Newman was born in Shaker Heights (a suburb of Cleveland). He was the son of Theresa (née Fetzer or Fetsko; Slovak: Terézia Fecková) and Arthur Sigmund Newman, who ran a profitable sporting goods store. His father was Jewish (Paul’s paternal grandparents, Simon Newman and Hannah Cohn, were immigrants from Hungary and Poland). His mother, who practiced Christian Science, was born to a Slovak Roman Catholic family at Homonna, Ptičie (formerly Pticsie) in the former Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Humenné in Slovakia). Newman had no religion as an adult, but described himself as a Jew, saying, “it’s more of a challenge”. Newman’s mother worked in his father’s store, while raising Paul and his brother, Arthur, who later became a producer and production manager.
Newman showed an early interest in the theater, which his mother encouraged. At the age of seven, he made his acting debut, playing the court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. Graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, he briefly attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he was initiated into the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
Newman served in the United States Navy in World War II in the Pacific theater. Newman enrolled in the Navy V-12 program at Yale University, hoping to be accepted for pilot training, but was dropped when it was discovered he was color blind. He was sent instead to boot camp and then received further training as a radioman and gunner. Qualifying as a rear-seat radioman and gunner in torpedo bombers, in 1944, Aviation Radioman Third Class Newman was sent to Barber’s Point, Hawaii. He was subsequently assigned to Pacific-based replacement torpedo squadrons (VT-98, VT-99, and VT-100). These torpedo squadrons were responsible primarily for training replacement pilots and combat air crewmen, placing particular importance on carrier landings.
He later flew from aircraft carriers as a turret gunner in an Avenger torpedo bomber. As a radioman-gunner, he served aboard USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. He was ordered to the ship with a draft of replacements shortly before the Okinawa campaign, but his life was spared because he was held back after his pilot developed an ear infection. The men who remained in his detail were killed in action.
After the war, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and economics at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 1949. Shortly after earning his degree, Newman joined several summer stock companies, most notably the Belfry Players in Wisconsin and the Woodstock Players in Illinois. He toured with them for three months and developed his talents as a part of Woodstock Players. Newman later attended the Yale School of Drama for one year before moving to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Oscar Levant wrote that Newman initially was hesitant to leave New York for Hollywood: “Too close to the cake”, he reported him saying, “Also, no place to study.”
Newman arrived in New York City in 1951 with his first wife Jackie Witte, taking up residence in the St. George section of Staten Island. He made his Broadway theater debut in the original production of William Inge’s Picnic with Kim Stanley in 1953 and appeared in the original Broadway production of The Desperate Hours in 1955. In 1959, he was in the original Broadway production of Sweet Bird of Youth with Geraldine Page and three years later starred with Page in the film version.
During this time Newman started acting in television. He had his first credited TV or film appearance with a small but notable part in a 1952 episode of the science fiction TV series Tales of Tomorrow entitled “Ice from Space”. In the mid-1950s, he appeared twice on CBS’s Appointment with Adventure anthology series.
In February 1954, Newman appeared in a screen test with James Dean, directed by Gjon Mili, for East of Eden (1955). Newman was testing for the role of Aron Trask, Dean for the role of Aron’s fraternal twin brother Cal. Dean won his part, but Newman lost out to Richard Davalos. In the same year, Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra in a live—and color—television broadcast of Our Town, a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s stage play. Newman was a last-minute replacement for James Dean. The “James Dean” connection had resonance two other times, as Newman was cast in two leading roles originally earmarked for Dean, Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me, after Dean succumbed to his fateful automobile collision up the California coast.
Newman’s first movie for Hollywood was The Silver Chalice (1954). The film was a box office failure and the actor would later acknowledge his disdain for it. In 1956, Newman garnered much attention and acclaim for the boxer Graziano lead in Somebody Up There Likes Me. By 1958, he was one of the hottest new stars in Hollywood. Later that year, he starred in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), opposite Elizabeth Taylor. The film was a box office smash and Newman garnered his first Academy Award nomination. Also in 1958, Newman starred in The Long, Hot Summer with Joanne Woodward, with whom he reconnected on the set in 1957 (they had first met in 1953). He won best actor at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival for this film.
Newman was one of the few actors who successfully made the transition from 1950s cinema to that of the 1960s and 1970s. His rebellious persona translated well to a subsequent generation. Newman starred in Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Harper (1966), Hombre (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Towering Inferno (1974), Slap Shot (1977), and The Verdict (1982). He teamed with fellow actor Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973).
He appeared with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in the feature films The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!, (1958), From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), A New Kind of Love (1963), What a Way to Go! (1964), Winning (1969), WUSA (1970), The Drowning Pool (1975), Harry & Son (1984), and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990). They both also starred in the HBO miniseries Empire Falls, but did not have any scenes together.
In addition to starring in and directing Harry & Son, Newman also directed four feature films (in which he did not act) starring Woodward. They were Rachel, Rachel (1968), based on Margaret Laurence’s A Jest of God, the screen version of the Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972), the television screen version of the Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Shadow Box (1980), and a screen version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1987).
Twenty-five years after The Hustler, Newman reprised his role of “Fast” Eddie Felson in the Martin Scorsese–directed film The Color of Money (1986), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The Award has been looked upon as a “make-up” for his past body of work. He told a television interviewer that winning that Oscar at the age of 62 deprived him of his fantasy of formally being presented with it in extreme old age.
In 2003, Newman appeared in a Broadway revival of Wilder’s Our Town, receiving his first Tony Award nomination for his performance. PBS and the cable network Showtime aired a taping of the production, and Newman was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie.
Newman’s last screen appearance was as a conflicted mob boss in the 2002 film Road to Perdition opposite Tom Hanks, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, although he continued to provide voice work for films. In 2006, in keeping with his strong interest in car racing, he provided the voice of Doc Hudson, a retired anthropomorphic race car in Disney/Pixar’s Cars—this was his final role for a major feature film.
Newman announced his retirement from acting on May 25, 2007. He stated that he did not feel he could continue acting at the level he wanted to. “You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention. So I think that’s pretty much a closed book for me.” He recorded narration tracks for two more films, however: the 2007 documentary Dale, about the life of the legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, and the 2008 documentary The Meerkats (which was his final role before his death).
With writer A. E. Hotchner, Newman founded Newman’s Own, a line of food products, in 1982. The brand started with salad dressing, and has expanded to include pasta sauce, lemonade, popcorn, salsa, and wine, among other things. Newman established a policy that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity. As of 2013, the franchise has donated in excess of $380 million. He co-wrote a memoir about the subject with Hotchner, Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good. Among other awards, Newman’s Own co-sponsors the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, a $25,000 reward designed to recognize those who protect the First Amendment as it applies to the written word.
One beneficiary of his philanthropy is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a residential summer camp for seriously ill children, which is located in Ashford, Connecticut. Newman co-founded the camp in 1988; it was named after the gang in his film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Newman’s college fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, adopted Hole in the Wall as their “national philanthropy” in 1995. One camp has expanded to become several Hole in the Wall Camps in the U.S., Ireland, France, and Israel. The camps serve 13,000 children every year, free of charge.
In June 1999, Newman donated $250,000 to Catholic Relief Services to aid refugees in Kosovo. On June 1, 2007, Kenyon College announced that Newman had donated $10 million to the school to establish a scholarship fund as part of the college’s current $230 million fund-raising campaign. Newman and Woodward were honorary co-chairs of a previous campaign.
Newman was one of the founders of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), a membership organization of CEOs and corporate chairpersons committed to raising the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy. Founded in 1999 by Newman and a few leading CEOs, CECP has grown to include more than 175 members and, through annual executive convenings, extensive benchmarking research, and best practice publications, leads the business community in developing sustainable and strategic community partnerships through philanthropy. Newman was named the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008 by Givingback.org. He contributed $20,857,000 for the year of 2008 to the Newman’s Own Foundation, which distributes funds to a variety of charities.
Upon Newman’s death, the Italian newspaper (a “semi-official” paper of the Holy See) L’Osservatore Romano published a notice lauding Newman’s philanthropy. It also commented that “Newman was a generous heart, an actor of a dignity and style rare in Hollywood quarters.” Newman is recognized as responsible for preserving lands around Westport, Connecticut. He lobbied the state’s governor for funds for the 2011 Aspetuck Land Trust in Easton. In 2011 Paul Newman’s estate gifted land to Westport to be managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust.
Newman was married to Jackie Witte from 1949 to 1958. They had two daughters (Stephanie Kendall born in 1951 and Susan born in 1953) and a son, Scott, born in 1950, who died in November 1978 from a drug overdose. Scott appeared in films including Breakheart Pass, The Towering Inferno and the 1977 film Fraternity Row. Paul Newman started the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in memory of his son. Susan is a documentary filmmaker and philanthropist and has Broadway and screen credits, including a starring role as one of four Beatles fans in I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), and also a small role opposite her father in Slap Shot. She also received an Emmy nomination as co-producer of his telefilm, The Shadow Box.
Newman met actress Joanne Woodward in 1953. Shortly after filming The Long, Hot Summer in 1957, he divorced Witte. He married Woodward early in 1958. They remained married for fifty years until his death in 2008. They had three daughters: Elinor “Nell” Teresa (b. 1959), Melissa “Lissy” Stewart (b. 1961), and Claire “Clea” Olivia (b. 1965). Newman directed Nell (using the stage name Nell Potts) alongside her mother in the films Rachel, Rachel and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.
The Newmans lived away from the Hollywood environment, making their home in Westport, Connecticut. Newman was well known for his devotion to his wife and family. When asked once about infidelity, he famously quipped, “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?” Newman was also an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery, a one-day online certificate program to officiate weddings.
For his support of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (and effective use of television commercials in California) and his opposition to the War in Vietnam, Newman was placed nineteenth on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, which Newman claimed was his greatest accomplishment. During the 1968 general election, Newman supported Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey and appeared in a pre-election night telethon for him.
Consistent with his work for liberal causes, Newman publicly supported Ned Lamont’s candidacy in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Primary against Senator Joe Lieberman, and was even rumored as a candidate himself, until Lamont emerged as a credible alternative. He donated to Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign. He attended the first Earth Day event in Manhattan on April 22, 1970. Newman was concerned about global warming and supported nuclear energy development as a solution.
Newman was an auto racing enthusiast, and first became interested in motorsports (“the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in”) while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the filming of Winning, a 1969 film. Because of his love and passion for racing, Newman agreed in 1971 to star in and to host his first television special, Once Upon a Wheel, on the history of auto racing. It was produced and directed by David Winters, who co-owned a number of racing cars with Newman. Newman’s first professional event as a racer was in 1972, at Thompson International Speedway, and he was a frequent competitor in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events for the rest of the decade, eventually winning four national championships. He later drove in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans in Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935 and finished in second place. Newman reunited with Barbour in 2000 to compete in the Petit Le Mans.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he drove for the Bob Sharp Racing team, racing mainly Datsuns (later rebranded as Nissans) in the Trans-Am Series. He became closely associated with the brand during the 1980s, even appearing in commercials for them. At the age of 70 years and eight days, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race, winning in his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. Among his last races were the Baja 1000 in 2004 and the 24 Hours of Daytona once again in 2005.
During the 1976 auto racing season, Paul Newman became interested in forming a professional auto racing team and contacted Bill Freeman from Santa Barbara. Bill is credited as the man who introduced Paul Newman to professional auto racing management, and their company specialized in Can-Am, Indy Cars, and other high performance racing automobiles. The team was based in Santa Barbara, California and commuted to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park for much of its testing sessions.
Their “Newman Freeman Racing” team was very competitive in the North American Can-Am series in their Budweiser sponsored Chevrolet powered Spyder NFs. Paul and Bill began a long and successful partnership with the Newman Freeman Racing team in the Can-Am series which culminated in the Can-Am Team Championship trophy in 1979. Their drivers included Keke Rosberg (who later became World Champion on the Williams Saudia F1 Team), Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Randolph Townsend, Mike Brockman, Howdy Holmes, Teo Fabi, Patrick Depailler, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Johnny Parson Jr., among others.
Paul was also associated with Bill Freeman’s established Porsche racing team which allowed both Paul and Bill to compete in S.C.C.A. and I.M.S.A. racing events together, including the Sebring 12-hour endurance sports car race. This car was sponsored by Beverly Porsche/Audi. Bill Freeman was also Sports Car Club of America’s Southern Pacific National Champion during the Newman Freeman Racing period.
Later Newman co-founded Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas, a Champ Car team, in 1983, going on to win 8 drivers’ championships under his ownership. The 1996 racing season was chronicled in the IMAX film Super Speedway, which Newman narrated. He was also a partner in the Atlantic Championship team Newman Wachs Racing.
Newman was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame at the national convention in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 21, 2009. Comedian and car aficionado Adam Carolla owns and races 5 of Paul Newman’s race cars. He is currently in the process of creating a documentary showcasing Newman’s car racing career.
Newman was scheduled to make his professional stage directing debut with the Westport Country Playhouse’s 2008 production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, but he stepped down on May 23, 2008, citing health issues. In June 2008, it was widely reported that Newman had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was receiving treatment at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City. Writer A. E. Hotchner, who partnered with Newman to start the Newman’s Own company in the 1980s, told the Associated Press that Newman told him about the disease about eighteen months prior to the interview. Newman’s spokesman told the press that the star was “doing nicely”, but neither confirmed nor denied that he had cancer. In August, after reportedly finishing chemotherapy, Newman told his family he wished to die at home.
Newman died on September 26, 2008, aged 83, surrounded by his family and close friends. He was survived by five of his six children and eight grandchildren. His remains were cremated after a private funeral service near his home in Westport.
- January, 26, 1925
- Shaker Heights, Ohio
- September, 26, 2008
- Westport, Connecticut