Raw reflections from a movie icon.
From 1986 to 1991, Paul Newman (1925-2008) worked on what he called a project of “self-dissection,” hoping “to try and explain it all to my kids.” That project took the form of conversations with his close friend and screenwriter Stewart Stern supplemented by interviews with friends, family, actors (Tom Cruise, Patricia Neal, Eva Marie Saint), and directors (John Huston, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, among others) and illustrated with family photos. Journalist and publisher Rosenthal has edited Stern’s transcriptions to produce a revealing memoir of a life marked by pain, grief, and regret. The son of a “dismissive, disinterested” father and a volatile, possessive mother, Newman grew up feeling like an outcast. Small, underweight, and a mediocre student, possibly because of a learning disability, Newman had no direction for his future. He gravitated to acting, worked sporadically, and decided to enroll in Yale drama school’s directing program because he thought he couldn’t depend on a career in acting. When he was accepted into the Actors Studio, he felt like an imposter, and insecurity dogged him. Compared to his second wife, Joanne Woodward, he considered himself a fraud. He failed as a father, too. “I don’t have a gift for fathering,” he said. “I never had a sense of my children as people.” He felt guilt over abandoning his children with his first wife, especially his eldest son, Scott, who died of an overdose at age 28. Newman was candid about his own alcohol abuse. According to Woodward, he found peace in being, as Joanne Woodward notes, “dead drunk”—and in auto racing, where the risk and challenge felt like “something real and quite primitive.” As for acting, he said, it “gave me a sanctuary where I was able to create emotions without being penalized for having them.”
Intimate reflections on an extraordinary life steeped in sadness.