There was a time when there were no two stars bigger than them. Paul Newman shone in Hollywood, and Joanne Woodward was revered by her peers. Decades have passed, although the following generations have not forgotten them and proof of this is The Last Movie Stars, a documentary series for CNN Films and HBO Max directed by Ethan Hawke, and whose third and fourth chapters were presented yesterday at sunset by Hawke himself in the Cannes Classics section of the French festival.
The common life of Newman (Shaker Heights, Ohio, 1925 – West Port, Connecticut, 2008) and Woodward (Thomasville, Georgia, 92 years old) was not a bed of roses; What’s more, Newman’s alcoholism and some infidelity were about to capsize the marriage. However, as the series explains, they respected each other professionally and personally in such a way that there was never any jealousy on the set or sentimental trompe l’oeil. From Newman came the famous sentence “Why would I want to eat a hamburger in the street if a steak is waiting for me at home?”, which Woodward hated, as heard in The Last Movie Stars: “Apart from the fact that I am a vegetarian, every time I hear her I would hit her.”
For Hawke, as he told the gala session of his series in Cannes, “Newman and Woodward’s 50-year love is also the reflection of half a century of great cinema. They had a huge race. They cared a lot about his legacy. They loved each other, cared for each other and had fun and were awarded here as best actor and actress. This festival occupied a gigantic part of his artistic life and, for this reason, being here means a lot to us”. They met in classes at the Actor’s Studio, where, Hawke insisted emphatically, “they had as classmates Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe…”.
Hawke recalled Elia Kazan’s statement that if Brando was the greatest, Newman was the hardest worker. And the actor confessed his first memory of Newman: “My personal history with Newman starts on a strange Sunday. That day we always went to church, I hated it as much as my stepmother liked it. I was ten years old when one Sunday she got sick and on the way to the parish my father asked me if we would skip mass and go to the movies to see a morning show. Two men and one destiny. That’s how it went”.
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
The series has been born from exceptional material. At the end of his life, Newman decided to write a memoir and for this he interviewed dozens of colleagues and friends. During the process of collecting the material, he repented of the book and burned the recordings, although the transcripts were saved and remained in the hands of the family. The youngest daughter, Clea, contacted Hawke and gave him access to all the material. Hence one of the most controversial aspects of the series: these texts are read by actors such as George Clooney (voices Newman), Laura Linney (Woodward), Zoe Kazan (Jackie Witte, Newman’s first wife) or Sam Rockwell (Stuart Rosenberg, the director of The Legend of the Untamed Y A man of today). As the montage was made at the beginning of the pandemic, Hawke chats with his colleagues by Zoom, and that visually detracts from the result.
On screen, the immersion in the couple’s lives reveals their drive to go further artistically and Woodward’s to create a true home with the three children from Newman’s first marriage (Scott, the oldest and only man, he died of a drug overdose in 1978 at the age of 28) and the three daughters they had in common; Paul Newman explains on screen that his offspring would probably inscribe on his tombstone “here lies a father who should have spent more time with his children.” There is also space to describe his horrible relationship with his mother, Theresa Gart, an oppressive woman who did not understand that her young son did not take over her husband’s sports equipment store when he died, and that instead he dedicated himself to to a profession that he described as “pornography”.
One Christmas in New York, the mother told Newman that she understood that Woodward disliked her because she knew she had slept with Gore Vidal. Newman opened the car door, forced her to get out, and they didn’t speak for 15 years. From the feelings provoked by that confrontation, Rosenberg points out, is born the devastating moment in which the protagonist of The Legend of the Untamed learns of his mother’s death and sings in the prison barracks Plastic Jesus with a banjo
Of course, in The Last Movie Stars There is also talk of cinema. Woodward was the first actress to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though for years her career was overshadowed by the brilliance of her husband. The episodes screened at Cannes underscore the importance for Newman (half-Jewish) of appearing in Exodus. Director Martin Ritt talks about an actor who is very picky about scripts, who knew what he was saying: he worked with him and with Woodward on The long hot summer and directed Newman in Hud, the wildest among a thousand Y A man. His relationship with Robert Redford, of respect and affection, is also drawn. On screen, Newman confesses in an old interview that it was Woodward who thought of Redford as his co-star. Two men and one destiny. yese praises his portrayal of the card game, with Newman’s character apparently drunk at the start of The hit.
The Newman director appears in those chapters, at least his first three films: Rachel, Rachel (1968), invincible caste (1970) and The gamma ray effect on daisies (1971). With this, Woodward won the award for best actress at Cannes, a festival that in 2013 used the kiss of both in Samantha (1963) —they made 11 films together— for the poster of that edition.
The gamma ray effect on daisies It caused tension in the marriage, since Woodward hated that character and even more so that one of his on-screen daughters, Newman’s decision, was played by his own daughter Nell. They are also years of alcoholism for the actor, born of fear and doubt, and the couple’s daughters speak of it openly. That is why the fourth episode is titled Paying the price. Hawke, who insists on vindicating Woodward, Almost unknown to today’s moviegoers. He has not been able to talk to her, since he suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Over the years, Newman, a Democrat, became more and more politically involved (his daughters define him more as a liberal, that is, conservative personally and more to the left socially) until he became Nixon’s 19th enemy — that made him proud—and an activist alongside Woodward against the Vietnam War, as was made clear by his involvement in Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign. And that’s why he accepted A man of today (WUSA), by Rosenberg, about the rise of a far-right radio host. A movie disaster, although as heard on the screen, “if you’re going to crash, crash like a beast”.
Last night Hawke ended his presentation with a great message: “Exploring Woodward and Newman through their love story has turned out to be more rewarding than I imagined. Their interpretive work, their philanthropy and their personal lives serve as a kind of pole star, a guide to what a meaningful life can be.”