MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Paul Newman

You knew something was wrong when Paul Newman announced that he was retiring from acting a couple of years ago. Oh, there had been others that had made it “official” in the past. Cary Grant stuck to his guns and Cagney stayed out of the picture for two decades until his doctor ordered him back to work. Grace Kelly was otherwise occupied but Hitchcock almost got her to change her mind, and Garbo just wanted to be alone.

It was hard to believe that Newman wouldn’t recant if the right part came along. He’d retired once before and it didn’t take a great role to get him to step back in front of the camera. Besides he was an icon of cool, a man who drove fast cars (and won) professionally, dove into political issues and started a business that not only made good stuff but gave away all its millions in profits to charity.

He was as vibrant and engaged an actor as has ever emerged from the American film industry. There’s also a case to be made that he was the greatest movie star this country has ever produced. There were the great roles – fast Eddie Felson inThe Hustler, Rocky Grazziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, The Sting‘s Henry Gondorff, the poignant Frank Galvin of The Verdict, Sully Sullivan in Nobody’s Fool and and Reggie Dunlop, the perfect embodiment of his physical and cerebral abilities in Slap Shot. The list of pretty good parts is just too long to recall.

Lightness doesn’t quite get across what made him unique and calling him deft at his craft makes it sound much too facile. There may have been others that worked as hard at making it look like they were making it up as they went along, but offhand I can’t think of anyone less studied and more committed to what they did.

As an actor and citizen he worked out on a limb without a safety net. He knew innately that if there was no risk, there was no reward. He was driven to push further and harder because that was simply who he was.

He also directed the quite exceptional Rachel, Rachel. But you just had to conclude that there weren’t many stories that engaged him sufficiently to spend a year or two to develop and produce. After all, there were other pursuits that kept him occupied and centered. He walked with Dr. King, protested against the Vietnam War, campaigned for lots of progressive politicians and causes and raised a family.

Newman had a fierce sense of who he was and what he did on and off the set. He didn’t lend himself to a movie or an issue in a cavalier way. The archived interview footage that’s been reeling on television is a reminder of a life of commitment where the giving and doing clearly was the reward in and of itself. He knew he was a movie star but he didn’t wield that power often and never in a reckless fashion.

It was a full life and there’s perhaps no better fade than the image of him laughing el gusto in the closing moments of Cool Hand Luke.

September 27, 2008
– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon