A Brief History
On March 30, 1987, renowned American film actor and philanthropist Paul Newman finally won his long awaited Oscar. Before this momentous occasion, he had an unusual relationship with the Academy Awards. Before he won his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1987, he was nominated for the same award six times prior while never taking home the prized little statue. His first nomination for Best Actor was in 1959 for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Newman had to wait almost 30 years for his first Oscar.
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 Hollywood “Golden Age” 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 did not appear at that ceremony, he did accept the award via satellite from his Chicago home.
The first time Newman did not 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. History repeated in 1963 when he was nominated for his role in Hud. He was then starring in the Broadway show Baby I Want A Kiss alongside his wife, actress Joanne Woodward. While many speculate that he did not attend these ceremonies because he felt that he would not 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 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. Having seen the film at the theater in 1986, the author fully agrees with the Academy choice of Newman for Best Actor.
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, military World War II veteran, and activist, Paul Newman died of complications from cancer at age 83 on September 26, 2008. May he rest in the prestige of having been a fine actor and a finer human being.
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For more information, please see…
Levy, Shawn. Paul Newman: A Life. Three Rivers Press, 2010.
Newman, Paul and AE Hotchner. In Pursuit of the Common Good: Twenty-Five Years of Improving the World, One Bottle of Salad Dressing at a Time. Currency, 2008.
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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