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Paul Newman's Shrewd Move

Matt Schudel

Actor, director, philanthropist, race car driver and political activist Paul Newman died yesterday at 83.

Television news in particular transforms every dead celebrity, no matter how insignificant, into a "legend" who will be "sorely missed."

But based on the months I spent researching Newman to prepare his obit years ago (even before news of his cancer), he is far different, a major loss to our cultural world.

His intelligence was obvious, most obviously from his determination to downplay his good looks. This was the smartest move he ever made. And it appears to be what George Clooney, at his most interesting, also understands.

One can debate Newman's best movies -- I would always begin a viewer new to Newman with "Cool Hand Luke" or "The Sting." But there's also so much to enjoy in reading about his personal life, particularly his relationship with actress Joanne Woodward, who became his second wife, and his frequent co-star Robert Redford.

Newman spoke about his relationship with Woodward by noting how they decided to act in the comedy "A New Kind of Love" (1963).

He told Time magazine: "Joanne read it and said, 'Hey this could be fun to do together. Read it.' And I read it and said, 'Joanne, it's just a bunch of one-liners.'

"And she said, 'You [expletive], I've been carting your children around, taking care of them, taking care of you and your house.' And I said, 'That is what I said. It's a terrific script. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do.' This is what is known as a reciprocal trade agreement."

By Matt Schudel  |  September 27, 2008; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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