NEWMAN, PAUL LEONARD (26 January 1925 - 26 September 2008) was a prolific actor, film producer-director, race car driver, philanthropist, and political activist who received numerous accolades for his work in the entertainment industry, including eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor, as well as for his humanitarian efforts, which earned him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993.
Newman was born in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio, to Theresa Garth (née Fetzer) and Arthur Sigmund Newman, Sr., and was raised in SHAKER HEIGHTS. His father was the co-founder and manager of a sporting goods store, NEWMAN-STERN CO., where his mother also worked. He had one sibling, an older brother, Arthur Newman, Jr. Newman’s uncle was Cleveland journalist and poet JOSEPH SIMON NEWMAN.
He was involved in theater from a young age, first appearing on stage at age seven, playing the court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. Newman was involved in the CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE Children’s Theatre and performed in their production of "Saint George and the Dragon" at age ten.
Newman graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, then briefly attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, before enlisting in the United States Navy. He initially attended the Navy V-12 program at Yale, but his color-blindness prevented him from completing pilot training. He trained as a radioman and gunner, and in 1944, Aviation Radioman Third Class Newman was sent to the Pacific Theater, where he served until his discharge in 1946. Newman was decorated with the American Area Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
After the war, Newman attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and economics in 1949. Following graduation, he performed with summer stock theatre companies such as the Belfry Players in Wisconsin and the Woodstock Players in Illinois. Newman’s father died in 1950 and he moved back to Cleveland for 18 months to run Newman-Stern Co. before leaving to attend the Yale School of Drama for one year. In 1951, Newman moved to New York City to study at the Actors Studio and he debuted on Broadway in 1953.
Newman began acting in Hollywood in 1954 and continued until 2008. His notable works included The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1959), The Hustler (1962), Hud (1964), Cool Hand Luke (1968), Rachel, Rachel (1969), which he also directed, Absence of Malice (1982), The Verdict (1983), The Color of Money (1987), Nobody’s Fool (1995), Road to Perdition (2003), and the television miniseries Empire Falls (2005). Newman had an iconic film partnership with Robert Redford, pairing with him for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973). He also starred in big-budget disaster film The Towering Inferno (1974), cult classic sports comedy Slap Shot (1977), and he voiced retired race car Doc Hudson in the Disney/Pixar Cars (2006) franchise.
In 1972, Newman, who had a passion for motorsports, began a professional racing career that lasted until 2007. In the auto racing community, Newman was known as P. L. Newman. During his career, he won four Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) national championships, he had a second-place finish at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, an endurance racing event held in France, and, at age 70, he became the oldest person to ever be part of a winning team at an official auto race when he won in his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. He was the co-owner of the Newman-Freeman Racing, Newman-Haas Racing, and Newman-Wachs Racing Teams, which collectively won eight national titles and 107 individual victories. In 2009, Newman was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.
In 1982, Newman and writer A. E. Hotchner co-founded Newman’s Own, Inc., a food and beverage company which donates all of its post-tax proceeds to charity. Since 1982, the company has donated more than $570 million to over 22,000 charities around the world. In 1988, Newman and Hotchner co-founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which provided free, year-round recreation to children with serious medical conditions in Ashford, Connecticut. The concept expanded to become the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a worldwide community of camps and programs which have provided their services to more than 1.3 million children from over forty countries. In 2006, with John Whitehead and Josh Weston, Newman co-founded Safe Water Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing sustainable drinking water solutions.
Newman was also a political activist who worked to promote progressive issues. He publically supported several Democratic candidates for the presidency, advocated for Civil Rights, including attending the 1963 March on Washington, and gay rights, and called for the break up of oil monopolies and an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. His opposition to the Vietnam War earned him a place on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” In 1995, he became part-owner of and occasional contributor to liberal political magazine The Nation.
Newman married for the first time in 1949 and remained with wife Jackie Witte until their 1957 divorce; the couple had a son and two daughters. In 1958, he married actress Joanne Woodward, with whom he had three daughters. Newman and Woodward were married for five decades, until his death at the age of 83. Newman died of lung cancer on 26 September 2008 in Westport, Connecticut, where he was cremated.
Sherri Quirke Bolcevic
Levy, Shawn. Paul Newman: A Life. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009.
Newman, Paul and A. E. Hotchner. Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good. New York: Doubleday Publishing, 2003.
Oreovicz, John. “Newman a Lot of Things, but for Many Years, Racing Came First.” ESPN. Accessed 8 August 2021. https://www.espn.com/racing/racing/columns/story?columnist=oreovicz_john&id=3612479.
“Serious Results from SeriousFun.” SeriousFun Network. Accessed 8 August 2021. https://seriousfun.org/about/impact/.
“Total Giving.” Newman’s Own Foundation. Accessed 8 August 2021. https://newmansownfoundation.org/about-us/total-giving/.