Not many superstars begin their careers with an out and out ‘lemon’, but Paul Newman certainly did. After popping up in a dozen or so TV series between 1949 and 1954, when the television industry was still finding its feet, he landed the romantic lead in a sandals and togas drama called The Silver Chalice (1954). And it very nearly sunk his career there and then. Even his character’s name, Basil the sculptor, was an embarrassment. James Dean and his manager had already rejected the role because they considered the script to be rubbish. And it was. It was billed as, ‘The mightiest story of truth and temptation ever produced’. It wasn’t. During the shoot, Jimmy wandered over from the set of East of Eden to see how it was going, met Newman’s co-star Pier Angeli, and love apparently bloomed on the spot. But not for long. He was killed less than a year later and Pier was heartbroken. ‘Love died in a Porsche’, she told friends.
Pier Angeli and James Dean on the town
The Silver Chalice was the final film to be directed by Victor Saville, a man whose directing career had (somehow) lasted for 42 films, the best of them being South Riding (1938) and Green Dolphin Street (1947). This last effort forced him into retirement. It was that bad. In fact, when it was about to be shown on American TV nine years later, Newman took out ads in the Hollywood trades papers apologising for his inept performance in it, and warning viewers to steer clear of the thing at all costs. Not unexpectedly, the ads merely drew an inordinate number of viewers to tune in out of morbid curiosity. I have sat through The Silver Chalice from beginning to end, (I’m expecting my Victoria Cross in the mail at any moment), and believe me it is a hard slog, even the 115 minute cut version. The picture originally ran an insufferable 142 minutes! Trust me, if this film comes on TV again and you are contemplating watching it, try slamming your fingers in a kitchen draw for 115 minutes instead. You will have more fun. The good news, of course, is that Newman’s career was not still-born, and he went on to do some great things, none of which saw him within a thousand miles of a pair of sandals or a toga. Paul was not one of those guys who made the same mistake twice.
His second movie was much better. In fact it turned him into a star overnight. Once again James Dean was involved, or rather the ghost of James Dean, for he had been set to play Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me until his death in September 1955 necessitated a change of plans. Newman, you might be surprised to learn, was already 31 years old by then and a number of studio executives were against him inheriting the role. They felt he was too old for it. Of course, several of them still could not erase from their memories The Silver Chalice and his knobbly knees. They also thought he would not be believable portraying an Italian-American. Come to think of it, he looked about as Italian-American as Pat Boone, but his powerful performance managed to pull it off.
As Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me
Newman would enjoy an illustrious career lasting over fifty years. The year after he was given an Honorary Academy Award (1986) ‘in recognition of his many memorable and compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to his craft’, he finally won an Oscar for real for The Color of Money. In all, he was nominated nine times for his acting, and once as a director for Rachel, Rachel (1968).
with Tom Cruise in The Color of Money
Newman was married twice and had six children, three to each wife. His second marriage, to actress Joanne Woodward, lasted 50 years until his death. It has since come to light that he was known to have affairs along the way, something that was never publicized to any great extent. His last known relationships were with Italian actress Sylva Koscina and Joan Crawford, both back in 1967. He also had a brief affair with Joan Collins in 1958 and Myrna Loy in 1960. Crawford, by the way, had slept with him a couple of times during his first marriage as well.
with Sylva Koscina in The Secret War of Harry Frigg
Newman was once asked if he had ever been tempted to be unfaithful to his wife Joanne Woodward, to which he famously replied, ‘Why go out for hamburger when you’ve got steak at home?’ The ever tactless Crawford sneered at his response: ‘What a clever thing to say, but how true is it? First, I think Woodward is hamburger, not steak. As for Paul, he dines out frequently and on the most succulent filet mignon, from what I hear.’ This is all according to writer Darwin Porter, the former next door neighbour of playwright Tennessee Williams and self-proclaimed friend and confidante of numerous show business figures big and small. His book has drawn a lot of comment and speculation, so it might be worth looking at it here. We can decide for ourselves how much (if any) of it is true.
actress Shelley Winters
Porter’s revelations appeared in one of his books in 2009 and caused quite a stir. For one thing, he claimed that Shelley Winters told him of having a threesome with Newman and Marlon Brando! Shelley passed on in 2006, so she (like Newman and Brando) can neither confirm nor deny his story. Indeed, Porter is careful not to include anyone still living in his tales, so how much of the following actually happened is for the reader to decide for his or herself. This is what Mr. Porter had to write about Paul Newman’s love life:
young Marlon Brando
Newman’s first serious love affair allegedly took place while he was in the US Navy, and it was with future actor Robert Stack (Elliot Ness no less)! While at college Newman allegedly visited Marlon Brando backstage where they had a sexual encounter. There were female conquests as well. Darwin lists Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Natalie Wood, Vivien Leigh and Tallulah Bankhead. But it doesn’t end there. Early in his career, Porter claims, he also slept with Montgomery Clift, Steve McQueen and the future star of Hawaii 5-0, Jack Lord!
young Monty Clift
a young Steve McQueen
an equally young Jack Lord
According to Porter, Newman allegedly told his good friend Janice Rule that McQueen propositioned him on the set of Somebody Up There Likes Me, concluding the conversation by planting a very wet kiss on Newman’s lips. ‘I thought Newman was arrogant’, McQueen told Porter. ‘When I finally got him into bed, I taught him who the man was.’ Even so, both men were fierce rivals, McQueen turning down the Redford role in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) because he refused to take second billing to Paul. Miss Rule allegedly told Porter that Newman had severe man crushes in Robert Wagner, Redford and Tom Cruise, but none were consummated.
Brandon de Wilde in Shane
and shortly before his death
Porter makes no bones about Newman’s bisexuality, claiming he also had passionate affairs with James Dean, Tony Perkins and Sal Mineo. There was also an intermittent affair with John Derek in the sixties and a three-year relationship with former child star Brandon de Wilde. He played the little boy in Shane, and would die young in a car accident in 1972. Porter’s allegations may all be true. But they may also be a load of hogwash. Since every affair he mentions involve participants who are no longer with us and, therefore, unable to dispute his information, I would prefer to reserve judgment until someone living confirms some aspect of his stories. Even his sources are all dead; Williams, McQueen, Rule and Winters. Convenient. Joanne Woodward would know, of course, but she seems most unlikely to dignify Mr. Porter’s book by commenting either way. Who could blame her?
with his wife of 50 years Joanne Woodward