Amiable fellow though Paul Newman is, being his wife is not exactly easy women trail and touch him as if he were the primest cut of American beef


Archive 70s

Joanne Woodward, settles back into the limousine cushions with her needlepoint. The sewing is a daily fixture in her life; the limo is not. New York City is simply awash in rain, and hiring a driver to dash around is the sensible thing to do, and Joanne Woodward is nothing if not sensible. While husband Paul Newman’s startling blue eyes dominate the American screen, her steady green ones dominate the family’s elaborate Connecticut household. But the four faces of Joanne—actress, wife of the country’s sexiest celeb, mother of six (three of their own, three by Paul’s previous marriage) and angel of community causes—can sometimes whirl too quickly for her own peace of mind. “I’m sometimes desperate to find some time just to read or be alone. That’s why I treasure these shopping trips to New York.”

Amiable fellow though Paul Newman is, being his wife is not exactly easy. Women trail and touch him as if he were the primest cut of American beef. Joanne can handle that; but what rankles is her awareness of herself as a woman in these times. She notes, “I used to be happy to answer the telephone and say, ‘This is Mrs. Paul Newman.’ Now I say, with neurotic intensity, ‘This is Joanne Woodward.’ I’m being pushed into this reaction like everyone else. It bothers me, and people are very callous about it. I recently did a TV interview, and what it finally boiled down to was, ‘What’s it like to be Mrs. Paul Newman?’ I told Paul that it is very hard for me to divorce my stony resentment of this from our relationship. Still, my resentment is really not toward Paul. It’s just that I can’t smile and cope with that role anymore.”

Newman’s consciousness—for all of his macho hobbies and habits—is highly sensitized in this area, and he is very supportive. When a woman tried to kiss him once at the Salt Lake City Airport, Newman recoiled in real horror and said, “Don’t do that, ma’am, my old lady will knock your block off!”

Miss Woodward (as she chooses to be called) is also a bit rueful these days about what happened to her career. While Newman is 0-for-4 in the Oscar derby, she won one in her first lead, The Three Faces of Eve. Soon she settled into playing willful Scarletts in Faulknerian epics like The Sound and the Fury. Then there were the hiatuses for child-rearing, followed by two New York Film Critics awards for her characterizations of a middle-aged virgin (Rachel, Rachel) and a menopause victim (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams). Now Joanne has passed 40, and it is not easy to reaffirm herself as a star when the public seems interested only in watching Paul play with pals Redford and McQueen. “I’ve tapered off,” she says, “but not by choice, I assure you.” She halts her needlepoint to ponder, and adds, “But if there is a backlash against woman actors, it is engendered by women themselves. We are confused now, especially women my age. We were raised with certain attitudes and mores that just don’t function anymore.”

Not that Woodward feels the need to walk out of the doll’s house. On the contrary, she loves their 2.8-acre estate near Westport, Conn. with all the devotion of her homebody heart. She was born in Thomasville, Ga., the daughter of a high school math teacher and descendant of archetypal Southerners. “My late grandmother once found out that one of the local girls was marrying someone from Maryland, and she said, ‘Why can’t she marry someone from her own country?’ ” Joanne laughs. “What do you suppose she would say if she knew I had married a Jew from Shaker Heights, Ohio?”

Most matrons would be ecstatic if their daughters had landed Paul Newman, though when they found each other he was only the second lead in Picnic on Broadway and Joanne an understudy fresh out of two years at Louisiana State University. His first marriage (to actress Jacqueline Witte) crumbled like a praline, but this one has survived 17 years. Perhaps their longstanding disavowal of the Hollywood life has helped (though obviously not among the Oscar electorate). They do not attend show-world parties, including the Academy Awards. “They’re ridiculous,” says Joanne. “I’m glad I got mine when I was young and naive, and it meant everything to me.”

Curiously, their championship marriage has not translated to the screen very well. Out of the eight movies they’ve made together, only Long, Hot Summer has any serious claim to distinction. (Their current collaboration, The Drowning Pool, for example, is a wispy sequel to Paul’s superior earlier Ross MacDonald thriller, Harper.) Joanne bristles at critiques of their joint work, but admits, “It’s hard to stimulate dramatically someone you know so well.” But she praises Paul’s direction of her in Rachel, Rachel and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. “He’s enormously sensitive with women’s feelings and very patient. In fact, he’s always patient. I’m very impatient.”

Yet she seems always to treat Paul with a slightly amused affection, even adopting a boys-will-be-boys tolerance.

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