angela lansbury, ben quick, big daddy, brick pollitt, buffalo bill cody, butch cassidy and the sundance kid, cat on a hot tin roof, charlestown chiefs, cool hand luke, elizabeth taylor, failure to communicate, fast eddie felson, hollywood, hud, hud bannon, jackie gleason, james wong howe, joanne woodward, judge roy bean, lee remick, long hot summer, lucas jackson, maggie, martin scorsese, melvyn douglas, minnesota fats, orson welles, patricia neal, paul newman, reg dunlop, robert redford, skipper, snopes, tennessee williams, the color of money, the hustler, william faulkner
Although Paul Newman passed away seven years ago, I still miss him. His charisma on-screen and his incredible charity off-screen made him almost too good to be true. A dedicated family man who didn’t care for the distractions of Hollywood, Newman went about his business as I wish many actors would today. His roles were many, his talent deep, his love of life unparalleled. Today would have been his 90th birthday, and while he may well have quit acting by now if he were still with us, having him as a resource for stories and anecdotes about old time Hollywood should would be nice. He is my favorite actor and his approach to his roles has given them life well beyond his own. I would assume that’s what every actor would hope.
And while we’re at it, here’s my list of favorite roles. Newman had the capability to bring something you might not expect to each role he inhabited. He, to me, is the blueprint for what an actor, and human being, should be.
Here we go:
Ben Quick – The Long Hot Summer
Newman plays a bad boy who can only be tamed by the love of a certain woman. That that woman also happens to be played by his future wife Joanne Woodward is pretty damn awesome. Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury and a gorgeous young Lee Remick round out this fantastic tale based on the Snopes stories by William Faulkner.
Lucas Jackson – Cool Hand Luke
One of Newman‘s most iconic roles, Cool Hand Luke shows us the story of Lucas Jackson as he tries to weather his time in a rural prison. Unwilling to adapt to rules, Luke butts heads with everyone from the prisoners to the guards to the superintendent in what has been famously said is “a failure to communicate.” Newman is off his ass in this one.
Hud Bannon – Hud
Here is Newman in another role as bad boy, although this time he can’t be tamed. Hud takes what he wants, when he wants it. Some find this endearing…others not so much. Newman lost out on an Oscar to fellow co-star Melvyn Douglas for this role. Patricia Neal also won for Best Actress in this one. A truly incredible film, exquisitely shot by James Wong Howe.
“Fast” Eddie Felson – The Hustler
Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) vs. Fast Eddie Felson – one of the great battles in cinema history all done over 9′ x 4.5′ table. Pool table, that is. Easily one of Newman‘s most recognizable roles (he reprised it for Martin Scorsese‘s The Color of Money, for which he won his only Oscar), Fast Eddie is a cautionary tale as much as a hero. I didn’t see this film until I was in my 20s. A shame really. It’s worth as many watches as you will allow.
Butch Cassidy – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
What to say about this role other than it is so fucking good? Newman operated so well in any genre. He tackled the Western with as much vigor, humor and gusto as he did with any others (he would go on to make two more Westerns in iconic roles as Buffalo Bill Cody and Judge Roy Bean). Acting opposite Robert Redford in his breakout role, Newman created one of his most memorable characters.
Brick Pollitt – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Oozing with sex appeal, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof pits Newman alongside Elizabeth Taylor at the height of her career as they battle one another in the adaptation of Tennesse Williams‘ play. An angry Brick wants nothing to do with his wife Maggie (Taylor) as he rests at his rich father’s estate after breaking his ankle while consumed with grief over the loss of his friend (and possibly lover) Skipper. In one of the great depictions of spiteful marriage, Newman shines as only he can. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the confluence of everything I adore about classic Hollywood.
Reg Dunlop – Slap Shot
It should be no small surprise that I would rate Newman‘s performance in Slap Shot as my favorite. It is, after all, my favorite film of all time. Newman owns his role as Reg Dunlop, the lovable loser player-coach for the failing Charlestown Chiefs. Blue collar to the bone, Dunlop’s schemes raise the profile of a hockey team that everyone has written off, even its owner. That we get to see Newman in a caramel-colored leather suit (see above for its deliciousness) as well as other amazing 70s threads make it all the more worthwhile. I can’t really describe my love for this film enough. Watching a foul-mouthed Newman skate and mix it up on the ice is truly one of the great pleasures of my life.
So there you have it. I’m so nostalgic right now, I wish I could hunker down and watch all of these films in a row. Another day perhaps.