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RETROSPECTIVE

A style of Newman's own

The actor's work left an indelible imprint across Hollywood and the world of film.

September 29, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Paul NEWMAN, who passed away Friday at 83 after a long battle with cancer, was a humanitarian, a loving husband and a race car driver, but most of all, he was an actor of perceptive intelligence, power and even simplicity.

In his review of Newman's 1994 film "Nobody's Fool," critic Roger Ebert stated that Newman "is an exact contemporary of Marlon Brando, who is said to have invented modern film acting. Yes, and he probably did, stripping it of the mannerisms of the past and creating a hypercharged realism. Like Brando, Newman studied the Method. Like Brando, Newman looked good in an undershirt. Unlike Brando, Newman went on to study life."

Newman transformed himself from a man who would be Brando to a superstar in his own right over his 54-year film career, creating indelible characters that will forever be remembered and treasured. Here's a look at notable work from Newman's acting career:

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'The Silver Chalice'

After appearing in several programs on live TV and on Broadway in William Inge's "Picnic," Newman made his feature film debut in this tepid 1954 biblical epic based on the book by Thomas Costain. Newman plays an artist named Basil who makes the silver chalice that will hold the Holy Grail. Newman hated the film, and when the movie premiered on television in the 1960s, he went so far as to take out an ad in a trade publication in which he not only apologized for his wooden performance but urged viewers not to watch. Of course, it was a ratings blockbuster.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 30, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Paul Newman retrospective: A Calendar article Monday about Paul Newman's films said "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was his second film. It was his second film released. He made "The Rack" earlier, but it was released later.

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'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

Newman followed "The Silver Chalice" with Robert Wise's uncompromising 1956 biopic on legendary boxer Rocky Graziano, a convict who eventually became the middleweight champ. Newman looked nothing like the stocky, bulbous-nosed Graziano, but thanks to makeup, a buff bod and plenty of attitude, the actor scores a knockout. Hollywood Reporter stated: "We have a male actor projected to major stardom on the basis of one performance." James Dean was initially cast in the starring role before he died in a car crash.

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'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Though Tennessee Williams' hit play had to be watered down for the big screen, this 1958 adaptation written and directed by Richard Brooks is solid, exceptional entertainment. Particularly striking are Newman as the former athlete now unapologetic drunkard Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as his beautiful, frustrated wife, Maggie. Their volatile scenes together are passionate, angry and erotic. Newman received his first Oscar nomination for best actor for his work in this film; Taylor received her second.

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'The Hustler'

Newman may have won his best actor Oscar for playing pool hustler "Fast Eddie" Felson in "The Color of Money," the 1986 sequel to this 1961 classic, but he really should have won the Academy Award for his exhilarating, audacious turn as the young pool shark in this uncompromising drama based on Walter Tevis' novel, co-adapted and directed by Robert Rossen. Newman's scenes with his girlfriend, the alcoholic Sarah (Piper Laurie), and the ultimate pool hustler Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) are remarkable in their power and simplicity.

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'Sweet Bird of Youth'

Newman returned to the Broadway stage in 1959 to play the charming hustler Chance Wayne in Tennessee Williams' drama. Three years later, Newman and his stage costar Geraldine Page -- who received a Tony and an Oscar nomination for her performance as aging actress Alexandra Del Lago -- starred in this diluted but well-crafted adaptation penned and directed by Richard Brooks. Wayne brings Del Lago to his Southern hometown in hopes she will get him a job in movies. But he also hopes to rekindle passions with his old girlfriend (Shirley Knight), whose ruthless father, Boss Finley (Oscar-winner Ed Begley), ran him out of town.

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'Hud'

Newman never had any qualms about playing the anti-hero. And he received his third Oscar nomination for this 1963 modern-day western directed by Martin Ritt playing the ruthless Hud Bannon, a young man who doesn't care about anything or anybody. Hud also treats his elderly rancher-father (Melvyn Douglas, a supporting actor Oscar winner) and housekeeper (Patricia Neal, who won best actress) like dirt. The only person who seems to idolize Hud is his teenage nephew Lon (Brandon De Wilde), but even the young man grows to realize that his uncle is a ruthless heel.

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'Cool Hand Luke'

Newman gives one of his most personable performances -- he received his fourth Oscar nomination -- in this 1967 drama as the free-spirited Luke Jackson, a convict who more than meets his match when he is sent to work on a chain gang. As Luke, Newman gets to play it all in this gripping drama, including high comedy in the egg-eating contest and high emotions in the scene in which he learns of his mother's death. It's a lovely performance that was overshadowed at the time by George Kennedy's Academy Award-winning turn as the leader of the chain gang, who becomes friends with Luke.

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'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'

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