It’s perhaps fair to say that the world of Hollywood isn’t an easy place for relationships to survive. In fact, it’s arguably not uncommon for celebrity marriages to end in divorce. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were a rare exception to this rule, however – and their magical love story, which spanned decades, proved everyone wrong.
Newman came into the world on January 26, 1925, in the Ohio city of Shaker Heights. Although, growing up, the future actor inherited his mother’s creativity, his life at one point looked set to turn out very differently. After all, he was booted out of Ohio University, and he subsequently joined the United States Navy, where he served his country for three years.
Newman was actually in the armed forces during the Second World War. Color blindness thwarted his ambitions of training as a pilot, however; instead, he became a gunner and radio operator. After the war ended, Newman returned to Ohio and met Jackie Witte. The couple tied the knot in 1949, and they welcomed son Scott the following year. Then, convinced that he was destined for a career in the dramatic arts, Newman moved his family to Connecticut, where he had secured a place in the Drama School at Yale University.
During his studies, Newman would perform in his school plays. And it was during one of these productions that his skills were noticed by talent scouts, who convinced him to move to New York and try to make a living out of acting. After relocating to the Big Apple in 1951, then, Newman began appearing on stage and in TV shows – and before long, he was landing major roles.
After several movie performances, Newman was cast in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The film was a hit and earned the rising star his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination. But it was in the 1960s that Newman truly became a household name – and came to be recognized as one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood.
In fact, Newman was up for Best Actor at the Oscars three more times during the course of the decade. He was nominated for The Hustler in 1961, Hud two years later and Cool Hand Luke four years following that – although he ended up missing out on all three trophies. But awards acclaim notwithstanding, one of the King of Cool’s most memorable roles came in 1969, when he joined Robert Redford in the blockbuster western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
But Newman finally won his Oscar for his performance in 1986’s The Color of Money. It was a case of seventh time lucky; he had also been nominated for the top prize a few years earlier for The Absence of Malice and The Verdict. And yet Newman – by now a director too – didn’t only focus on his work in front of and behind the camera. He turned his hand to other projects, too, including food production, philanthropy and motor racing.
What’s more, all of the profits from Newman’s Own – the range of food that was launched bearing the actor’s name – are donated to charity. The venture has raised over $525 million for good causes to date, in fact. Still, regardless of all of Newmans’s pursuits off screen, it was through his acting that he met his second wife, Joanne Woodward.
Woodward, who was born in Thomasville, Georgia, on February 27, 1930, got her start in showbiz as a beauty queen. But after studying drama at Louisiana State University, the future star headed for New York City to pursue acting. It turned out to be a good move, too, as she went on to find enormous success. She even won an Academy Award for Best Actress for The Three Faces of Eve in 1957.
And yet it hadn’t been at the Oscars or on the set of a major movie that Woodward met Newman; it had actually been on the stage. The two actors were cast in a Broadway run of the play Picnic back in 1953, you see. Newman was the understudy for the lead, while Woodward was a stand-in for another part. However, sparks certainly didn’t start flying the moment that the pair met.
At the time, Newman was 28 years old, and Woodward was just 22. As fans will know, Newman was famed for his good looks – especially his piercing blue eyes. And it was indeed his striking features that the young actress noticed one fateful summer’s day, when she sought shelter from the heat in her agent’s air-conditioned office.
Woodward told the Today show in 2002 that Newman “looked like an ad for an ice cream soda,” wearing “a seersucker suit, which looked so pristine.” She commented on the actor’s “big, blue eyes,” too, and mentioned that he had “lots of curly hair.” And yet Woodward’s subsequent reaction was presumably not what Newman had been hoping.
In fact, Woodward’s first impression of Newman may come as a surprise. “I thought, ‘That’s disgusting,’” she admitted, explaining that she saw her future husband as “just a pretty face.” But the timing wasn’t right for the pair, either, because Newman was still married to his first wife when he met Woodward.
However, Newman was apparently keen on Woodward from the start – despite her reservations toward him. “She was modern and independent, whereas I was shy and a bit conservative,” Shawn Levy quoted the actor as saying in his 2009 book Paul Newman: A Life. “It took me a long time to persuade her that I wasn’t as dull as I looked.”
Eventually, then, Newman and Woodward got to know each other, and they formed a friendship. And during the years following their time working together on Picnic, they stayed in contact. However, when they teamed up for a second time to co-star in the 1957 movie The Long, Hot Summer, everything changed.
Newman and Woodward play lovers in the romantic film about a supposed conman who charms a rich family in a small Mississippi town. But apparently, the on-screen romance wasn’t all acting. In fact, the pair couldn’t ignore the chemistry that they had both in front of the camera and when it stopped rolling.
Under this emotional anguish, Newman’s first marriage didn’t last for much longer. And in spite of Witte’s initial reluctance, the couple agreed on a divorce shortly after he completed work on the movie before the split was finalized in 1958. During their nine-year marriage, the couple had welcomed two other children: daughters Susan, born in 1953, and Stephanie, born in 1954.
And so, once Newman and Witte had officially divorced, the door was open for him to move on. He didn’t waste any time, either, and signed marriage papers with Woodward in Las Vegas a few days later, on January 29, 1958. Then, they embarked on their honeymoon to London, where they stayed in the prestigious Connaught Hotel.
Newman was convinced that he and Woodward were meant to be together. Still, he reportedly harbored feelings of remorse over the way in which he broke up his family in order to be with his second wife. According to Paul Newman: A Life, in fact, he admitted that he was “guilty as hell” about the breakup and would never forget it. “I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life,” he apparently said.
But nevertheless, Newman and Woodward built a happy life together. The moved to Westport, CT, where they bought an 18th-century, 15-acre farmhouse and settled down together. It was an interesting move at the time, too, as it was somewhat rare for movie stars to relocate outside of California – although now it’s relatively more common.
And together, Newman and Woodward started a family of their own. The couple welcomed three daughters, named Elinor, Melissa and Claire, in 1959, 1961 and 1965, respectively. As for the actors’ professional lives, they also flourished – both separately and together. Having originally met through work, they also found themselves appearing together in a number of movies during their lengthy careers.
In fact, over the years, Newman and Woodward starred side by side in several films, including 1958’s Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!, 1960’s From the Terrace and 1961’s Paris Blues. They also teamed up for A New Kind Of Love in 1963, Winning six years later, Harry & Son in 1984 and 1990’s Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.
In total, Newman and Woodward featured in ten movies together. They both appeared in the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, too, for which Newman was also an executive producer – although the lovers are never seen on screen at the same time in the show. What’s more, as the King of Cool became more interested in working behind the camera, he directed no fewer than five movies in which his wife appears.
And one of these films, 1972’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, additionally featured the couple’s daughter, Elinor – nicknamed Nell. Their eldest child appeared in another of her father’s directorial efforts, Rachel, Rachel, too. However, she later turned her hand to conservation work as well as founding an organic food range as part of the Newman’s Own company.
Meanwhile, Newman and Woodward’s daughter Melissa – known as Lissy – appeared in their movie Mr. & Mrs. Bridge and is also a talented singer. In 2012 she was teaching acting to inmates at the Bedford Women’s Correctional Facility, in fact. And Claire – a.k.a. Clea – took over her father’s SeriousFun organization, which sends ill children and their families to camp for free.
Newman’s philanthropy was clearly important to him – so much so that it rubbed off on his children. But his other talents seemingly weren’t lost on his offspring, either. After all, his only son, Scott, appeared to be on track for a successful career in the acting industry with roles in 1974’s The Towering Inferno and 1975’s Breakheart Pass – before tragedy struck.
Sadly, Scott died in 1978 at the age of 28. And his passing prompted Newman to launch the Scott Newman Center in Los Angeles two years later. It’s clear, then, that Newman and Woodward experienced some hardships in their marriage. But it seems that the one constant in their lives was their love for each other.
In fact, Newman and Woodward’s connection was clear for all the world to see. And the actress explained that the secret to their happy marriage was a strong foundation. “We were good friends before we were lovers,” she’s quoted to have said in Paul Newman: A Life. “We could talk to each other; we could tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust.”
Woodward has also confessed that the couple always had a lot of fun together. “He’s very good-looking and very sexy and all of those things, but all of that goes out the window, and what is finally left is if you can make somebody laugh,” she told Today in 2002. “And he sure does keep me laughing.”
And yet Newman had a different response when he was asked in a 1998 CNN interview how he and Woodward kept their relationship strong. The actor said that he believed a healthy marriage needed “some combination of lust and respect and patience – and determination.” But, of course, Newman’s true feelings for Woodward were always apparent – despite his frank responses.
In fact, Newman was regarded as being utterly devoted to Woodward. He was once asked during an interview with Playboy, for instance, about staying faithful to his wife while being a Hollywood heartthrob. And his reply said it all. “I have steak at home,” he famously said. “Why should I go out for a hamburger?”
What’s more, Newman and Woodward’s relationship seemingly never turned acrimonious – even when they didn’t agree. The actress once confessed that she didn’t want to be his wife while watching him race cars, for example. According to The Washington Post, you see, Woodward believed that the sport was “scary” and “the silliest thing in the world.” Still, in a show of true adoration, she stood by him and unfailingly offered her support at the track.
And Newman admitted that Woodward’s dedication didn’t waver – despite the fact that she hated him taking on the dangerous hobby. “[My wife] has always given me unconditional support in all my choices and endeavors – and that includes my race-car driving, which she deplores,” The Washington Post quotes Newman as saying, adding, “To me, that’s love.”
While Hollywood marriages arguably aren’t known for their great lengths, Newman and Woodward proved that they were different to other celebrity couples. The pair defied the odds to go the distance; they were married for 50 years, in fact. And people would comment on their affection for each other after seeing them together, too.
One such account comes from author Carol Joynt, who once spotted Woodward sitting against a tree with Newman’s head in her lap. Joynt described on website New York Social Diary in 2008 how the actor “occasionally reached up to touch her face and hair.” And she added, “It’s possible I gaped. To this day, it’s the most romantic thing [I’ve] ever witnessed.”
Newman’s final acting role was in 2006, when he lent his voice to a character in the Disney Pixar movie Cars. Then, in May 2008 – a few months after celebrating his golden wedding anniversary with Woodward – he had to pull out of directing a play due to health reasons. And one month later, reports surfaced that the actor was battling cancer.
Newman’s friend and co-worker A.E. Hotchner revealed that the actor had told him of his cancer diagnosis 18 months earlier. However, the star himself never confirmed that he was battling the illness. Then, on September 26, 2008, Newman passed away at the age of 83 with his family by his side.
Understandably, Newman’s death devastated fellow actors in the industry. And after losing her husband, Woodward largely retreated from the spotlight, allowing their daughters to continue his legacy instead. In fact, the star – who turned 89 on February 27, 2019 – has only done voice work in the years since her spouse’s passing.
But while Newman is no longer around, the legend of his love story with Woodward survives – and it continues to inspire others. In 2015 actor Ansel Elgort revealed that a driver once recounted a heartwarming story about Newman. “[He was] the nicest guy,” the man had told Elgort. “He asked me about myself, but also he had his wife in the back seat, and this guy was like 80, and he was making out with his wife.”
Elgort continued, “They were just PDA, and they were giggling, and his arm was around her, and he’s kissing her.” The young actor even admitted that the story brought tears to his eyes. And the 24-year-old vowed, “I want to be 80 and have a wife who I’ve been with for that long and be that way.” The love that Newman and Woodward shared, then, is one that many of us can hope to experience in our lifetimes.