Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s marriage lasted for fifty years. The best example that Hollywood couples cán last a lifetime. Classic Hollywood Central takes a look at some of Classic Hollywood’s real-life love stories and continues this journey with the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward first met on a hot August afternoon in 1953. Paul decided to seek shelter from the New York heat in the air-conditioned office of his agent. When he walked in he saw Joanne, who was also seeking relief from the warmth and shared his agent. For Paul, it was love at first sight. But Joanne, who was sweating in her high heels and gloves, thought he looked like ‘an ice-cream soda ad’. ‘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!’.
But they met again soon, working together on the Broadway production Picnic. ‘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’, Paul later stated. It turned out that the two had amazing chemistry and really liked each other. But there was a big catch: Paul was married with children. So they became friends and Paul kept working on his already unraveling marriage. In the following years, both Joanne and Paul moved to Hollywood and their friendship remained. In 1957 the two were cast opposite each other in the movie The Long, Hot Summer.
This time the sparks between them were undeniable and they fell in love. Paul took his time to get a divorce from his wife and this frustrated Joanne. Their friend Gore Vidal later claimed that he and Joanne got engaged, just to make Paul jealous. It worked. Paul’s wife Jackie agreed to a divorce and Paul and Joanne got married soon after on January 29, 1958 in Las Vegas.
They settled down in an 18th-century Connecticut farmhouse. A surprising choice, but Joanne said both of them were never ‘Hollywood people’. They immersed themselves in the local community and married life and in 1959 their first daughter Nell was born. Lissy was born in 1961 and Clea in 1965.
In the summertime, Paul’s three children from his first marriage would stay with them. The couple kept working though, sometimes even together: they starred in From The Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961) and A New Kind of Love (1963) together and Paul directed Joanne in Rachel, Rachel in 1968.
Their marriage wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Raising the kids came down to Joanne, as Paul worked a lot and later admitted that he initially ‘didn’t have any talent to be a father’. Paul was rumored to have had an affair in the late sixties, which the couple denied by posting an ad in the newspaper saying that they were still happily married. About infidelity, Paul famously said: ‘I have steak at home; why go out for hamburger?’. They also had different interests: Joanne liked opera and ballet, Paul liked beer and race car driving. But their love persevered. People who knew them together gush about how crazy Joanne and Paul were about each other. Their daughter Clea even commented that she once thought: ‘there’s no way I’ll ever find a man who loves me the way my father loves my mother’. Asked about the secret of their marriage, Joanne said: ‘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. And he sure does keep me laughing’. Paul attributed it to ‘some combination of lust and respect and patience. And determination’.
Paul and Joanne went into their old age as a happy couple with a warm family life. They became grandparents and their daughter Lissy’s family lived next door to them. They also dedicated a great deal of time on philanthropy. Paul founded The Scott Newman Center and Newman’s Own and together the couple founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children. They also succesfully lobbied to reserve lands around their hometown Westport, Connecticut. In 1990 Joanne graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, along with her daughter Clea, and Paul gave the commencement address.
By all accounts Paul and Joanne were as crazy about each other as ever. In 2008 the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A few months later, Paul passed away from cancer. According to reports, Joanne started suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease after her beloved husband’s death.
Read more about Paul Newman’s life.