William Goldman scripts with the famous coffee grounds scene opening Harper); Reggie “Reg” Dunlap in Slap Shot (profane but very funny film about an aging hockey star); Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (“Who are those guys?” Screenwriter William Goldman again) and; Henry Gondorff in The Sting (all Newman had to do to hook you, was to lay a finger by the side of his nose, just like Santa in the famous poem.)

There will be lots of other tributes to him so I don’t need to go on. That he had a long and good marriage to actress Joanne Woodward. That he gave millions and millions to charity through his Newman’s Own food company. That he loved cars and loved to race and used them to escape the suffocating world of his fame. All this is true. He must have been a great guy. But the way future generations will know him, will be through his wonderful films. Hollywood thought, for a long time, that he was just too good looking to be really talented. Hollywood was wrong. Paul Newman leaves behind an amazing body of work and now that we’ve lost him, we can be grateful that he did.

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