Paul Newman’s craft was acting. His passion was racing. His love was his family and friends. And his heart and soul were dedicated to helping make the world a better place.
Paul L. Newman, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on January 26, 1925. His father Arthur and mother Theresa (an emigrant from what is now Slovakia) raised Paul and his brother in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Arthur was a successful sporting goods store owner, highly regarded for his business ethics, who Paul credited for much of his own tenacity and standards. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, his father’s store was financially-hard pressed, but he extended store credit to customers, and likewise was extended credit by his suppliers. This experience contributed to Paul’s sense of the mutual benefit of people helping one another.
Paul enlisted in the Navy to become a pilot, but was disqualified from flight school due to color blindness, ironic for a person whose eye color later became a distinguishing physical feature. He completed his military service as a radioman/gunner on Avenger torpedo bombers in the Pacific during World War II.
His experience as a young man in a combat arena helped shape his philosophy of luck, the acknowledgement of the benevolence of it in his life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others. It was a perspective that motivated him to help offset this imbalance.
Paul attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, playing football and studying English and Speech. His future success in business was presaged as a student when he opened a successful Laundromat. Paul graduated in 1949 and sold the business for a profit.
Film and Stage
Following the death of his father in 1950, Paul returned home to help manage the family sporting goods store, but after 18 months, he turned the business over to his brother and moved east to study at the Yale School of Drama.
In 1952, he joined The Actors Studio (and was elected its president in the 1980s). He made his Broadway debut in the original New York production of William Inge’s “Picnic,” where he met his future wife, Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958.
His first appearance on the big screen was in “The Silver Chalice.” But it was Paul’s portrayal of boxer Rocky Graziano in 1956’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” that catapulted him to stardom.
Although he starred in numerous films and plays, and received many awards and accolades, his only Best Actor Oscar came with “The Color of Money” in 1987.
Paul had both a passion and talent for race car driving. In 1979, he came in second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He won four “Sports Car Club of America National Championships,” and at age 70, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest driver to win a professionally sanctioned race, 1995’s 24 Hours of Daytona. He raced his Corvette regularly in the GT1 Series with the number of his car rising each year to reflect his age. In 2007 his car number was 82 and he won two races at Lime Rock Park.
In his words, “I was never very good at sports almost clumsy. Racing was different; it’s the one thing I could do well and be graceful at.”
Paul applied his greatest commitment and derived his deepest satisfaction from his quiet work in philanthropy. He used his influence, gave of his financial resources, and personally volunteered to advance humanitarian and social causes around the world. He accomplished this with an uncanny ability to break new ground.
In 1982, he founded Newman’s Own, Inc., which was one of the first food companies to use all natural products. Today, Newman’s Own, Inc. is a successful food business, of which all after-tax profits and royalties are donated to thousands of charities worldwide through Newman’s Own Foundation. Thus far, over $550 million has been awarded to grantee recipients in all 50 states and in 31 countries around the world.
Paul founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut, for children with life-threatening conditions. It was the first of many camps established where children could escape the fear, pain, and isolation of their conditions to kick back and “raise a little hell.” Later, he founded the SeriousFun Children’s Network (formerly known as the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps), which now includes a global network of camps and initiatives.
Upon turning 70 years old, Paul decided not to accept any more awards for his charitable work. He was personally reluctant to acknowledge that his charity was anything special, and true to his character, he burned his tuxedo in a front-yard ceremonial bonfire attended by family and friends.
While Paul Newman was a Hollywood star of extraordinary celebrity and a person recognized for exceptional commitment and leadership for philanthropy, he lived his life as an ordinary person, which he always considered himself. He was a man of abundant good humor, generosity, and humility. Paul departed this world on September 26, 2008.