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Movie folklore?s blue-eyed boy

Paul will bid bye to limelight after assaying one more role, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 12:47 IST

Paul Newman wants to call it a day, but not before one last hurrah. The legendary American actor, who is frequently voted among the greatest movie stars of all time, has expressed a desire to bid goodbye to the arclights after assaying just one more starring role. The parting, when it does happen, can only be a sad reminder for millions of Newman fans around the globe that age does not spare even the biggest of movie icons.

Newman, now into his 80s, has lent his voice to the character of Doc Hudson in Pixar’s latest animation flick, Cars. He is still very much in the midst of work. But he seems to be finally getting to a point in his eventful life and career where he justifiably wants to wind down for good and devote his energies to the variety of causes that he funds with the profits that accrue from the ‘Newman’s Own’ line of food products.

Clearly, they don’t make them like Paul Newman anymore. A true-blue Hollywood idol whose fame rests as much on his enormous sex appeal and great looks as on his considerable acting abilities, Newman will live on long after his work is done. The reason is pretty simple: his body of work has all along been driven by a combination of substance and style.

Paul Newman at his prime

When his first feature, The Silver Chalice, a 1954 costume drama that turned out to be a complete embarrassment, Newman thought nothing of inserting an apology in a trade magazine addressed to those who had unwittingly watched the film. And then, he went on to make amends with a widely appreciated star turn as boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me two years later. Paul Newman was on his way.

If the man with the most famous pair of blue eyes in movie history has said that he wants to call it a day, he has the right to. After half a century of sustained stardom, Newman has a permanent place in the pantheon of Hollywood’s greatest icons. He can now afford to sit back.

Fast Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, Newman’s only Oscar-winning role, tells the young man he takes under his wings: “You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. And you got too much of one and not enough of the other.” Newman had the right balance, an attribute that helped him land lead roles in films like Message in a Bottle and Where the Money Is after he was well into his 70s.

Newman is the only actor in the history of the Oscars to be nominated twice for playing the same character. He was in the running for Best Actor Oscar for his role as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler in 1961. The statuette eluded him, as it did on seven other occasions in subsequent decades, but the Academy provided recompense when he reprised the hustler role in The Color of Money over a quarter century later.

In a year and a half from now, Newman and actress Joanne Woodward, his co-star in as many as ten films, will be celebrating their golden marriage anniversary. The rare stability and longevity of that showbiz relationship is replicated in a certain way in Newman’s career as an actor as well, especially in terms of the sustained solidity of his performances. It is not without reason that his nine Oscar nominations span across four decades – from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958 to Road to Perdition in 2002.

Newman’s oeuvre also includes films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, the Merchant-Ivory production Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid and The Sting, the last two co-starring Robert Redford. It is easy to see why he was, is and will always be the movie world’s blue-eyed boy.