Paul Newman’s new memoir reveals the movie star’s insecurities and struggles


Paul Newman found fame as a double-edged sword. He appreciated how it helped him make the kind of movies he wanted and raise millions for charity. But he hated being pestered for autographs and photos.

Paul, who lived in Westport, shares such confessions in his recently published posthumous memoirThe extraordinary life of an ordinary man.” Perhaps most surprising – as he reflects on his troubled childhood, rise to stardom, motor racing and more – is the revelation that he often felt broken and doubted his own talents.

“I felt a lot of my success was based on looks and not really what I did,” he said in the memoir, drawn from dozens of interviews, edited by David Rosenthal .

An image from Paul Newman’s memoir “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man”.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

“You work what you consider hard enough in your craft and you grow slowly and painfully, and you get to the point where you’re just starting to feel good about yourself – and not just how you look – and then someone says, ‘Oh my God, take off your sunglasses so I can see your baby blue eyes!’ All the self-esteem you managed to build is going out the window,” Paul wrote in his memoirs.

The iconic film and stage star, who was married to actress Joanne Woodward for 50 years, died in 2008at 83 years old. He was a director and winner of the Best Actor Oscar for ‘The Color of Money’, not to mention numerous other awards, including three Golden Globes.

‘The Hustler’, ‘The Verdict’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ are among dozens of films he is known for. He also voiced Doc Hudson in Disney-Pixar’s “Cars” in 2006; his voice was reused (from the archives) in “Cars 3” in 2017, nine years after his death.

“It’s hard for some people to understand, given all of this success, how this sense of doubt could have been so relentless,” said his daughter Melissa Newman said. She will discuss memoirs with Anne Keefe at the Westport Country Playhouse, November 20. Keefe, associate artist at the Playhouse, served as co-artistic director of the Playhouse with Woodward. The 3 p.m. event includes a Q&A session with the audience and will be hosted by Darien’s Barrett Bookstore.

An image from Paul Newman's memoir “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.

An image from Paul Newman’s memoir “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man”.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Melissa, who wrote the foreword to the book, said she was aware of her father’s insecurities, being an artist herself (a singer and visual artist working primarily in porcelain and stoneware) and that she understood his passion for racing. Newman began driving professionally at age 47 and has won several national championships.

“Art is hopelessly subjective, driving is not,” she said. “You can’t use a stopwatch to judge your acting. He was loved and respected by the racing community because he deserved it. And he loved it because success on the track is measured in the split second. »

Melissa, one of Newman’s six childrensaid his “part confessional, part self-analytical” memoir was created from oral histories compiled with the help of his friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern, from 1986. Quotes from family, friends and colleagues (from Woodward to Tom Cruise) are included. Another of Newman’s daughters, Clea Newman Soderlund, wrote the afterword.

“At some point our dad had the idea of ​​writing memoirs,” Melissa said. “Stewart’s persistence led our father to reveal much more intimate and honest details than one would expect.”

An image from Paul Newman's memoir “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.

An image from Paul Newman’s memoir “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man”.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

The transcripts disappeared for a while and then resurfaced, Melissa explained. “Given the discovery of these transcripts and the fact that (Paul) said, with typical understatement, that if there was to be any interest in a biography, we had permission to pursue it, that was certainly taken into account in the decision.

Most of the 100 interviews conducted by Stewart were discovered by producer Emily Wachtel (a friend of the family), in Woodward’s basement in 2020. After finding and reading additional transcripts that Newman had stored, Melissa said that Wachtel had proposed “we’re trying to finish what he started”. .”

“People often talk about how they wish they had asked their parents more questions before they lost them,” Melissa said. “Imagine having 14,000 pages of answers!”

“People seemed so attached to a fairy tale version of our dad’s life, especially his second marriage, that for many years it seemed important to keep it going,” Melissa said. “But as his accomplishments began to fade from public consciousness, there seemed to be a choice between letting him fade into obscurity or giving the world a new, more complex and relevant fairy tale.”

Paul’s words are particularly poignant as he reflects on the loss of his son, Scott, (with his first wife Jackie Witte) when Scott was 28. Haunted, wondering if he could have said or done anything to prevent Scott’s alcoholism and drug overdose, he asks, “What was salvageable, what was salvageable, what was in somehow the fault of the company I’m in, or my divorce, and what does Jackie have of that too?”

The editors wanted to include that, Melissa said, and of course there was discussion. “At the end of the day, I think the experience of battling addiction, from so many angles, our father’s own struggle with alcoholism, the loss of a child, the mistakes, the relentlessness of this one is so relevant, now more than ever.”

“Like all parents, he wanted to understand what had happened, and that often involved blaming himself. that Scott was a “…sensitive child, and sensitive people don’t fare well in this world” Again, even with all the material resources at their disposal, no one could guarantee a light at the end of this tunnel,” Melissa said. “Everyone is doing the best they can, and sometimes it’s misguided, and sometimes people are lucky. Life is messy that way.

For the memoir itself, Melissa said she found her father’s revelations about his life comforting.

“The material shows a man who had so many of the same issues of insecurity and self-doubt that we all struggle with. One takeaway is that with all the success and material resources he had, he was a floundering and scrambling human being like we all do. I find something comforting in that. The thing is, he continued to evolve as a person his whole life, and I find that comforting too.


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