Ethan Hawke has done a stellar job assembling some of the biggest names in Hollywood to discuss the legacy of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in his six-part HBO Max docu-series The Last Movie Stars. Hawke recruited pals like George Clooney, Laura Linney and others to supply the voices of Newman, Woodward, and their collaborators, friends, and family, reading transcripts of old interviews that were originally intended for use in a memoir that was never completed before Newman’s death. And what these transcripts prove is that Newman and Woodward were truly talented, deeply complex humans. Also, they loved to have sex with each other.
No judgment here, I’m just telling you that this docuseries seems to delight in giving us the most intimate details of their lives behind closed doors. And it’s not conjecture, this information comes straight from interviews given by Newman himself, and even their children, who revealed that their parents would abscond to their bedroom that had two sets of doors that locked to make sure they had privacy when they wanted to be with each other. (If both of these doors are lockin’, don’t come a-knockin.)
And I have not even gotten to the Fuck Hut. Let me back up first to the trail of lust.
Newman and Woodward met while Newman was still married to his first wife, Jackie, and they carried on a five-year affair before he finally divorced Jackie to marry Woodward. “We recognized in each other a couple of orphans,” Newman said of his early relationship with Joanne in the first episode of the series. “Orphans have big appetites for everything. We just banged it out together as orphans, left a trail of lust all over the place. Hotels, motels, public parks, bathrooms, rumble seats, Hertz Rent-A-Cars, swimming pools and beaches. All of it’s better left to the imagination.” What even is left to imagine, though? Whether or not they sanitize car keys in between rentals at Hertz, I suppose.
In another anecdote, Newman recalls that when he and Woodward were waiting in the wings of a play that they were both understudies in, they would be dancing and flirting with each other off-stage, and “soon I began to have a little problem in my pants. She’d say, oh my goodness, what’s this?! I was in pursuit of lust.”
Jackie and Paul’s daughter Stephanie explains that the affair and subsequent divorce were obviously traumatic for her and her siblings, as well as for Jackie. While this documentary celebrates the partnership and longevity of two Hollywood legends, rather than offering an air of constant celebration, to its credit, it doesn’t shy away from the details about the trauma and grief born out of Newman and Woodward’s union, at least at first. (Later, Stephanie reveals that Woodward was a wonderful stepmother who included her stepchildren in everything and she was grateful for her.) And in addition to these sometimes uncomfortable details about Newman leaving his first wife, there are so many more stories that provide a complex and multi-faceted version of a movie star who was beloved for his sexy-but-still-wholesome family-man reputation.
So about that Fuck Hut.
During the series’ second episode, I think I was kind of… if not scandalized then at least taken by complete surprise when, as George Clooney read from one of the Newman transcripts, a description of what seemed like an innocent tale of home renovation turned into something much more salacious.
“I came home from work one day and found a large collection of junk piled up in the driveway by the garage,” Newman had said, tricking us unsuspecting viewers into thinking this might be a story about something wholesome like a garage sale. “Old bicycle pumps. The outdoor brooms. She was wearing a bandana and a paint-covered smock. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘Painting.’ She’d picked up a double bed from a thrift shop somewhere and a new Sealy mattress, and the room was painted some incredibly raucous color. She giggled shyly and said, ‘It’s called the Fuck Hut,’ and that’s where we go.” Netflix’s How To Build A Sex Room, I see you and I raise you.
Newman explains that it was his relationship with Joanne, and all of their carnal exploration, that directly resulted in him becoming a big screen sex symbol. He acknowledges throughout the series that he was indeed bestowed with the privilege of good looks, but, he stated, “Newman as a sexual object was simply invented, it was never organic to the person. The sexuality was never there. How did I invent it from film to film? I didn’t.” Here, he goes on to credit his wife with his sexual image, saying, “There should be a parade in Joanne’s honor, as the creator of the symbol.”
It’s clear that their admiration for the other’s talents, in addition to their physical attraction, contributed to Newman and Woodward’s fifty years marriage, which lasted until his death in 2008. (Woodward is still alive, though very few of the anecdotes about their sex life are attributed to her.)
The Last Movi e Stars peels back many, many layers of Woodward and Newman, both as individuals and a couple. It shows them as completely average young adults with screwed up families, it shows them as talented actors whose career trajectories took off at different times in wildly different ways, it shows them as devoted but occasionally flawed parents. While a couple’s sex life is generally no one’s business but their own, maybe theirs is relevant to our interests; Newman’s admission that it was Woodward who brought the sexuality out of him means that maybe he wouldn’t have has the appeal he had without her.
I think the shock of hearing all of these candid stories about their sex life comes from the fact that it’s rare for hugely famous celebrities, and especially celebrities who came out of a much more chaste era, to be so frank and open about the topic. Maybe it was Newman’s style to be so candid and open, or maybe he just wanted the world to know that he loved his wife for her brains and her body and there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
I think what we can take away from all of this is that maybe the secret to a long-lasting, successful partnership is equal parts mutual respect and Fuck Hut time.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.
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