Immediately before I closed down my computer last Friday, I came across a story from ABC News reporting that Paul Newman has given up acting. According to the report, the 82 year old actor told "Good Morning America":
I'm not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to...You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that's pretty much a closed book for me....I've been doing it for 50 years. That's enough.
Instead the Academy Award-winning and Tony-nominated legend will devote his time to the Hole in the Wall Camps he created in 1988; thirteen camps strong, they now rank as the world's largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses and life threatening conditions, including cancer, sickle cell anemia, HIV/AIDS.
The esteemed actor and philanthropist will also devote time to the Dressing Room, which is described as a "home-grown" restaurant "designed to reflect the feel of living in the Connecticut countryside and features a fieldstone fireplace, exposed reclaimed barn board walls, and heavy-timber wood columns and beams -- all of which create a warm, updated country setting."
On a personal note, I vividly recall my memorable evening at the Booth Theatre where I saw him and a superb cast perform in the 2002 revival of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. As I was perched in my Row B seat, I was stunned that my knees were literally knocking the stage. Even more astounding was that Paul Newman, as the Stage Manager, was towering right above me throughout much of the performance as he narrated the show's action. It was one of those thrills of live theatre that I'll never forget.
Just last week, I noted how extremely fortunate I had been this past February to be among the relatively few to enjoy Newman in the Westport Country Playhouse's Come Be My Love...Love Spoken Here benefit. There, he and his wife Joanne Woodward -- along with Joanna Gleason, Charles Grodin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eartha Kitt and Chris Sarandon -- took my breath away with their beautiful and touching megawatt poetry reading.
Newman first caught the public's attention back in 1952 with his appearance on television's "Tales of Tomorrow" when he appeared as Sergeant Wilson. The following year, he made his Broadway debut as Alan Seymour in William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Picnic (both Newman and Eileen Heckart earned Theatre World Awards for their performances) -- he would go on to perform in four more Broadway productions. Of course, movies provided the vehicle that transformed him into an undisputed superstar -- his first film role came in 1954 when he portrayed Basil in "The Silver Chalice," but it was his portrayal of Brick in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" in 1958 that earned him his first of ten Academy Award acting nominations.
While it's with very mixed emotions that I read the news about his withdrawal from acting, bravo to Paul Newman for deciding himself on when to give up the amazing career that he nurtured for more than fifty years. Not only has he entertained us -- and done that extraordinarily well -- but he's also done it with such finesse and grace, often while making us think about important, vital issues.
With the news of his retirement, I'm even more thankful for those rare opportunities I've enjoyed to have seen him perform in person. Just as we should all be thankful that his legacy will live forever on film and DVD, we should be even more grateful that in his retirement, his continued philanthropy could very well become his most enduring and inspiring legacy. If ever there's a question, that's what becomes a legend most.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here to donate to the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps.
SOB's Best of 2006-07: Best Special Theatrical Events (May 23, 2007)
Come Be My Love...Love Spoken Here (The SOB Overview) (February 11, 2007)