Paul Newman was mainly known to the world as a movie star – an icon, really – with a beautiful face, mesmerising blue eyes, and a air of rascality about him. His long marriage to Joanne Woodward was revered in a profession where marriages often seem to break up almost as soon as the vows are read. This book is a journey through Newman’s life, from his happy childhood as the son of the owner of a successful sporting goods business, to the start of his acting career, and of course, his Hollywood stardom. However, just as interesting are the details of Paul’s passion for motor racing, his political activism, and his philanthropy. The book also covers darker periods of his life, such as the tragic death of his son Scott, and a period when he and Joanne briefly separated.
The book was written in a respectful, but not fawning fashion, and painted a picture of a man who was sometimes uncomfortable with his stardom, who was almost obsessive about details regarding his characters and the settings of films, and whose greatest love in life was his wife. Shawn Levy has taken a huge number of interviews that Paul Newman gave, and put them into chronological order; in this way, although Newman did not participate in any way with the writing of this book, we are still able to see his thoughts on certain times in his life, certain films that he made, etc. The book does not portray Newman as a saint, but he is treated with the warmth and respect that such a man would deserve.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was when Newman set up the Hole In The Wall camps – places where sick children could go to simply have fun, play games, forget about their illnesses for a while. Newman was determined that no child’s family should have to pay for their child to go to the camp, and importantly, as well as giving his money to the project, he also gave his time – he would often pop into the camps on spec, and play games or chat with the children. I knew that Newman was a generous man, but I was surprised to learn of some of the things that he did, at no benfit to himself.
The book is very readable, and not at all dry – it’s a fascinating read from start to finish. I actually found myself with a lump in my throat at the end, when reading about the death of this mercurial, precise, rogueish, handsome, kind, intelligent and funny man. I would urge fans of Paul Newman to read this book.
(Author’s website can be found here.)