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Book Name: Paul Newman: A Life

Author: Shawn Levy

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Overall Rating: (4.25/5) View all reviews (total 8 reviews)

Film critic and biographer Levy (Rat Pack Confidential) embarks on a respectful, thoroughgoing survey of Newman's long life (1925–2008) and massive film career without lingering on emotional and psychological factors. A kind of accidental hero, Newman recognized that his blue-eyed good looks would open doors for him, but by sheer determination and work ethic he muscled his way to the Olympian heights of America's finest actors. Born to middle-class Jewish parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he eventually enlisted in the navy then attended Kenyon College on the GI Bill; his early first marriage and dabbling in theater seemed to be a way to avoid having to return home and take over his father's sporting-goods store. He enrolled in Yale's drama department, then in 1952 gave himself a year in New York to prove himself: he hustled small, paying parts and gradually became a part of the Actors Studio, where he claimed to have learned everything he knew about acting. From then on, using his connections shrewdly, he moved from success on Broadway (Picnic, where he met Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958) to TV (Our Town) and Hollywood (Somebody Up There Likes Me). From there, the professional accolades began piling up, while Levy also chronicles Newman's stunning success as a race-car driver, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Levy doesn't shy from discussing Newman's shortcomings as a father and husband, yet he leaves a glowing assessment of this legend's career.(May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Please, a grain of salt...

by Barbara Jackson "MadTaz"

This book did a good job of documenting much of Newman's life , yet I found several errors and these were things that should have been checked in editing. If you are writng about a movie, you should know the subject of the movie, not speculate about the part . So that made me suspicious of other "facts" in this biography. If Paul Newman were not such a fascinating subject, this would not be an entertaining book. I listened to it while mowing and working on my farm after downloading it onto my IPod and that is a very entertaining way to listen to a book and I have done this with cassetes and CDs to ease the tedium of repetitous manual labor and even a diesel tractor is bearable with noise-cancelling headphones. So this was a great book for that but I am not sure that I would have read it, especially with my suspicions about the validity of some of the facts. I still love Newman's work on film and admire his philosophy of life.

A Star Of His Time

by Bill Slocum

His sculptured features, engaging smile, and icy electric-blue eyes got him in the door, but it was Paul Newman's integrity, drive, and focus that left the most lasting impression, in both his work and life. That's the underlying theme of Shawn Levy's admiring but not blinkered bio, published in 2009 just after Newman's death.As a Newman fan, I found this a very involving book, poignantly eloquent at times, yet there's something missing, too. In his recent memoir Frank Langella spends a chapter on Newman, whom he calls "not a great actor" and somewhat empty at his core. I found uncomfortable echoes of this in Levy's book, a sense of a guy who had loads of integrity but not much soul. His compassion for the unlucky and hurt was expressed continuously and generously, with endearing grace besides, yet he had few friends and kept even those closest to him somewhat at bay.Does Levy unlock the riddle of the man? Heck, he couldn't even make it through the door. Newman and his family declined to be interviewed for the book, and Levy admits at the end that few of his friends and colleagues would talk for the record. Levy does what he can with what he has, which is mainly Newman's substantial body of movies and an even more substantial body of interviews with both him and his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, whose marriage stood out for its endurance and the charmed way it floated over the tabloid-y world around it.Levy also offers some analysis of Newman's achievements as a screen performer, one less dismissive than Langella's but suggestive of some of the same emptiness Langella observed, a man who poured much the same smooth mixture into each part. But Levy sees something else, too, an actor who worked hard to overcome his cerebral tendencies and channel raw emotion. What he denied in his life he gave to his art, and as he got older, he got better at it."The coolness in his screen persona that used to come off as flippancy had coalesced and hardened into something crystalline, pure, and solid," Levy writes.Levy's best writing in the book is usually in connection with Newman the screen actor. For that and for his lack of access to people who knew him, I sometimes wished he had just settled for an appreciation/analysis of Newman's film work, and left the bio to others. But the publisher probably didn't agree, and in any case, Levy makes a good case for Newman's life feeding his work, whether it's the reserved relationship he had with his own father Art (see "Hud") or Newman's anguish from losing his own son Scott to substance abuse, which shows up, somewhat disguised, in his '80s films like "Fort Apache The Bronx" and "Harry & Son." The topic of Scott was verboten in interviews with the star; his acting became his only form of public expression on the subject, and only obliquely.That Scott's death was a blemish for the father is not something Levy either hides or dwells upon; likewise an apparent affair Newman had in the late 1960s which caught a lot of press attention. Levy just presents the material and moves on to the next thing.Levy spends a lot of time on the upside of Newman's life: the heavy charity work, the political activism (at a time when not everyone in Hollywood competed to be the most progressive, it took real guts to go on civil rights marches and speak up for gays), the salad dressing. He spends way too much time on the race cars, but then, so did Newman. Even here, though, Levy is interested in drawing parallels between how entering his 50s, Newman found new ways to excel on a racetrack and in movies, both pursuits where youth is a dominant factor.Again, I liked the book, and felt Levy managed to make a strong case for appreciating Newman as an actor of more than just skill and effort. I don't think he made much headway against the other half of Langella's thesis, which was that the man lacked something inside, and it makes the bio less vital reading even if it's not anything you can pin on Levy. It's no trick writing a good bio about a great man; writing a great bio about a good man is harder, and with the odds so much against him, you can't blame Levy for not pulling it off.

Fascinating look at an American movie star

by Diane "bookchickdi"

Paul Newman is one of our true movie stars, back when that phrase really meant something. His death last year reminded us what a unique individual he was- an actor, movie star, race car driver, husband, father, grandfather, businessman, humanitarian.Shawn Levy has written a new biography, titled PAUL NEWMAN- A LIFE. And it was quite a life he lived. I vividly remember my mother taking me to see "The Sting", starring Newman and Robert Redford. It was one of the first grown-up movies I saw, and I felt very sophisticated. Redford was gorgeous, but it was Newman who charmed me. There seemed something mischievous behind those blue eyes and that knowing smile.Levy does a great job chronicling Newman's early years, and he footnotes and endnotes extensively, not something you normally see in a biography of a movie star. He quotes from reviews of Newman's plays and movies, and that helps put Newman's work in context of the times.The author delves into Newman's youth and his college days at Kenyon College, where Newman realized he had the desire to act. Newman was a bit of a rascal who loved to party and was not opposed to imbibing in beer, something that he continued to do throughout his life. Levy states that as an adult Newman would often drink a case of beer a day. (Budweiser sent Newman ten cases of beer a week as payment for advertising for them, and they didn't go to waste.)Levy spoke with several people who went to school with Newman, and their memories of a young Newman are insightful. Newman loved to rehearse, to dig deeply into his character and their motivations, and as this practice grew with his career, it was not always appreciated by his costars or directors.He married young and had two children with his first wife, but their marriage didn't last. Levy points out the irony of a man who was well known for having one of the most successful, long-lived marriages in Hollywood, actually falling in love with his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, while he was still married to wife number one.I did not know that Newman also had an affair (while married to Joanne) with a reporter he met while filming "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". It lasted for over a year, and nearly ruined his second marriage, but after the affair ended, he and Joanne worked it out. Again, they were an example for people that no marriage is perfect, but it takes work, love, patience and forgiveness to make it last.Newman had such a long career, Levy does his best to get it all in this book without making it 1000 pages, which it easily could have been. The one thing that gets short shrift is Newman's role as a father. It is touched on, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he parented from his children. They seem like people who like their privacy, and after the death of Newman's son Scott from a drug overdose, and the publicity surrounding it, I imagine they were leery of the press.Newman is quoted as saying that "What I would really like to put on my tombstone is that I was part of my time". Levy makes the correct statement that he was, and that is one thing that shines through in this fascinating biography. Newman really was a man made in his time, an embodiment of a true American individual.

The Man Was A Friggin' Freak Of Nature

by Franklin the Mouse

There was more to the man than just a pretty face and Mr. Levy does a respectable job of chronicling the movie icon's life. This biography was certainly a breath of fresh air after recently reading the train wreck known as John Cheever's life. Mr. Levy delves deep enough to give some understanding of what made Mr. Newman tick. The actor, race car driver, philanthropist, husband, father, workaholic, quasi-alcoholic, liberal activist, entrepreneur and director was well aware of his limitations and how genetic dumb luck presented opportunities to him. Through sheer determination and years of patience, he overcame or made allowances for many of his shortcomings. Sure, Mr. Levy does briefly address some of the actor's more questionable actions such his one, short extramarital affair (6 pages), but the snafus are far and few in between. The book is fair and more of a celebration of Mr. Newman's life. He portrays him as all too human and ultimately just a decent guy. Mr. Levy's writing is sometimes a little too melodramatic for my tastes, but overall it is a wonderful read. I closed the book having learned something about Mr. Newman and how to be a positive role model for others.

An admirable and inspiring man

by Jim Lester "HoopCrazyAuthor"

I normally shy away from Hollywood biographies but I made an exception for this one because I'm a long time fan of Paul Newman's movies. And I'm really glad I made that exception. Newman was a truly larger than life figure. He was a functioning alcoholic who made 57 movies, won numerous automobile races, founded a successful business, established a camp for children with cancer and was active in liberal politics.On the other had, he was an absent father, a man given to playing really stupid and juvenile practical jokes. He was a "movie star" handsome man who was blessed with a metabolism that kept him going strong into his eighties. One of the things Levy stresses in this biography is the fact that Newman recognized his good fortune and gave generously to those who never had the opportunities he had. For me this book transcends the usual Hollywood biography and is, instead, an excellent portrait of an admirable and inspiring figure.

Quite a Life

by Linda K. Walker

I always admired Paul Newman for his acting and good works. I was glad to see that the author felt the same. He did not shy away from discussion of his faults..infidality, alcoholism but those issues were well known (after all he wore a beer can opener around his neck). I was not aware of the extent of his stage work and found this very interesting. I would recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in Mr. Newman to read this.


by Rick Shaq Goldstein "*SHAQ*"

The Newman family was part of a group of Jewish immigrants from Hungary and Hungary/Poland. Paul's grandparents married in Cleveland, Ohio... and Paul grew up in a relatively well-to-do suburb. Paul's Father Arthur was a hard working and somewhat distant individual which left a lifelong impression on Paul of never having had a close relationship with his Father. His Father and his partners built an extremely successful company that sold sporting goods and scientific and electrical equipment... in fact their company Newman-Stern was one of the most lucrative of its kind in that part of the United States. The family had plans for Paul to become part of the business... but Paul obviously had a different dream. After enlisting in the Navy during World War II and attending college... he followed through on his quest to become an actor. Utilizing his G.I. bill he did graduate work at Yale and also joined the infamous Actor's Studio in New York. There he honed his skills in "method-acting". The author educates the reader in the fact that "method-acting" is much more than simply living and learning the lifestyle or circumstance of a particular part... it is also a technique where all actors and support personnel such as directors... literally dissect each other regarding their performance and motivations... over... and over... over. This particular style of acting is not popular... nor accepted by all actors. In fact it drives many actors crazy... to the point that many actors didn't want to work with Newman... since a scene that might normally take an hour or two could last for days. One such actor who despised it was Frank Sinatra.The reader is led through the complete gamut of Newman's films without ever skirting the issue that some were bombs... as well as his historic lifetime successes such as "SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME"... "COOL HAND LUKE"... "HUD"... "BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID"... "THE STING"... "THE HUSTLER"... "THE COLOR OF MONEY"... et al... and his first movie ever... which he hated till the day he died... "THE SILVER CHALICE". At times the reporting is a bit laborious.Newman's personal life which included two marriages and six children was not as successful as his screen career. Newman was a legendary drinker downing a "CASE" of beer a day for much of his life. In fact during the cocaine hey-day in Hollywood when many people wore a razor blade on a chain around their neck... Paul wore a bottle opener around his. The fact that he was a worldwide sex symbol... made it even harder for him to have a solid relationship with his children... and some of his kids had alcohol and drug problems... including his oldest child Scott who died from an alcohol and drug overdose. Newman's second wife was Oscar winner Joanne Woodward who also had some problems with the attention Paul received. To thwart any rumors about marital infidelity... Newman made the much repeated quote: "WHY SHOULD I GO OUT FOR HAMBURGER... WHEN I HAVE STEAK AT HOME?" Paul would live to regret that statement when it was made public that he was having an affair with a Hollywood journalist Nancy Bacon who was quoted regarding Newman: "YOU'RE ALWAYS DRUNK, AND YOU CAN'T EVEN MAKE LOVE. I ENDED IT!" This and more was published in Bacon's 1975 autobiography "STARS IN MY EYES... STARS IN MY BED." "According to Bacon, the publisher's lawyers vetted all her claims about Newman by interviewing her friends. The stories stood up." "People used to joke about it: "PAUL MAY NOT GO OUT FOR HAMBURGER, BUT HE SURE GOES OUT FOR BACON."Newman's mid-life passion for motor racing is examined in great detail along with his philanthropy... constant drinking... political beliefs... constant drinking... teenage-like sense of humor and love of pranks... and his inability... despite his never getting over his lack of closeness with his own Father... to truly be the kind of Father he himself had longed to have...*"WHAT WE GOT HERE IS... FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE!"

A Life Worth Knowing

by Tony Bertauski

As Newman fans go, I'm a casual one. Color of Money, The Hustler, Slapshot, Coolhand Luke...that's as far I get. I chose his biography to learn more about the man that raised millions for charity, the man that remained married for 40+ years, the man that seemed to be as genuine and gritty as his characters.This biography doesn't disappoint.Like most people that have mastered a craft, he didn't just fall into it. He studied it, he obsessed over it, he fought for it. And while there were certainly elements of luck that helped him along the way (known as "Newman luck"), he earned his opportunities.The book is heavy on film details, down to almost every actor in some of his films. While this might interest a more fervent fan, I faded. However, it doesn't skip on the personal details of his life like some biographies do. It reveals his mistakes, his vices and failures as well as his selfless triumphs. He's not all polish and gleam, his spots of corrosion are given to the reader. Paul Newman was imperfect and very human. He was also someone worth emulating.

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