Paul’s father was Ashkenazi Jewish and the son of immigrants from Hungary and Poland. His mother was from an ethnic Slovak family in Hungary.
He was so ashamed of his debut in the failed costume drama The Silver Chalice that he took out an ad in Variety to apologize for his performance.
Early in his career, Paul was often mistaken for Marlon Brando. He claimed to have signed around 500 autographs on Marlon’s behalf.
Paul often competed for the same roles as James Dean. At the time of his death, Dean was signed to appear in Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Left Handed Gun, both parts went to Paul after James’ untimely demise.
Famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, who trained Paul at the Actor’s Studio, said that he would have been as great an actor as Marlon Brando if he hadn’t been so handsome. He said that Newman had the talent, but that he relied on his good looks to coast through a role too often.
The looks of superhero Green Lantern were based on Paul Newman.
Paul was a vocal supporter of gay marriage. As early as the 1950s Paul wanted to bring attention to the issues gay people face. For instance, he took on the role of Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof because it shed light on a gay man struggling with his sexuality. He was very disappointed when the storyline had to be toned down for the censors.
Paul was a skilled jazz and blues piano player.
He was among the celebrities on the famous ‘Enemies List’ kept by Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. This was due to Paul’s public stance against the Vietnam War and his support of the Democrats. Paul’s daughter later stated Paul was so proud to be on the ‘Enemies List’ that he framed it.
He hated signing autographs and stopped doing it completely after a man asked him for one while he was standing at a urinal in a toilet at a restaurant.
During the 1950s and 1960s Paul and Charlton Heston were close friends. But after Heston’s political beliefs moved to the right, their friendship ended and the two were even in a heated television debate on President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars defense missile program.
Paul turned down the role of Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971) because he felt the screenplay was too right-wing, he recommended Clint Eastwood for the part instead.
Paul is one of only six actors to be nominated for Oscars over five decades (1950s, 1960s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s).
Paul is the godfather of popular actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
The computer-animated film Cars (2006) was Paul’s last film and subsequently it was also the highest-grossing film of his career.