“Every time I get a script it’s a matter of trying to know what I could do with it. I see colors, imagery. It has to have a smell. It’s like falling in love. You can’t give a reason why.” –Paul Newman
Paul Newman was a man of many talents. In addition to having a notable career as an actor, he was also a skilled race car driver, entrepreneur, and beloved philanthropist. While many may reflect upon his career and celebrate his legacy through watching his films, the positive effects of his philanthropic efforts influence others to this day.
Born Paul Leonard Newman in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he was the second son of Arthur and Theresa Newman. Both of his parents owned and operated a sporting goods store. While Newman’s older brother, Arthur, become a producer and production manager, Newman displayed an interest in theater.
Newman’s first role came at the age of seven when he played a court jester in his school’s production of Robin Hood. Three years later, he performed at the Cleveland Play House and was a regular participant in the Curtain Pullers children’s theatre program. Newman graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943 and attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, for a brief period of time.
Soon after, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II in the Pacific theater. Though he enrolled in a Navy pilot training program at Yale University, he was dismissed due to colorblindness. Instead, Newman trained as a radioman and rear gunner.
Once the war ended, Newman returned to school and received his Bachelor of Arts in drama and economics from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He joined various summer stock companies including the Belfry Players in Wisconsin and Woodstock Players in Illinois. Afterwards, he attended the Yale School of Drama for one year and subsequently moved to New York to study at the Actors Studio.
Around this time, Newman married Jackie Witte and had three children: Scott, Susan, and Stephanie. Scott died due to a drug overdose in 1978, prompting Newman to later start the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in his memory. The couple divorced in 1958.
Newman made his Broadway debut in Picnic (1953) with Kim Stanley. He also appeared in The Desperate Hours (1955) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). During this period, he performed on television and began to pursue a career in films. His first film was The Silver Chalice (1954), followed by films such as Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and The Long, Hot Summer (1958). Newman would secure his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and followed this success with many other noteworthy film roles.
During this time, Newman reconnected with actress Joanne Woodward, whom he had met in 1953 while working on Picnic. Woodward was working as an understudy at the time. Newman and Woodward crossed paths again for The Long, Hot Summer. After filming, Newman and Woodward married. The couple remained married for 50 years until his passing. Newman and Woodward had three daughters named Elinor, Melissa, and Claire.
Near the time of the start of his relationship with Woodward, Newman pursued his love of racing and trained at the Watkins Glen Racing School to enhance his performance in Winning (1969). By 1972, he would enter his first professional racing event at Thompson International Speedway. Newman would win four national championships in the Sports Car Club of America’s events, in addition to participating in many other races.
Along with sharing his acting talents with audiences, Newman also directed four films starring Woodward, which included Rachel, Rachel (1968), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972), The Shadow Box (1980), and The Glass Menagerie (1987). Newman’s last film appearance was in Road to Perdition (2002). In 2003, Newman received his first Tony Award nomination for his performance in Our Town.
By the time Newman retired from acting, he had already begun to devote his attention to philanthropic efforts. Alongside Writer A.E. Hotchner, Newman founded Newman’s Own—a line of food products which called for all proceeds to be donated to charity. To this day, the charity sponsors several awards in addition to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children who are seriously ill. In addition to working towards many other philanthropic efforts, Newman was one of the founders of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy to raise the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy.
Newman also found himself dedicating time to various causes during his lifetime. He attended the March on Washington and participated in the first Earth Day event, in addition to supporting other political and environmental causes. He remained passionate about acting and philanthropy until his passing. In 2008, he was named the Most Generous Celebrity by Givingback.org, contributing over $20 million to the Newman’s Own Foundation. He passed away at 83 years of age on September 26, 2008, due to lung cancer.
Today, there are some physical locations in existence that link to Newman’s early years in Ohio. According to the 1930 census, the home in which he lived at the time is listed at 2953 Brighton Rd. in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This is the property today:
His alma mater, Shaker Heights High School, stands at 15911 Aldersyde Dr. in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Ohio University remains at 1 Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Kenyon College stands at 103 College Rd., in Gambier, Ohio.
Perhaps the strongest tribute to Newman’s legacy is the Newman’s Own Foundation, which continues to dedicate its profits to charity. The Newman’s Own Foundation also supports the mentoring and training of youth leaders, offering opportunities for them gain experience in nonprofit and philanthropic work through a fellowship program.
Sadly, the Scott Newman Center was dissolved in 2013 due to a decline in contributions.
Newman gave of himself on screen and through his dedication to many charitable causes. His legacy is certainly worth celebrating as it continues to impact and inspire others.