Book Review: “Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man”

Ben Miles

I’ve long been an admirer of actor/philanthropist Paul Newman. In seeing films such as “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Verdict“ Newman’s legacy as a quintessential movie Star seemed predestined and inevitable. Nevertheless, in his memoir, “Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man,” we learn that his fame and success were not at all assured. In fact, no one was more surprised by his rise to movie stardom than Newman himself.

In this autobiography Newman cites what he refers to as “Newman’s Luck,” and at the top of that list of Newman’s Luck is his blue-eyed and chiseled good looks, which in all modesty he acknowledged and saw as opening many of life’s doors for him, but he did not see it as anything other than a genetic roll of the dice that he had pretty much nothing to do with. Nevertheless, as Paul’s older brother, Arthur, later wrote, “If Paul had accepted my advice and gone into business he would have been successful because he was lovable, had a great personality, and made people instantly like him.” (The Newman father, Arthur Sr., was part owner of a successful sporting goods store in Shaker Heights, Ohio.) Elder sibling Arthur goes on to write “…he (Paul) was smart and he was perceptive and he had all the ingredients no matter what he did.”

Part of the wonder of this book is that it captures Paul Newman’s voice so authentically (even though he died in 2008) and intersperses Newman’s narration with commentary from family, friends, co-stars and acquaintances. Much of this is to the credited and the oversight provided by Newman’s daughters, Melissa Newman and Clea Newman Soderland and his close friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern (writer of the screenplay “Rebel Without a Cause”), who orchestrated various recorded interviews and oral histories with Newman. Much credit for Newman’s posthumous literary accomplishment is due to the superb editing effort put forth by David Rosenthal.

Moreover, this autobiography tells of relationships, both in the personal and professional realm of Newman’s “extraordinary life.” We learn of the towering rise of Newman’s status as a movie star and as a sex symbol after the premiere in May 1963 of “Hud” (adapted from Larry McMurtry’s 1961 novel, “Horseman, Pass By”). The Academy Award-winning costar of “Hud,” Patricia Neal, describes the title character, embodied by Newman, as “a horror,” while describing Newman the actor as “a very good man to work with…”

Of course, no book on or by Paul Newman would be complete or accurate in characterizing Newman without the inclusion of his passion for race car competition, both as a driver and as a team owner. Newman became interested in auto racing after starring in the film Winning, and became a race car driver at age 47, late for such a demanding sensory activity. Nevertheless, he placed second at the 1979 LeMans endurance race in France, driving a Porsche. And, impressively, he became the oldest auto racer ever to win a major racing event when at age 70 he came in first of his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona, Florida endurance race.

Paul Newman’s life as an Award-winning actor, social activist, philanthropist, entrepreneur and champion race car driver is an inspiration. “Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man” is honest and engaging, as was the man himself.

Title: “Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man,” 282 pages

ISBN: 9780593534502 (Hardcover)

ISBN: 9780593534519(ebook)



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