Paul Newman :: His Secret Life Exposed

by Kay Bourne

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 6, 2009

Paul Newman :: His Secret Life Exposed

When Paul Newman was starting up his film career, he was summoned to the home of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who dished in fan magazines for readers in small town America about the doings of the stars.

Slyly leading up to the deal she wanted to make, Hopper laughingly told the young Newman about how Errol Flynn, angered about an item she put in a column about him, appeared on her doorstep. When she answered the door, he was facing her... masturbating.

"I began laughing," Hopper is quoted as saying to Newman, "and continued laughing until he finished with a dramatic flourish all over my doorstep. I'll say one thing for Errol. He's the only man I know who can ejaculate in front of a fully dressed woman who's laughing derisively during the entire process."

Yes, readers, to paraphrase Margo Channing: Fasten your seat belts reading the celeb bio Paul Newman/The Man Behind the Baby Blues is a bumpy ride, especially if you favor decorum. It's an account that guarantees you'll shake your head saying what!??!! on nearly every page.

Writer Darwin Porter relates in this tell-all biography that over drinks Hopper regaled Newman with a lot of stories that gave evidence that she was far more knowing of the clandestine going-ons in Hollywood than her "provincial" public image might suggest.

The point she was making was that she was on to Newman's bisexual life that entailed hot and heavy romances with James Dean, Sal Mineo, Howard Hughes, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Tony Perkins, George Grizzard and the list goes on. To keep such innuendos out of her column (which would have iced his film career), she wanted him to give her exclusives on his impeding marriage to Joanne Woodward and other tidbits that would scoop her rival gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

Porter's Paul Newman/The Man Behind The Baby Blues is, as the words in a police-barricade-yellow banner across the cover proclaim, an exposé. The tone of the writing is far from scholarly and the anecdotes so titillating that the reader may be justified in assessing Porter as a shrewd a gossip as Hopper. That he waited until after Newman's death to publish it only suggests a solid knowledge of libel and defamation laws.

Still, the fluidity of Newman's sexuality in the early years of his acting career does at least suggest a prism (or peephole) for Queer Studies academics whose subject matter is unacknowledged gay artists of the past. Does this sexually chameleon behavior inform creativity? What is the role of a gay sensibility in an actor's developing his chops? Leave those questions to the scholars. The rest of us can only surmise how any of these actors had any time to work.

To my mind Porter's purpose is to give the low-down on the down-low of Hollywood film and Broadway stage actors. For that he gets a scarlet A-plus.

That is, if you believe what he has to say. His sources are very often name actors, directors, and Hollywood personalities (many of whom like Newman are now deceased). While some may seem suspect, confidants such as Janice Rule give the book's tattling validity.

Rule met Newman early on when she was playing the heroine Madge in the stage production of Picnic and stayed in touch with him over the years. (Joanne Woodward, who got to know Newman intimately at this time, was her understudy.) When Rule invited Newman to her dressing room after a performance the actor was surprised not to find Rule lusting after his body. Instead she wanted him to tell her what happened when he went to Joan Crawford's apartment at the cinema star's invitation. (It is hilarious with Crawford behaving like a cougar.) Rule loved gossip. In later years, she left acting to become a successful psychotherapist in Manhattan, but she kept her ear to the ground nonetheless.

Other seeming reliable sources include Eartha Kitt, who summed up her bedroom romp with the twosome of Newman and Jimmy Dean, saying "white boys are so delicious." Kitt, by the way, told Porter that the authors of the Broadway musical Hair stole that line from her for their show.

A decided plus to the bio is the copious photographs that appear on the very page where they have the most relevance. The quotes beneath the picture can be quite witty, as with Crawford's, whose quip reads, "We Texas gals eat beef cake."

According to Porter, he's been collecting hearsay stories on Newman since being introduced to the actor by Tennessee Williams in 1959. At that time Porter was the 21-year-old bureau chief for the Miami Herald in Key West. Porter seemingly has access to numerous luminaries who confide in him from Geraldine Page who co-starred with Newman in Sweet Bird of Youth to playwright William Inge who wrote Picnic, which launched Newman's acting career in a big way.

He has a writing style, however, that makes his reported private conversations suspect. Porter often quotes what was said in intimate situations that have to be pure conjecture. The give-away is that he's putting the same words into people's mouths no matter who is talking, for examples terms like "plowed" and "sloppy seconds."

Paul Newman/The Man Behind the Baby Blues is published by Blue Moon Productions, Ltd, based in New York City, and staffed by writers who otherwise produce the various Frommer Guides, the well-regarded travel publications. Porter has previously done bios on Katharine Hepburn, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, Humphrey Bogart, Merv Griffin, and Marlon Brando. Aside from Jackson, the subjects were room temperature when Porter's bios were published.

The prolific Gore Vidal also recently authored a memoir in words and photos, which includes more than a few mentions of the Newmans with some lovely pictures of the couple. In the 50s, Vidal, his long-term lover and the Newmans lived together in Shirley McClaine's beach house in Malibu and stayed close friends through the ensuing years. Towards the end of the book Vidal tells a story of how Newman decided to discontinue his chemotherapy for cancer. "And he died on his own terms...," Vidal writes honoring his friend's staunch individualism.

Porter also acknowledges Newman's individualism, but salaciously, with little or no respect for his subject.