An examination of the life of actor Paul Newman, using rarely seen interviews from the BBC archives to tell the story of a career that made him one of Hollywood's greatest stars.
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One of the cinema's true superstars.
Paul Newman was the blue-eyed all-American with a sparkle
that audiences couldn't help falling for.
In the 1960s and '70s,
he was one of the most popular actors in the world,
thanks to films like The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke,
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting.
Onscreen, he specialised in playing charismatic antiheroes
and lovable rogues.
Off-screen, he could be more thoughtful
and serious than many expected.
As he demonstrated in his 1973 interview with
Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre,
which begins with her asking about his first ever role in film.
I know the film-making career began with something called
The Silver Chalice.
Now, I know you wince every time it's mentioned,
so perhaps we'd like your comments on that.
Well, the question is really a matter of survival.
I was grateful that I survived.
It was nobody's fault, it was just, er...
It was just the worst film made in the entire era of the 1950s.
So I get a kind of perverse pleasure out of that. Er...
It's like being the worst kid on the block.
You at least get noticed.
And, er...I certainly got noticed.
As a matter of fact...
I don't read reviews that much any more,
but I certainly remember the New Yorker review
to the exact comma,
in which they said that I resembled
a Putnam stop conductor announcing local stops.
And it should have been time for me to get out of the business, but I didn't.
It was shown recently on American television, wasn't it?
Yes, and I took an ad in the LA Times...
..with a funereal wreath around it,
saying that I apologised every night at 8:30.
And everybody tuned in to find out what I was apologising for.
So it backfired.
(Jesus, guide my hand.)
After The Silver Chalice, you came back and did a play,
but then you went back and made a sequence of films.
Did you, at this time, begin to feel
that you were going to get a grip, despite the disastrous start?
Did you feel yourself warming to film
as a technique to film performance?
I never really cared that much.
And I think if you don't care,
then you can take the kind of chances that can consolidate your position.
Do you care about acting?
Probably not. LAUGHTER
I care about all of the peripheral things that go into acting.
I care about the rehearsals, I care about tearing down the script,
I care about making terribly cerebral judgements about, er...
the directions in which a character may go.
The actual performing, the actual getting up
and having someone shout, "Action,"
and put a clapperboard in front of you
and doing your job is very, very dull.
All the preliminary things are interesting.
How extensive are the preliminaries?
Well, I think that varies on how close the part is to me.
If the part is very close to me
or what I think of myself as a human being,
then the preliminary work is...is minimal.
If...the part is a distance from me, then, er...
I hold up for a long while.
Can you give us examples of, say, parts that are close to you
and have needed relatively little work?
Butch needed very little work.
Um...Graziano needed a lot of work.
Er...the part in The Outrage needed a lot of work.
..the primitives, basically, need more work with me
than the sophisticated people.
Do you hanker for the script that arrives that's a good script
but is a totally different figure
from anything you've ever done before?
Well...I hope that my roles are a little more diversified than that.
Granted, they are contemporary and almost exclusively American.
On those occasions
when I've gone very far afield from that,
it has not been, er...
..with any great acclaim
on the part of either the critics or the populous.
And certainly, an absolute disaster
as far as the financial backers are concerned.
..I don't know whether...
..that peculiarly American stance that I take
and contemporary stance, is, er...
an act of wisdom or an act of fear.
I suspect it's rather an act of wisdom.
If you know your own limitations,
I think you should be prepared to live with them.
I'm not very good with the classics. I've never had a classical ear.
I seem to be stuck inside of an American skin, like it or not.
We're going to see The Hustler,
a piece from the Hustler in a moment.
Can you tell us about that?
Because there's a great deal of good pool played in that film.
Did you have to practise?
Well, we moved the dining room table out of the dining room
and put in a pool table for three months.
And, er...I had the good fortune of learning from William Mosconi,
who was, at that time, World Champion.
And I subsequently won a lot of money.
You'd better not miss, friend.
I don't rattle, kid.
But just for that, I'm going to beat you flat.
You punk, you two-bit punk, come on, pay up. 100 bucks!
-You quitting, friend?
-Yeah. I'm quitting.
Apart from dying rich, happy and in bed, what is your ambition?
That would just about be good enough.
Well, if I could be a competitive automobile driver,
I'd chuck this in a minute.
But aside from that, no, I'm doing what I like to do.
Er...there are some...
..liabilities, but, er...
in the long run, it's been very good to me.
But you're quite serious about wanting to be a racing driver.
It's pretty hard to start something like that when you're 47.
You don't want to branch out in any other sphere at all,
besides films or theatre?
I think not. I thought about politics for a while
and realised I had neither the patience, er...
..for it and possibly conceivably not even the credentials for it.
But it's... Politics is absolutely medieval.
And anybody who would get involved with that
has got to have his blood pressure checked and his brains.
Because I would have no part of it.
Would you say, then, that you're in a rut?
I'm just a happy hooker.
-Thank you very much indeed.
Paul Newman enjoyed many box office successes, but perhaps the most
popular was the enduring classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It teamed him up with Robert Redford for the first time
and created one of the cinema's greatest double acts.
We find him here discussing the film
with Iain Johnstone in an interview from 1982.
There came a point in your career
when you were able to obviously shape it
because of your own status,
when you could begin to produce the Newman form and company.
And I think your first production was Butch Cassidy.
Had Bill Goldman written the screenplay when it came to you?
I'd read the script long before it was ever done.
Maybe a year or so.
As a matter of fact, Bill Goldman came down to Tucson, where I was shooting a film
and he stayed there for about three or four days.
And, er...we just kind of talked it through and worked at it and,
er...the next time that I saw the screenplay,
Steve McQueen called me to his house.
And, er...he had the flu.
He said, "I've read this remarkable script."
And he handed it to me and I said,
"I saw this script a year and a half ago."
And...I don't know. That's...that's history.
-Was McQueen, at one stage, going to play along with you in it?
-We tried to buy it.
-The two of you?
And somehow, they found out that Steve and I were interested
and the agent gave it to a friend of his at 20th Century Fox.
-And I heard Brando's name canvassed. Was that true?
-Yes. He was...
-Who was going to play the younger man?
-It didn't make any difference.
-I was prepared to play either part.
-And how was Red...?
Was it you who, in effect,
gave Redford's career that nudge upwards, as it were?
-That was Joanne's idea.
-Ah! Tell me about it.
She read the script and she said, "It's marvellous
"and the only guy that can play it is, is, er...Bob Redford."
Other people don't remember it that way, but I remember it that way.
I remember someone once showed me a memo in 20th Century Fox
when Redford had completed part of it, saying,
"He is just another Californian blond.
"Throw a beach board and you would hit 20 of them
-"on any given day at Malibu." How wrong they were.
He's... We have a lot of fun together
because we bounce off each other very well.
Did that happen straight away? Did you know each other already?
No. Never met him.
went back and, um...ran some of his films
and then George Roy Hill and I went up and we had lunch with him.
But I would've preferred to have played Sundance.
-Oh, I don't know.
I feel a little more comfortable with that cooled-out kind of quality.
It's the better part, do you think?
I suppose it's the easier part, yes.
No, we'll jump.
-Like hell we will!
-No, it'll be OK.
If the water's deep enough, we don't get squished to death.
-They'll never follow us.
-How do you know?!
Would you make a jump like that if you didn't have to?
I have to and I'm not going to.
Well, we've got to, otherwise we're dead.
They're just going to have to go back down the same way they come.
-Just one clear shot, that's all I want.
-We've got to!
-Get away from me!
-I want to fight them!
-They'll kill us!
-You want to die?
-All right. I'll jump first.
-Then you jump first!
-No, I said.
-What's the matter with you?!
I can't swim!
Why, you crazy...! The fall will probably kill you!
Is it true you and Redford send each other motorcars from time to time?
We have been known to play, um...some eccentric practical jokes.
He sent me a Porsche for my birthday.
Except it had hit a tree sideways at about 130mph
and there was no transmission in it
and it was just left in my driveway with a big bow around it.
So I had the whole thing compacted.
And, um...called the real estate agent.
He was living in a rented house in Westborough.
And we got through the burglar alarm and left it in his vestibule.
Took five guys to carry this thing into his house.
And, of course, he finally won that one
because he never admitted that anything was in his house.
He briefed the kids.
I called up the next day and I asked Jamie, I said,
"How's it going? Anything new? What's going on?"
And there was simply no response to it at all.
And would you like to categorically deny on camera
that you have a lavatory roll with Redford's face on it -
a terrible rumour I once heard.
Yes, I never had the courage to send that to his friends
-and I was stuck with a thousand rolls of this...
-What does it look...
-You didn't happen to bring a piece?
-No, it was a very bad...
It was a very bad likeness to begin with, so...
-In the centre of this sheet?
-So you still have them?
I think there's 990 rolls left, yes.
I think probably some Midwestern University will buy them
one day for their library.
I think there could be money in that, yes.
Well, they certainly will be museum pieces, yes.
When you are coupled - as you are often coupled in print -
with James Dean and Marlon Brando,
do you regard that as a compliment or a piece of really myopia on the
part of the writer that the three of you are and were very different?
Er... Funny story.
..was asked to do Graziano...
..I studied with Graziano -
I mean, studied - we almost lived together for three or four weeks.
Boxing, going around, seeing what the er...
south side of Manhattan where he was born,
the guys that he grew up with, all of that, and I tried very hard
to put at least my version of Graziano on the screen.
They accused me of imitating Marlon Brando.
Subsequently, I don't know, a year later or so, Rocky
and I were sitting around drinking beer together
and I mentioned Marlon's name and he said,
"Oh, that's one of the stories that I forgot to tell you.
"I kept noticing when I was sparring that there was this kid that
"was sitting there with a sketch pad, and so forth,
"and he kept watching me for a year and we'd chat, did this and that.
"I never knew the kid, never knew what he was doing,
"he said he was an actor.
"I thought he was a spear carrier in some Shakespearean production.
"What do I know?
"So finally, I didn't see him for a long time and he came back
"and said, 'I'd like you to come and see this production that I'm doing on Broadway.'
"And I said, 'Sure - what are you? Musical? What is it?' You know."
Well, it was A Streetcar Named Desire.
And what had happened, of course, that Marlon
and I had both the same basic character that we were dealing with.
He had taken Rocky and put him up on stage in A Streetcar
and I had put him up on the screen in Somebody Up There Likes Me.
Just before we meet Joanne,
there is something of a paradox in an actor's career
in that of course he wants to become eminent, he wants
to become well-known, better choice of parts, better pay, more influence.
At the same time, it makes life less and less tenable.
Is there any part of the world you can now go where you're not
recognised or known?
Um, it's difficult.
It's one of the things that I don't really care very much about.
I'm not very good with photographers who linger out in the streets.
Well, I'm sorry - they're not photographers.
They are guys with cameras.
My daughter was telling me
about a marvellous photographic book that she wanted to get for me -
a photographer who documented what happened in Nicaragua.
-Yes. Susan Meiselas, I think her name is.
-Is that it?
-I've seen it. It's beautiful. Yeah.
That's a photographer, as compared with those guys with
their cameras that linger and lurk about and skulk about in the streets.
I'm not very comfortable with that.
Do you sign autographs?
No, I don't sign autographs.
There's no sense telling you why
but I'll tell you when I stopped signing them.
I was standing at a urinal and a guy came through the door with
a pencil and a piece of paper in his hands and I said, "Never again".
That is the terminal insult.
But it's a cleft stick. You can't have one without the other.
-You can't be an international movie star and be unrecognisable internationally.
I understand it comes with the territory but...
..autographs are something else.
I remember many occasions in the old days
when Joanne and I were having a romantic dinner
or we were having dinner with the kids or walking down Fifth Avenue and
there was some unwritten law that anybody could stop you from doing
whatever you are doing and you had to put your name on this piece of paper.
I wasn't around to vote when that rule was made
I think the only obligation that I have to audience is to do the best
I possibly can to prepare myself,
to not cheat them on the screen, and er...
I don't know if anything else is really required.
There is something of a command in that.
"Smile! Take off your glasses." "I'm sorry, my pants'll drop off. "
It makes me uncomfortable.
I think most of us who were watching would defend your right to that degree of privacy.
-Mr Newman, for the moment, thank you.
Despite all the hits and acclaim, by the mid-1980s,
Paul Newman had been nominated for an Oscar five times and never won.
It felt like an oversight.
Even his wife - the actress Joanne Woodward -
had won this highest accolade.
That changed with The Colour Of Money,
Martin Scorsese's sequel, 25 years on, to The Hustler.
Here we join Newman talking about the film with Russell Harty
a few weeks before his winning of that year's Best Actor Oscar.
Right from the very beginning, there was such a sense of exploration,
of lack of ego, of a...of a...
willingness to er, oh,
I don't know - jump off cliffs
and when you have that kind of feeling going in,
it's pretty hard to make mistakes.
-Did you do all your own shots in the movie?
-You went into training for that, or you remembered it from The Hustler?
I lose my eye pretty quickly and I get it back pretty quickly.
-Cruise was fantastic. And never had a pool cue in his hand.
And he was as good, if not better, than I was in five weeks.
Now this nation at the moment is obsessed with that kind of activity.
Do you watch it? Have you been here long enough to watch?
I was up until 1.30 this morning watching Dennis...
-Park...no, Dennis Parker?
Watching Dennis Taylor win the championship.
Joanne being the perverse lady that she is,
had never watched a...a billiard game in her life
and was keeping the entire hotel awake last night, jumping up and down
on the coffee table, which I thought was rather tacky but we stayed up.
It was an extraordinary night.
In the United States, nine-ball, which is fast and quick
and loud and noisy, is the game of television.
Straight pool used to be the game but snooker here is...is tougher,
the table is bigger, the pockets are less forgiving,
the strategy is much more critical.
Do you think you'll get an Oscar for this?
That's not anything that I think very much about.
The prizes are OK if you win them.
They are not so good if you don't win them. But it's rather nice...
Well, I tried to explain this morning. er...
It's been a long time
and it's like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years and she finally
says, "Well, here I am," and you say, "And so...
"..now what?" So I don't know.
I guess...I may have been competitive about acting at one point in my life.
I'm certainly not competitive any more.
It would be still nice to use it to stop the door open with,
-Well, it would create some kind of balance in the house.
Every time I get into an argument with Joanne about
cooking or how to launder shirts,
she just shakes her Oscar at me and I'm dead in the water.
So it would kind of be the great equaliser now after 33 years.
-Is there such a thing as pillow talk at the Newmans'?
Does she say, "I don't like what you did today. Don't ever do it again."
-So you never sleep?
Well, yes but at odd times.
Through lunch and dinner a lot and...
And that kind of thing. Er, Scorsese...
-That rather stopped you, didn't it?
-Yeah, it did.
I took a big swallow in the middle of that, didn't I?
Where will you look for the next script?
Presumably there are piles by the desk's side, or the top of the desk.
Do you have somebody who reads these and says, "This is yours"?
I have a young fellow who reads them first and has an excellent eye
and I don't necessarily depend on that.
I just know it's very dry out there.
I know I'd like to do at least two films a year
and now it's getting lucky if I do a film every two years.
But maybe there isn't the same need and power
and drive to prove yourself inside you.
No. There are no good scripts out there.
Let me give you an example, Redford and I made The Sting 13 years ago.
George Roy Hill and Redford and I have been looking for a script together for 13 years.
We've not been able to find one that we felt that we liked
enough for the three of us to be in it together.
That's not out of lack of desire. It's simply out of lack of material.
-How's your memory?
-Terrible and getting worse.
And what do you do to help yourself? Do you make lists or do you...
-They say choline is good.
-What is that?
That's a massage parlour outside of Westport Connecticut. No.
-You can remember the address?
-It's a vitamin.
Well, I remember the bad things
and I have trouble remembering the good things. It's par for the course.
You sure as hell have a lot of good things to remember, don't you?
No, but I can listen to them while you tell me.
Well, you've got a good wife
and you've got something in your eye which is...
-No, I was just winking at you.
-Yeah, I thought you probably were.
And you've got a fairly fulfilled career,
which in a kind of way allows you to choose
whatever work you may want to work at, given the right material.
-I'm very fortunate.
-And you're wealthy.
And there are those people who say you're a good-looking guy.
What do they know.
There was one person in the whole world who didn't know that
you're an actor, that you got a note or a message from,
-whose girlfriend introduced him...
-Where did you hear..?
-..to your salad dressing.
I just heard on a great little grapevine that this guy who
didn't know you were an actor sent you a note.
Do you remember that note?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I have it hanging in my office,
in the bathroom, as a constant reminder to be modest.
It said that...
It was addressed to me
and it was addressed to the salad dressing company in Connecticut
and he just said,
"My girlfriend and I just had this terrific..." - his girlfriend, "GF".
"My GF and I just had this terrific dinner. We just whipped home
"and scattered your wonderful spaghetti sauce over some spaghetti
"and it was just terrific, and she also told me that you did movies.
"Is any of your stuff on cassettes?
"Can we get something for us to look at?"
Well, it does take you down a little bit.
Those sauces that Newman put his name and face to
would end up becoming more financially successful
than even his glittering cinema career.
They made hundreds of millions of dollars
and Newman gave every dollar of profits to charities.
He also did go on to enjoy a second career as a racing car driver.
And of course, he carried on acting
in films like the Coen brothers' Hudsucker Proxy
and Sam Mendes' The Road To Perdition
which would become his final on-screen film role.
In 2007, he announced his retirement,
saying he'd lost confidence in his abilities
and the following year, Paul Newman died, aged 83.
On hearing the news, his friend Robert Redford summed up
the feelings of many, saying,
"I have lost a real friend."
"My life, and America, is better for his being in it."
An examination of the life of actor Paul Newman, using rarely seen interviews from the BBC archives to tell the story of a career that made him one of Hollywood's greatest superstars. Narrated by Sylvia Syms.