Obituary: Paul Newman

By Jan Shure and Tom Tugend, October 3, 2008

Hollywood superstar, director, racing-driver, liberal activist and philanthropist, Paul Newman first made his mark on the worldwide Jewish community with his role as a Haganah leader Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus, the 1960 epic film of Israel's establishment.

Director Otto Preminger reportedly picked the startlingly handsome, blue-eyed Newman because he wanted an actor of Jewish background who did not "look Jewish".

Newman, who died at his Westport, Connecticut, home last Friday, fulfilled the brief perfectly. He had a Jewish father, Arthur, of German descent who owned a successful sportswear shop in Cleveland, Ohio.

is mother, Theresa, descended from Hungarian immigrants, was a Catholic who later became a Christian Scientist. When asked about his religion, Newman always identified as a Jew, declaring: "I consider it more challenging."

After his film debut in 1954, he made 59 films, receiving 10 Oscar nominations. He played in some of the most iconic movies of the 20th century, including Tennessee Williams's Cat on Hot Tin Roof opposite Elizabeth Taylor; the boxing saga Somebody Up There Likes Me; Hud; Cool Hand Luke; The Hustler; and The Sting. He won a Best Actor Award in 1987, for The Colour of Money - as well as an honorary Oscar for Film Achievement in 1986 and another for his charity work in 1994.

In 1982 he created Newman's Own, a firm initially producing salad-dressings, with all profits for charity. His friend and partner in the venture, A E Hotchner, recalled in a book they jointly wrote, Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good - the slogan which also appears on the product packaging - that the project began after he helped Newman hand out some of his home-made salad-dressing to neighbours. Newman suggested that the leftover bottles could be sold; a local shop-owner agreed to sell them, but only if Newman's picture, as well as his name, went on the bottles. Newman agreed, but later told Hotchner he would only do it on condition that "if I do a tacky thing like that for money, then I think... we should give it all away".

Newman's Own has now diversified into some 150 products, including pasta sauces, pretzels and popcorn, many organic, employing green principles and recycling, generating more than $250 million which has been donated by Paul Newman and the Newman's Own Foundation to thousands of charities worldwide.

He is reported to have distributed more money - in relation to his own wealth - than any other American in the 20th century.

Particularly close to his heart were the eight Hole in the Wall Camps for children, which he started more than 20 years ago, naming them after the gang to which he and co-star Robert Redford belonged in the 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In September 2004, Newman contributed £300,000 towards the launch of the Jordan River Village, a camp for Israeli and Palestinian children suffering from life-threatening diseases. Part of the association of Hole in the Wall camps, it is chaired by Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who persuaded Women's UJIA in Britain to contribute $1.5 million to a medical centre for the village.

London solicitor Gordon Hausmann, chair of the Jordan River Village support group in the UK, told the JC this week: "Paul Newman was the inspiration for the Jordan River Village, now nearing completion. He was a great man who will be missed not only in the film world but also for his charitable activities."

A village spokesperson in Israel added: "For more than 20 years, Paul Newman has been the heart and soul of Hole in the Wall Camps. His endless passion, coupled with his selfless commitment to the welfare of children living with serious medical illnesses, has been inspirational to people everywhere. Paul's boundless enthusiasm for life and his vigour for helping those less fortunate were enormous and touched lives throughout the world."

Newman had three children from his first marriage: a son, Scott, and two daughters. After Scott's death in 1978 from an accidental drug overdose, Newman, in typically philanthropic fashion, established a centre in his memory for drug-abuse prevention.

His 50-year marriage to Joanne Woodward was legendary in an industry where movie-star couples rarely manage a fifth wedding anniversary.

When asked if he was ever tempted to stray, he famously retorted: "Why go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?" The couple, who had three daughters, Nell, Lissy and Clea, lived away from the brouhaha of Hollywood, making their home in the leafy, prosperous town of Westport. Following Newman's death on Friday, a statement from his family said: "His death was as private and discreet as [was] the way he had lived his life."

He was the voice of Doc Hudson in the 2006 animated film Cars, but his last proper screen role was as the chilling gang patriarch in Road to Perdition in 2002. Jewish filmmaker Sam Mendes, who directed Newman, described him as "a shining example of how to use global fame for the greater good".

Recalling the actor, he said: "There was a clause in his contract that if we went over by a day, he got paid an additional $250,000. He made the studio pay for the two days we overran, and gave it straight to his charity. That's the sort of man he was. He was so disinterested in personal gain and personal wealth and he lived very modestly."


Last updated: 6:09pm, October 2 2008