Paul Newman died today at 83 from cancer. He was at this home in Connecticut and was surrounded by his friends and family. His wife Joanne Woodward is from Greenville, SC.
In recent years Newman has been known as an activist and entrepreneur, developing his own line of food products to help support causes dear to him.
But, his most lasting contribution are the many fine performances he gave us over the years. The ones most often mentioned in his obituaries today are Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as The Hustler.
To me, though, one of his greatest performances was as Brick Pollit in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Williams' of course was Gay and one of the most prolific writers of the Southern Gothic theatre genre. Many of his plays examined sexual themes and the genteel decadence that runs like blood through the veins of the South.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof looked at a complicated relationship between a strong willed social climber and her husband. Brick Pollit was a college athlete who had a very close relationship with his best friend and teammate "Skipper". In the 1955 version which was used as the basis of the 1958 film starring Newman, this relationship is very much muted and all but removed from the text. Yet, Paul Newman manages to revive it enough through his excellent skills as an actor that those attuned to the theme of homosexuality and being trapped in a marriage of convenience could read Brick perfectly and identify with his situation.
Watch the scene below to see what I feel is one of the best performances by a Hollywood duo captured on film. Watch Newman's subtle style in this first scene. If you're Gay you will read his character perfectly, yet he is subtle enough that straight people would probably miss the innuendo and real motivation for his lines.
Paul, we'll miss you!