If he were still alive, Paul Newman would have turned 90 years old today. As a way to honor his memory on the date of his birth, I thought I’d tell the story of how he went from being just another famous name I heard of while growing up to now being one of my favorite actors. I will also share with you a way that you can join his daughter Clea in honoring his legacy through something that Paul Newman was well known for – giving back.
Paul Newman is one of those names I heard quite often in my pre-old movie loving days but didn’t really know much about because I hadn’t seen any of his movies. Well, except for The Towering Inferno (1974) when I was very young, but I think I was too disturbed by that movie as a little girl to even give much thought as to who was in it. It’s interesting now to realize that I was watching some of my future favorites; Fred Astaire, William Holden and Paul Newman, and I had no idea they’d become a big part of my love for old movies many years down the road.
Whenever I heard the name Paul Newman, I would usually associate it with his blue eyes or maybe with Robert Redford because of the two movies they made together and their shared reputation as heartthrobs, but that was about it. Even after I became a huge fan of old movies, I didn’t watch much of his work because I preferred black and white movies from the ’30s and ’40s, and his film career did not begin until 1954.
My Season of Paul Newman
Cut to this past summer when I got a major craving for watching in-color movies from the 1960s and ended up watching several of Newman’s movies. Up to that point I had watched him in The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Torn Curtain (1966) but for some reason I didn’t think much of him one way or the other. I guess it’s one of those things where different actors only appeal to you in certain seasons of your life, but once they do capture your attention all you want to do is immerse yourself in their movies.
That’s what happened to me with Paul Newman when I watched his movie Harper (1966) last summer. Oh my, did I fall for him that day! I had always thought he was good looking just like pretty much the rest of the female population, but for some reason it wasn’t until I watched that movie that I realized just how captivated I could be by his charm. Of course, his looks are not the only reason why I like him so much as an actor, but there are certainly worse things than looking at Paul Newman for a few hours. 😉 I went on to watch five more of his movies over the summer including From the Terrace (1960), The Hustler (1961), Paris Blues (1961), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) and A New Kind of Love (1963).
Just a few quick thoughts on a couple of those movies: Sweet Bird of Youth for me was the most intense. Based on a play by Tennessee Williams, the movie has a very unforgettable ending, which as I found out later was still not quite as disturbing as the ending of the play. You can read about that here on TCM.com (contains spoilers).
Paris Blues, while not the best movie of the bunch, was probably my favorite. Any time a movie combines great music and musicians like Louis Armstrong, great actors like Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier, and Paris (a city I desperately hope to visit someday) it’s mostly likely going to appeal to me whether it’s a great movie or not. And as for A New Kind of Love, well let’s just say it was one of the more strange movies I’ve ever seen, but it was still a treat to watch Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, a couple in real life, together onscreen.
Paul Newman’s Philanthropic Efforts
As many of his fans know though, Paul Newman was known for much more than just his acting. There was his love of auto racing of course, but perhaps the thing that he is best known for or at least maybe should be was his philanthropic work. As his daughter Clea stated in an article she wrote about her father, “But it is the extraordinary impact of his philanthropic efforts – responding to unmet needs; providing hope, joy and inspiration; and working to better communities – that is the heart of his legacy, and what I believe is his greatest imprint on our world.”
One well known example of that is his charitable food company, Newman’s Own, which has raised over $400 million for various charities since it was founded by Newman in 1982. What may not be as well known is that he also had a heart for children and in 1988 founded a camp for seriously ill children to give them a place where they could “just be kids – to laugh, play, make friends, and try new things.”
It started out as The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp but has since become the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global network of 30 camps and programs that benefit children with serious illnesses. It has now served over 518,000 children and their families around the world. You can find out more about how to get involved with this great organization, whether through donating funds or volunteering at a camp in your area by visiting the SeriousFun Children’s Network website. It’s a great way to join his daughter in celebrating her father’s legacy.