The Eccentric Life Of Paul Newman: More Than Meets The Eye

Known for his shockingly good looks and talent both on stage and in front of the camera, Paul Newman quickly grew to become of the most popular and adored actors in Hollywood from the 1960s until his death in 2008. However, he was far more than just an actor and a pretty face. Paul Newman lived his life to the fullest, becoming involved in business, politics, IndyCar racing, philanthropy and more. His personal life wasn’t boring either, with rumors that followed him wherever he went. Meet the enigma that is Paul Newman and see what made his life so intriguing.

His First Marriage Didn’t End Happily Ever After

Newman poses for a picture
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1950, Paul Newman married his first wife, Jackie Witte. This was before Newman became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and the couple’s marriage seemed as strong as could be. Together they shared three children, with Jackie always being supportive of Newman’s budding career in Hollywood.

However, when Newman met actress Joanne Woodward in 1953, his marriage began to falter. Initially, Woodward didn’t want to ruin Newman’s relationship with his wife, but the two were eventually divorced in 1958.

An Interesting Couple

Picture for the film The Long Hot Summer
20th Century Fox Pictures/Getty Images
20th Century Fox Pictures/Getty Images

After Newman and Witte divorced in 1958, he and Woodward were married the same year. However, the two denied ever going behind Witte’s back when Newman was still married.

Woodward and Newman’s relationship was interesting to a lot of people, as Newman was known for his rowdy antics and Woodward was raised in a conservative Southern family and was much more reserved. However, the two seemed to balance each other out, with Newman supposedly staying loyal to his wife for the 50 years that they were married. Yet, not everyone believed him.

Rumors Circulated Constantly

Paul Newman posing in front of green background
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Although Newman claimed that he was never unfaithful to Woodward for the decades that they were married, that didn’t stop rumors from spreading. In Darwin Porter’s biography about the actor, he claimed that Newman wasn’t as truthful as he made himself out to be.

Porter went so far as to claim that Newman was romantically involved with some of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time. After speaking with a number of Newman’s closest friends and colleagues, Porter deciphered that Newman had secrets involving Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, John Derek, Judy Garland, and Marlon Brando.

Fans Loved His Relationship With His Wife

Paul Newman with his wife in color photo
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

One of the reasons that fans fell in love with Paul Newman was how obvious he made it that he deeply loved his wife. Considering how successful and attractive he was, people couldn’t believe that there was a famous person out there who wasn’t abusing their wealth and fame.

In one interview, Newman was asked what it would take to tempt him away from his wife. He responded by saying, “Why go out for hamburger when you’ve got steak at home?” This was all his fans needed to hear.

In Comes Nancy Bacon

Newman reading a book with his wife
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

It wasn’t just Darwin Porter who stated that Newman might have been up to some shady stuff. Eventually, a woman named Nancy Bacon came out saying that she and Newman were involved in what she called the “worst-kept secret in Hollywood.”

According to her, they were engaged in an affair that took place for over a year during the 1970s, and that it was a very intimate relationship. She even noted that “Paul may not go out for a hamburger, but he sure goes out for bacon.”

His Second Marriage Was Hard On His Children

Paul and Scott at the Ontarion 500
Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images
Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images

Although nobody has any solid evidence that Newman was unfaithful to Woodward, his second marriage certainly caused issues between him and his children, in particular, his eldest son Scott.

After watching his father become one of the most popular actors in the industry, Scott made the decision to become an actor as well. While he was following in his father’s footsteps, he was also trying to distance himself from the man who left his mother for another woman.

Scott Had A Troubled Life

Scott at a roller skating party
Paul Harris/Getty Images
Paul Harris/Getty Images

After Paul left Scott’s mother in 1958, Scott began acting out, getting expelled from numerous private schools before dropping out of college in the early 1960s to work as a stuntman in his father’s films. Yet, he would not take any money or help from his father, stating, “I’m not taking any acting help from my father. I want my work to stand on its own merit.”

It was also at that time that Scott began to pick up unhealthy habits and get into trouble with the law. After a motorcycle accident in 1978, he died from a fatal overdose of various substances.

Newman Felt Extreme Guilt

Scott Newman standing by an airplane
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Not only was Newman devastated by the premature death of his son, but he also felt immense guilt that he wasn’t there for his son when he truly needed him.

Newman explained to his good friend and business partner, A.E. Hotchner, that “There’s nothing you can say that will repair my guilt about Scott. It will be with me as long as I live.” As hard as it was, he also saw his son’s death as a way to help others.

He Established The Scott Newman Center

Newman in a car
Art Zelin/Getty Images
Art Zelin/Getty Images

In 1980, Newman established the Scott Newman Center, a place where teachers and other health professionals could inform teens and young adults about the dangers and harms of substance abuse. He believed that if he could help spread awareness about the issue than other parents wouldn’t have to live with the guilt of losing their children to addiction and abuse.

Furthermore, Newman, along with the Scott Newman Center, also founded the Rowdy Ridge Gang Camp. These were a series of summer camps that worked directly with children and their families that have suffered or are recovering from substance abuse.

His Marriage Remained Strong

Newman and Woodward at the beach
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Although rumors were constantly being spread that Newman wasn’t the man he made himself out to be and that there were various women on the side, his marriage remained intact. Despite all of the claims, whether they were true or not, Joanne Woodward continued to love him fiercely.

Their marriage appeared to be as strong as ever, something that isn’t always common in Hollywood. Years into their marriage, Newman described the effect she had on him like the two were high school lovers. The two remained married until his death in 2008.

He Had A Disability

Newman sitting in a taxi
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

During World War II, Newman enlisted into the armed forces to become a Naval fighter pilot. Although his intentions were good, his dreams were cut short during the training program when it was discovered that he was color blind.

Instead, he was trained as a Radioman and a rear gunner at boot camp in 1944, where he qualified as an Aviation Radioman Third Class. He later went on to serve as the turret gunner in the Avenger torpedo bomber as a replacement on the USS Bunker Hill in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

His First Film Embarrassed Him

Paul Newman in The Silver Chalice
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

Newman’s first film role was in the 1954 biblical drama The Silver Chalice. He played a toga-wearing Greek artist who is commissioned with the task of casting the cup of Christ in silver. The move turned out to be a box office bomb, even though Newman was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.

Not proud of the film or his performance, he dubbed it “the worst motion picture produced in the 1950s.” When the film was broadcast on television in 1966, he took bought an ad in a newspaper apologizing for the film and requesting people not to watch it.

He Was An Excellent Musician

Paul Newman in London
Georges De Keerle/Getty Images
Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

While his talent in front of the camera is undeniable, a lesser-known skill that he possessed was in music. He was an extraordinary jazz and blues pianist, even having performed beside the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

However, his musical abilities didn’t stop there. He was coached by Billy Byers on how to play the trombone in Paris Blues and how to perform the piano piece beside Tom Hanks in the 2002 film Road to Perdition.

He Had A Passion For Auto Racing

Filming on the set of Behind the Wheel
Fred Enke/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images
Fred Enke/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

After taking the role in the auto racing film Winning in 1969, Newman discovered that motorsport was “the first thing I ever found grace in.” After finding his new passion for the sport, he began learning everything he could about racing, starring, and hosting the television special, Behind the Wheel, on the history of racing in 1971.

He then became involved in racing himself, with his first professional event as a racer at Thompson International Speedway in 1972 under the discreet name P.L Newman.

He Was A Skilled Driver

Newman at the 24hr Grand Prix
Michel Dufour/WireImage
Michel Dufour/WireImage

In the years following his discovery of his love for racing, Newman continued to compete frequently as a driver, eventually making a name for himself on the track. He was a regular competitor in Sports Club Car of America, winning four national championships, and established the Newman Freeman Racing Team in 1976.

He went on to drive in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans in which he finished in second place, retiring from racing in 2007. For his impact on the sport, he was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2009.

He Was An Entrepreneur

Bottles of Newman's Own dressing
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Newman may have been one of the most successful actors of his time on top of being a race car driver, but he was also an entrepreneur. While preparing a salad dressing with his good friend A.E. Hotchner, the two came up with a recipe that they both thoroughly enjoyed.

Newman decided to bottle and sell their new recipe. This led to the establishment of the brand “Newman’s Own,” which became a hit almost overnight and is still extremely popular today. However, Newman made sure to donate all the profits he ever made from the company to charities internationally.

He Liked To Keep It Casual

Paul Newman walking on the beach
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Unless he absolutely had to wear formal clothing, most of the time, Newman could be seen sporting comfortable clothes such as his iconic v-neck sweater, trousers, and tennis shoe combo. He liked to dress how he wanted and nobody could blame him, especially if you have to wear costumes all day.

However, no matter what he wore, he managed to look effortlessly good at all times, a quality he is remembered for. On his 75th birthday, he even held a ceremony for the burning of his tuxedo, claiming he was “through with formality.”

He Had Success On Broadway

Newman on Broadway
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

After his performance in The Silver Chalice, Newman was feeling less-than-enthusiastic about his acting career. But instead of giving up, he decided to change mediums and began stage acting on Broadway.

In 1955, he appeared in the Broadway production of The Desperate Hours, which turned out to make a significant splash. The year of its release, the play took home two Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Production, although Newman’s performance is credited for the majority of the show’s success.

There’s A Day Named For Him

Newman sitting down in the UK
Georges De Keerle/Getty Images
Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

In the 1970s, “Newman Day” was established at Bates College and celebrated at his alma mater, Kenyon College, and other American universities. The day begins at 12:00 am on the morning of April 24 and ends at 11:59 pm.

During that time, students attempt to drink 24 beers in 24 hours in reference to a quote by Newman who jokingly once said, “24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.” However, Newman condemns the holiday, claiming the activities go against the Scott Newman Center which is “dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse through education.”

It Took Him A Long Time To Win An Oscar

Newman holding an Oscar
Photoshot/Getty Images
Photoshot/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that Paul Newman was one of the most renowned actors of his time. In his years acting, he starred in major films including, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Long, Hot Summer, Cool Hand Luke, and Slap Shot, among numerous others.

Although no one could deny his talent, he was yet to receive the attention from the Academy that he deserved. Over the course of his career, he was nominated for six Academy Awards before finally winning Best Actor for the 1986 film, The Color of Money.

He Saved A Liberal Magazine From Going Under

Paul Newman at New York Gala
James Devaney/WireImage
James Devaney/WireImage

Also a political activist, one impactful thing Newman did was save The Nation magazine, a liberal political weekly, from going out of business. In 1995, he and a college colleague, E.L. Doctorow, joined a group of investors and bought the struggling magazine.

Their investment is credited with saving the magazine, with Newman writing a column for the publication on occasion. Once again, when the magazine needed more money, Newman was happy to provide the money to keep it afloat. According to Victor Navasky, an editor, “He helped this magazine when we needed it the most.”

He Was The Physical Inspiration For The Green Lantern

Paul Newman with unbuttoned shirt
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Known for his good looks, it’s no surprise to learn that Paul Newman was the inspiration behind the Green Lantern’s alter-ego, Hal Jordan. Artist Gil Kane, who was once Newman’s neighbor, figured Newman was just the kind of guy he wanted Hal Jordan to be.

Kane wanted the character of Jordan to be both handsome and charming, so why not take some inspiration for one of the most handsome and charming men around at the time? Supposedly, Newman wasn’t the only actor Kane drew from when creating the various characters in his universe.

His Final Role Was His Most Successful

Doc Hudson in cars
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

In 2006, just two years before he succumbed to lung cancer, Newman gave his voice to the Pixar animated film Cars, appropriately as the retired race car drive Doc Hudson. Although Newman had starred in some of the most notable films of his time, Cars turned out to be the highest-grossing film of his career.

Then, nine years after his death in 2008, his voice was heard once again in 2017’s Cars 3. Production managed to take the throw-away recordings from the first film to bring Doc Hudson back into the story.

He Participated In A TV Debate

Newman and Heston TV debate
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Back in the 1950s, Paul Newman and fellow actor Charlton Heston became good friends, bonding over their shared political views as liberal Democrats and civil rights activists. Yet, later in his life, Charlton Heston transitioned and become a conservative, going against many of his former beliefs.

In 1982, the two actors faced-off in a TV debate over the nuclear arms program being discussed at the time, with Heston in support and Newman opposing it. While many people believed that Heston won, Newman stated “I’ve done better and I’ve done worse […] But it was better than not doing anything at all.

He Took Over Roles Meant For James Dean

Newman in Left Handed Gun
Harroll Productions/Warner Bros./Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Harroll Productions/Warner Bros./Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1954, Newman went in for a screen test with James Dean for roles in Gjon Mili’s East of Eden. Newman was testing for the role of Aron Trask and Dean as Aron’s twin brother Cal. Dean was awarded the part, and Newman was beaten out by Richard Davalos.

Around the same time, Dean had also been cast as Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me. However, both roles ended up going to Newman after Dean perished in an automobile accident.

He Was Troubled By His Blue Eyes

Newman's blue eyes posing in front of a red background
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

There’s no question that Newman’s stunningly blue eyes not only helped to enhance his looks but also got him a lot of attention. Yet, even though many people would love to have eyes like his, he saw them more as a blessing than a curse.

In fact, has was known to wear sunglasses often just to hide his eyes. He felt that people either liked him or wanted to cast him just for his eyes instead of his talent. He once joked that on his tombstone would read: “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.”

He Was A Philanthropist Through And Through

Newman accepting an award for his philanthropy
J. Countess/WireImage
J. Countess/WireImage

As of 2014, Newman’s food line, Newman’s Own, has donated over $400 million to charities around the globe, but that’s not all he’s done. He also helped co-found the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a summer camp for seriously ill children in Ashford, Connecticut.

Furthermore, he donated $10 million toward a scholarship fund at Kenyon College and is one of the founders of the Committee Engaging Corporate Philanthropy, to encourage the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy. Newman was named the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008 after donating an estimated $20 million that year alone.

He Was Often Mistaken For Marlon Brando Early In His Career

Brando in The Wild One
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When Newman was first making a name for himself, he was frequently mistaken for Marlon Brando. However, this isn’t too unbelievable as they were both around the same age, had blue eyes, were actors, and were undeniably attractive young men.

Their similarities were even noted in newspapers with The Los Angeles Examiner noting, “Paul Newman] will inevitably be compared to Marlon Brando because of his striking resemblance to the actor.” Supposedly, the confusion didn’t annoy Newman, who claimed to have signed hundreds of autographs for people who mistook him for Brando.

He Wanted “More Of A Challenge” Religiously

Paul Newman In New York
CW Braun/IMAGES/Getty Images
CW Braun/IMAGES/Getty Images

Newman’s grandparents were Simon Newman, from Hungary, and Hannah Cohn, from Poland, and his father was Ashkenazi Jewish. His mother, on the other hand, was from an ethnic Slovak family and was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, raised as a Christian Scientist.

Born in an affluent Cleveland suburb, Newman himself was not religious much as a child or in adulthood, although he would often associate more with his Jewish heritage. When asked why, he responded, “it’s more of a challenge.”

He Was A Known Prankster

Newman and Redford
Evan Agostini/Getty Images
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Although nobody was safe from his antics, Newman was in a constant prank war with his good friend Robert Redford for the better part of their friendship. At one point, Redford, who was also into racing, had a demolished Porsche delivered to Newman’s house as a 50th birthday gift.

Newman returned the favor by mailing a crate containing the car, which had been melted and pressed into a cube. Redford then had the metal turned into an atrocious-looking statue and had it installed in Newman’s garden.