Paul Newman: A Life

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 27, 2009

Paul Newman: A Life

Paul Newman: A Life peeks at the private Paul Newman, a man uncomfortable with his fame and often uncertain of his ability.

Newman was a paradox in many ways: a boyish man who couldn't connect easily with his own children, but who benefited thousands of kids with his charity work; a man of matinee idol looks and salt-of-the-earth tastes and interests; a craftsman whose talents may have been limited, but whose box office magnetism had few rivals; a box office legend who was slighted by the Oscar people for decades.

Shawn Levy's biography plainly admires Newman, but doesn't let him off the hook for his drinking, his failed first marriage, or even his alleged infidelity despite his otherwise story-book second marriage to Joanne Woodward, who in many ways was Newman's polar opposite but who, in just about all ways, was his soulmate.

If there's any gripe a reader might have, it's that "Paul Newman: A Life," while delivering the essential facts of that life in a polished, entertaining way, often neglects to go into Newman's career as deeply as movie buffs might like. Levy offers some sharp-eyed insight into select Newman films, savaging awful projects like "The Silver Chalice," dragging all-but-forgotten treasures like "Slap Shot" back into the light, and savoring classics like "Hud" and "Cool Hand Luke," but though Levy has clearly done his homework and screened even Newman's most obscure TV work, some of Newman's films are barely mentioned in passing, whereas a more complete (or film-focused) bio would have given plenty more page-time to all of Newman's ouvre (or at least have provided a comprehensive index to the man's films).

But that's a film critic's complaint, and for that matter, even the most rabid Newman-o-phile probably doesn't need to hear too much about Newman's occasional truly-awful flicks ("When Time Ran Out," anyone?). If Levy chooses not to go for minutiae in Newman's film career, it's to give the biography a more measured balance between Newman's movie, stage, and television work, and all the other interests that made him such an intriguing and well-rounded individual.

In these pages, we learn quite a bit about Newman's auto racing, his political activism and charitable interests, and his T-shirt-and-jeans private persona, which Newman kept close and protected from public scrutiny. We see him hold grudges; we see him pull pranks; we see him struggle with grief, not with outcries of public misery but through some deep inner process that seems to transform him.

"Paul Newman: A Life" is a must read for the summer, as the New York Times best-selling list shows: Levy's biography is already high on the list's ranking, which is where it belongs.

Publisher: Harmony. Publication Date: May 5, 2009. Pages: 496. Price: $29.99. Format: Hardcover Original. ISBN-13: 978-0-307-353-757

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.