March 30, 1987: Actor Paul Newman Wins Best Actor at the Academy Awards

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A Brief History

Renowned American film actor and philanthropist Paul Newman had an unusual relationship with the Academy Awards. Before he won his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in March 30, 1987, he was nominated for the same award six times prior. The first nomination was in 1959 for The Cat in the Hot Tin Roof. Newman had to wait almost 30 years for his first Oscar.

Digging Deeper

The result of this long wait was that when he was nominated for the seventh time, he snubbed the ceremony – even though it was obvious that he would win. In true golden age Hollywood fashion, Newman explained that “It’s like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years. Finally, she relents and you say, ‘I’m terribly sorry. I’m tired'”. Perhaps the win was especially dubious to Newman due to the fact that a year earlier, after six nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and one for Best Picture (for his film, Rachel), the Academy gave him an honorary award. Instead of an Oscar, he was awarded a statuette for his long and illustrious career as a great Hollywood actor. While he didn’t appear at that ceremony, he did accept the award via satellite from his Chicago home.

Newman at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival

The first time Newman didn’t attend the Oscars despite being nominated was for his first nomination in 1958 for his role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He skipped that one because he refused to miss an already scheduled performance of Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway. This happened again in 1963 when he was nominated for his role on Hud. He was then starring in the Broadway show Baby I Want A Kiss alongside his wife. While many speculate that he didn’t attend these ceremonies because he felt that he wouldn’t win, others point to these instances as examples of how dedicated Newman was to the craft of acting.

Despite being known throughout his early career as a sex symbol, Newman very quickly rose to the task of being Hollywood’s foremost versatile actor. In fact, not many are aware of the fact that Newman played his 1987 Oscar-winning role of “Fast Eddie” Felson twice on the silver screen. Fast Eddie was just an up-and-coming pool player in 1961’s The Hustler while in 1986’s The Color of Money, he was the aging veteran in charge of developing a young, cocky, and talented new hustler played by Tom Cruise. While Newman himself was reportedly unimpressed by his own performance in The Color of Money, it proved the perfect modern comeback for a classic character from the 60s, and bagged him Oscar gold.

Theatrical release poster

In 1994, the Academy again called Newman to the stage to give him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his philanthropy and advocacy work. This time, the actor-director went up onstage to accept the award in person. To this day, he is remembered as the founder of the Scott Newman Center, and Newman’s Own food products, the profits of which he used to fund various charitable projects. Throughout his lifetime, he donated around half a billion dollars to charity.

Oscar-winning actor, director, sex symbol, philanthropist, race car driver Hall-of-Famer, and activist, Paul Newman died of complications from cancer at age 83 on September 26, 2008. May he rest in prestige.

Newman in 2007

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The featured image in this article, a trailer screenshot of The Hustler (1961), is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.

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About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.