Even in old, black-and-white photographs, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s love is as visible and vibrant as if they’re standing right in front of you. Considered by many “Hollywood’s golden couple,” the Academy Award-winning actors’ union spanned five decades, until Newman’s death in 2008. Since her husband’s death, Joanne has stayed out of the spotlight, and the couple’s three daughters fiercely guard the privacy she has fought to maintain.
While a 50-year marriage is no small feat in an industry known for its messy breakups, Woodward and Newman didn’t seem to see it that way. “People stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked,” Newman once said. Besides, as he famously quipped, “I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?”
As enviable as their relationship would become, when he first met Woodward in 1953, Newman was still married to his first wife, Jackie Witte, with whom he had three children.
The handsome 28-year-old was making his Broadway debut in the play Picnic. It was a hot August day, and Woodward, then 22 and an understudy in the play, was sweating in her high heels and gloves. She sought relief in her agent’s air-conditioned office, and that’s when she first saw Newman. He looked “like an ice cream soda ad,” she told Today, with his pristine seersucker suit, soon-to-be-signature blue eyes, a thick head of hair, and not a drop of sweat in sight. But Woodward wasn’t impressed. In fact, she thought, “That’s disgusting.” To her, Newman was “just a pretty face”.
Newman, on the other hand, was charmed by the beautiful blonde from Thomasville, Georgia. “She was modern and independent, whereas I was shy and a bit conservative. It took me a long time to persuade her that I wasn’t as dull as I looked,” Shawn Levy quotes him in Paul Newman: A Life.
Timing was also an issue—he was already married, after all, and Woodward didn’t want to break up a family. Nevertheless they became friends and kept in touch. However, in 1957, when they reconnected to film The Long, Hot Summer, the chemistry was undeniable, on- and off-screen.
Finally, Witte agreed to a divorce, and Newman and Woodward wed in Las Vegas on January 29, 1958, and honeymooned at Connaught Hotel in London.
Despite his newfound happiness, Newman felt “guilty as hell” about leaving his first wife. “And I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life,” he’s quoted in Paul Newman: A Life.
Still, he and Woodward went on to enjoy a mostly healthy relationship, settling down in an 18th-century Connecticut farmhouse. “He’s very good looking and very sexy and all of those things, but all of that goes out the window and what is finally left is, if you can make somebody laugh,” Woodward said to Today. “And he sure does keep me laughing.” Newman, meanwhile, attributed their success to “some combination of lust and respect and patience. And determination.”
The actors starred in two more films together, Paris Blues (1961) and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990). They welcomed three daughters, Elinor “Nell” Newman, Melissa “Lissy” Newman, and Claire “Clea” Olivia Newman, and in 1968, Newman directed his wife in Rachel, Rachel, for which she earned her second of four Academy Award nominations (she won in 1958 for The Three Faces of Eve). Newman took home his own Oscar in 1987, for The Color of Money.
Off-screen, the power couple became actively involved in charitable organizations, most notably Newman’s Own Foundation, which was born when Newman and writer A.E. Hotchner mixed some salad dressing for friends. It was so popular, they eventually launched it into a business. “Let’s give it all away to those who need it!” Newman said. Soon they were also selling pasta sauce, popcorn, salsa, and more, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to nonprofit organizations (over $485 million to date). Newman also took up racing and become a pretty successful driver.
Things may not have always been perfect. The New York Times reported the couple admitted their union was turbulent at times. Newman was rumored to have had an affair, as well as a taste for beer (despite being an anti-drug and alcohol activist due to his son’s tragic death from overdose in 1978). But by most accounts (and there are many, from celebrities like Liev Schreiber to average Joes), Newman and Woodward were the picture of a happy husband and wife.
Of once seeing them together, author Carol Joynt wrote, “Joanne Woodward sat on the ground with her back against the trunk of a big tree, her legs stretched out in front. In her lap rested the head of Paul Newman, who occasionally reached up to touch her face and hair as he savored the music. It’s possible I gaped. To this day it’s the most romantic thing I ever witnessed.”
PROC. BY MOVIES