Hollywood is the home of the romantic comedy, of the story that concludes with a happy ending for lovers. But the actors and actresses who play out these adorable, moving stories rarely seem to find lasting love themselves. Divorce is a constant. One of the longest-lasting relationships in Hollywood is Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and they have never married.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were different.
In 1953, while walking around Manhattan street on a scorching August afternoon, the 25-year-old Paul Newman, an unfathomably handsome man with piercing blue eyes, decided to escape the heat in his agent’s air-conditioned office. How could he know that he was about to meet the love of his life? In that fateful office sat Joanne Woodward, a young, pretty and very talented actress, also hiding from the hot sun.
When he set eyes on her, Newman said he fell in love. As for Woodward, she just didn’t think much of him, as she would later recount in an interview, “I was so sweaty and hot, so I went into my agent’s office because of the air conditioning. What looked like an ad for ice cream soda, there was Paul in a seersucker suit, looking so pristine, wearing a shirt, big blue eyes, lots of curly hair… And I thought, ‘Ugh! That’s disgusting!’ “
Newman and Woodward met again on the Broadway production of Picnic, a romantic drama. While working together, a powerful chemistry sparked. However, Paul was already married and had a child with his then-wife.
During the years to follow, Woodward kept a respectful distance from him, avoiding becoming “the home-wrecker,” while Paul continued to honor his family responsibilities and tried to hide his feelings for her.
However, in 1957, the shooting of the film The Long, Hot Summer revealed that something was definitely blooming between the two co-stars. When the film was finally released, no one could deny the sexual tension of the extremely attractive couple, not even Jackie Witte, Newman’s wife. The divorce papers were signed.
On January 29, 1958, Joanne and Paul married in Vegas and went on a honeymoon in Europe. The press covered their romantic getaway with articles that made them a subject of public admiration.
Over the course of the next two decades, both Woodward and Newman reached the top of their field. Together, they starred in numerous films, including Paris Blues (1961), A New Kind of Love (1963), and From the Terrace (1960), but none of these could match the success of The Long, Hot Summer. Joanne had an earlier success with the film The Three Faces of Eve (1957), which won her an Oscar for Best Actress, whilst Paul starred in a series of successful, critically acclaimed films, such as The Hustler (1960), Hud (1962), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973).
In 1968, Newman directed his debut film, Rachel, Rachel and in it Joanne played the main role. This film brought her another Oscar nomination for Best Actress which hushed the snide remarks of the press that her husband made the film to prove that “she had given up her career for him.” By that time, the couple had raised three daughters in their family home in Connecticut, living a serene life, away from the spotlight. They rarely gave interviews and were consistent in keeping their personal lives private, and their intimacy undisturbed
Their seemingly unbreakable relationship has always, through media speculation, kept the public wondering what the secret might be of a marriage that long and successful, particularly since the lure of fame and vanity is ever present.
People who were close to them said that there was always a tangible chemistry between them. They constantly touched each other when in public, suggesting that the physical attraction never died.
“One time, I was walking between the main buildings and looked over to a bench where I saw a woman and her husband. The woman was sitting with the husband’s head on her lap as he lay down. You could just see the love as she ran her hand over his head and hair. I thought at that time, ‘My, what a handsome couple. Isn’t it nice that this older couple cares so much for each other? It just radiates. This is just such a wonderful sight.’ I continued on my journey with a glance back and I saw that the nice handsome older couple so much in love was Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward,” said an employee at an Arizona museum.
A fan who met the couple at a wedding said: “There was a string quartet. Guests arrayed themselves on the sunny lawn, she remembered. Up behind me, Joanne Woodward sat on the ground with her back against the trunk of a big tree, her legs stretched out in front of her. 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.”
Woodward and Newman were married 50 years. When Paul was asked why he remained faithful to his wife when he could have any woman, he stated,
Joanne, however, added a different spice to the recipe when asked about their successful relationship.
“Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day? Ah, now that’s a real treat.”
The couple nourished their affection with an endearing playfulness, spending their “alone time” in a tree house which they built together in the backyard of their family home in Connecticut.
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Newman died on September 29, 2008, at home in their bed, with Joanne at his side. According to A.E. Hotchner, his best friend, his last words to his beloved were “It’s been a privilege to be here.”