Paul Newman — Somebody Up There Likes Him (1956) 🇺🇸
A sporting goods salesman, Paul Newman took a big gamble when he decided to become an actor. But luck is a lady who likes to gamble too!
For an intensely restless, active man, Paul Newman was standing very still. He re-read the card that he held in his hand. His face still wore the look of astonishment that had come with the first reading. “You’d better sit down,” he told his pretty blond wife, Jackie. Then he added, “On second thought, maybe you’d better sit down.”
He sank into the nearest chair, as Jackie asked. “Paul... what in the world?”
Paul was staring into space with the dumb-founded air of a fellow who has just received an Academy Award. “I’ve been accepted as a member of The Actors’ Studio,” he said.
It was Jackie’s turn to be stunned. “On one audition?”
“On one audition,” he repeated. “Jackie, it’s crazy. The audition wasn’t even mine!”
According to all rules, tradition, and logic, what had happened to Paul Newman was pretty incredible. Each year, The Actors’ Studio auditions some two thousand aspirants. About fifty of these are asked to return for a second audition. From this number, fifteen or twenty are selected for membership.
Paul had a friend who had passed her first studio audition and was scheduled for a second. However, shortly before the all-important date, the boy with whom she was to play her scene had been called out of town. So she’d asked Paul to fill in.
Paul willingly obliged and, when the audition was over, went on his way. He was too new to New York to even think of the impossible. Someday, he hoped, he’d have an audition of his own....
But now the card of acceptance was in his hand. He glanced at it again. “The only way I can figure it is that they made a mistake. They must have thought I’d been there before. And even then it doesn’t make sense...’’ his voice trailed away in puzzlement.
“It makes sense to me,” Jackie replied.
Today, his success is equally logical to his wife, although Paul still shakes his head when he thinks of his good fortune. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I’ve always sort of fallen into things.”
To Paul, the Actors’ Studio bid could hardly have come at a better time. Fresh from the Yale School of Drama, he was being given concrete proof that he had taken the right step when he had decided upon acting as a profession.
The decision had been a difficult one. A little over a year before, he had been running his family’s sporting goods business in Cleveland, Ohio. It had meant a comfortable income, security for a young man, his wife and their infant son, Scott, who is now five. Yet, Paul had been dissatisfied. “I figured I had to do something else,” he says today. “It wasn’t that there was so much theatre in my blood — there just didn’t seem to be any sporting goods in my blood.”
Paul was born in Cleveland and, as he recalls, “started fooling around in the theatre when I was in grammar school. Then I did some things at the Cleveland Playhouse, which had a children’s group.”
As Paul grew older, he had no conscious intention of taking acting seriously, although he continued to be interested in dramatics. After he was graduated from high school, he enrolled in Kenyon College, to major in economics. The war interrupted his education for four years, but when he returned to Kenyon, he still had economics in mind — or so he thought.
“I guess I became a familiar face around the department in charge of changing majors,” he says now. “Next, I decided to major in English. And finally, drama.”
Outside the classroom, Paul was active in football, basketball, boxing and swimming. He still retains his interest in sports, and particularly enjoys swimming and horseback riding. He once managed a golf range, and thereupon decided to learn the sport himself. He still plays when he has the opportunity.
After finally choosing drama as his major, Paul stayed with it and, several hours after he received his degree, in 1949, he was on his way to Wisconsin to join the Williams Bay stock group. Following this, he won a scholarship to appear with the Woodstock Players in Woodstock, Illinois.
One play that stands out in his collection of special memories is “John Loves Mary.” “What else were they doing in stock in 1949?” he grins.
But there was another, more important reason. She was blond, brown-eyed and very, very pretty. Her name was Jackie Witte, he learned, and she was also in the production. They rehearsed together, off-stage as well as on, and eventually a company wit began to call the play, “Paul Loves Jackie.” The feeling was quite mutual and they were married that year.
A short time after their wedding, Paul’s father died and Paul and his bride returned to Cleveland to assume the responsibility of the family business. He stayed with it for nearly twelve months — and each month he became more uncertain. “I have to do something else,” he told Jackie. “I’m going to try acting.”
He enrolled in the Yale School of Drama and studied there for a year. After that, the Newmans set out to tackle New York, fully aware of the odds against them. “I got some television work at first,” Paul remembers. “After that, I was admitted to The Actors’ Studio.” As for his regard for that esteemed organization, Paul says, “The Studio is responsible for any progress I’ve made.”
Exactly five months after his departure from Yale, Paul was signed to understudy Ralph Meeker and to play the newsboy in “Picnic.” “They’d given the role of Ralph’s college friend to another actor,” Paul recalls. “When it didn’t work out, they let me play the part for three days.” Then another actor was hired and Paul returned to his job as understudy.
Still another actor came into the cast, and left it. Paul was called upon again. He rehearsed for five uncertain days. On the fifth, he was summoned for a conference. “A few people are coming the Theatre Guild tonight,” he was told. “If it’s all right with them and the producers, you’ll stay in the role.”
Paul was elated — until the performance hour grew near. “A few people!” he smiles. “There were fifty. Among them Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams. I was so terrified and so wound up when I saw them walk in that I gave a performance the likes of which I never gave on Broadway.” He played the college group for fourteen months.
As luck would have it, Paul left “Picnic” at the time when Warner Brothers was searching for an actor to portray the character of Basil in “The Silver Chalice.” Upon seeing Paul, the studio executives were in agreement. “He looks like Basil. Give him the full treatment.”
The full treatment included a scene test with one of Warners’ top stars, Virginia Mayo. Paul won the role and the contract.
Following the completion of “Chalice,” he returned to Broadway for the production of “The Desperate Hours.” It ran for seven months and, even today, Paul can hardly believe this particular stroke of good fortune. “I’ve done these two plays and I was on Broadway for over two years,” he says. “Heaven only knows the number of actors who’ve been in seven or eight or ten shows and never had a hit!”
Paul “fell” back into motion pictures, when he returned to California to do a televised version of “Our Town.” At the time, one of his friends, writer Steven Stern, was nearing completion on a script of “The Rack.” The problem with the leading man was uppermost in the mind of everyone connected with the film.
The part was that of a former war hero who is accused of collaborating with the enemy and is brought to trial by the Army. A great portion of the picture was to take place in a courtroom.
“To say that we were worried about finding a lead would be putting it mildly,” says Arthur Loew Jr., who produced ”The Rack.” “There were to be long stretches of time in the courtroom — involving the most solo scenes for the star. When the actor has to talk and talk and talk, it will be the most boring thing in the world and drive everyone out of the theater.” We had to find someone who could wow the audience.”
Writer Stern was insistent. “Newman’s the boy for the part,” he kept repeating, “He could do it to perfection.”
“I’d like to talk to him,” said the weary Loew.
An introduction was arranged and Loew soon realized that Paul was his man. He came to have a tremendous grasp of character,” says the producer. “Stern and the director and I had been working on the script for so long that, for a while, was difficult to be non-objective. Then at the end, we found we’d become too subjective. Paul brought in a fresh approach with his comments and criticisms. By the time he got to the set, he had made a deep and penetrating study of the character and the problems involved.”
As Paul, himself, says, “There are many kinds of emotions and experiences and attitudes in understanding a character. To have all of them would be luck. Those you don’t have, you have to find.”
Paul’s own service experiences had no way resembled those of the man he was to portray. He’d enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and was sent to Yale on the [illegible] program. However, he was dropped from the Naval Air Officers Training Unit because of color blindness. Later, he served for three years in the Pacific as a radioman third class in naval torpedo planes. For “The Rack,” he had to find the greater part of the characterization out by himself. To do this, he read newspaper reports about turncoats and their relatives. He went through magazine after magazine for articles on the subject. He held almost nightly conferences with members of the cast or production staff of the picture, hashing out reactions. Paul knew the conflicting emotions that came to men in battle, and that fear is human, even in the bravest. But what of the war between captor and prisoner? What makes a man turn traitor? How much can a man take before he reaches the breaking point?
Paul came to feel a deep sympathy for the man he was portraying. Although the soldier’s actions, his weaknesses, could not be justified, he, himself, deserved to be understood... and perhaps his story might save others from a similar fate.
That Paul was successful in his characterization was evidenced by the reaction of some three hundred members of the audience who filled in preview cards for the picture’s first showing. These were mounted and read in the theatre manager’s office. “What’s the reaction to Paul?” asked Arthur Loew.
Another studio official pointed to several piles of neatly stacked cards. “Those say he’s outstanding,” he replied. He then nodded to the remaining piles. “And those say he’s better than outstanding.”
Paul Newman’s motion picture career was really on the way. However, despite Madame Fortune’s generosity, Paul has found one drawback. When he is in Hollywood making a movie, his family remains at home on Long Island, New York. “It’s a problem that confronts anyone trying to do stage and television work on the East and pictures on the West Coast,” he says. “We have three children now— Scott, Susan and Stephanie. Kids need a home, roots. You can’t keep shuffling them around all the time, much as you miss them when you’re away. I just may not to stay away any longer than I can help. I’m hoping to do a new play this fall. Then the only commuting I’ll be doing is to and from Long Island.”
In California, Paul lives in an apartment, and particularly enjoys visiting friends who have children. “He’s wonderful with kids,” says Margaret Smith, a friend who handles his fan mail. “At Christmas time he gave my sons boxing gloves and one of those punching bag kits on a stand. When he’s in town, he’ll drop in and give them lessons on how to bat with the left and cross with the right.”
Paul likes nothing better than to have dinner with his friends and he’s noted for being willing to help with the dishes — Provided he’s allowed to wash them. Otherwise, there’s an argument.
When they know he’s coming, his hosts invariably have a large hunk of celery and vinegar and oil on hand. The Paul Newman Celery Salad is steadily gaining fame in Hollywood. If he’s dining at someone’s home, he steps into the kitchen and prepares the dish himself. When he goes to a restaurant, he prefers to order the ingredients and mix his own dressing. This can lead to complications, and it does. One evening, Paul asked the waiter for a bowl of chopped celery, with oil and vinegar on the side. By mistake the man in the kitchen mixed and added the dressing. When it arrived, Paul said nothing. He simply picked up the bowl, walked into the men’s room and proceeded to rinse off the celery. He was not unaware of the puzzled stares that greeted him. “Don’t mind me,” he said in a serious tone. “I’m just the chef and we’re a little crowded in the kitchen.”
With that, he turned off the faucet, drained the celery and marched back to his table. Then he placed another order for oil and vinegar.
Such situations have always come quite naturally to Paul. When he tackles a project — celery salad, dishwashing or what-have-you — something is bound to happen. For instance, while in college he ran a school laundry for a time. One day, several students arrived with large baskets of weekly wash. This was not unusual — except that beneath the clothing lay a number of cans of beer.
Naturally, the group concluded, a way had to be found to chill the beer. It was only logical that they fill one of the washing machines with ice, and it worked like a charm. But this social aspect of laundry life ended when college authorities discovered and verbally took a dim view of the matter. Thereafter, the foam in the laundry was strictly from suds.
In the Navy, all Paul needed was a spare moment to be mistaken as a mechanic. One day, an officer, on his way past, ordered him to warm up the engine of one of the planes. Being a radioman, this wasn’t in Paul’s line. He was still standing there when the officer rushed past again and stopped long enough to hand him a paper. “Sign it,” he commanded.
“What is it?” asked Paul.
It was a statement stating that the plane was in good condition and ready to fly. “I can’t sign this,” said Paul.
The officer glared. “Haven’t you warmed up the engine?”
“Look,” said Paul, “I’m no mechanic. I haven’t the slightest idea whether the plane can fly or swim or anything else.” With that he hastily took his leave.
In addition to his celery salad, Paul is known for his love of popcorn. “Go to a movie with Paul,” says a friend, “and you go with a bag of homemade popcorn — one of those huge grocery store variety bags.”
Usually, Paul spends his Hollywood weekends horseback riding in Griffith Park. He learned to ride during his first stay in California, and he’s enjoyed it ever since. One weekend, however, he gave up riding in favor of sailing, a decision he eventually regretted.
Paul and Arthur Loew chartered a schooner, complete with crew, and planned to make their way to Catalina Island, which is about twenty-five miles off the Los Angeles shore. “We picked a great day,” Paul remembers. “It usually takes four hours to make the trip, but that day there was a wind from the west. We bucked it for seven and a half hours.
“For a while we thought we’d missed the island and figured we’d be sighting Hawaii in a few weeks. Coming back was better, timewise. With the wind behind us we got into Los Angeles in three and a half hours. We also ripped three sails,” he says thoughtfully. The following weekend he was back in Griffith Park.
Paul likes nothing better than the great outdoors. He’d rather have a picnic at the beach on the spur of the moment than go to the most lavish party in the world. Socially, he prefers the sit-on-the-floor type soirées at someone’s home.
Paul spent one of Hollywood’s most festive evenings at a friend’s house, sitting on the floor. It was Academy Award night and he’d been invited to watch the show on television He missed the first portion, however, because he’d volunteered to bring dessert, and had trouble finding a bakery. After an hour search, he’d driven up to a Frosty Fred place and settled for four quarts of the fanciest ice cream.
After he finally arrived, Paul sat himself down on the floor in front of the TV set, with a dish of pretzels. As the presentations proceeded, he enthusiastically applauded and argued with the group who had gathered to watch.
Paul is as determined to keep his promises as he is to prove a point if question. And he’ll go to great lengths. While working on “The Silver Chalice,” he came into a friendly disagreement with an associate producer about the name of fellow who once played third base at Cleveland — if, indeed, he had ever played for Cleveland. “Would you care to place a small bet?” inquired the producer.
“I would,” replied Paul.
“Then ten cents says I’m right.”
Paul won the bet — at a loss of four dollars and ninety cents. He simply adjourned to the nearest bookshop and purchased a five-dollar sports almanac. He presented it to the producer with his regards, pocketed the dime and went away whistling.
If there’s a challenge, Paul Newman will meet it. And large or small, he’ll tackle it with the same degree of energy and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he’s apt toss it all off with the remark, “Things have always come easily for me. Sometimes, too easily.”
Which makes his friend, Tony Zale smile. “Sure,” says Tony. “Easy the halfway.” Tony, a former middleweight boxing champion, was a technical advisor Paul’s newest film, “Somebody Up There Likes Me.”
Made-up as Rocky Graziano, whom he portrays in the picture, Paul’s face was often a checkerboard of bruises and bandages, not all of which were false. “The broken nose is mine,” he explains. “Happened when I was playing football at school. Actually, it happened twice.”
Paul had boxed in college and in the Navy, but he still had a lot to learn for his portrayal of Graziano.
As he went into training, Zale carefully looked on, noticed as Paul thoughtfully studied the still pictures taken on the side and listened as he moaned, “My left hand isn’t in the right position. The toes are pointed the wrong way.”
Then, too, there was the matter of absorbing the combinations of punches. In movies, punches are pulled to avoid mutilating the actors. Long accustomed the real thing, Zale had to concentrate holding back. “Get the combination down,” he warned Paul. “I might forget and let you have it.”
However, the day arrived when Paul overlooked one of them. A few moments later, Tony was picking him up off floor. “He came right back for me; says Zale. “He’s a worker, this one.”
Paul’s schedule during the picture included more than the learning of lingo. He spent eight days with Graziano, talked to the fighter’s friends. They went on fights together and spent a considerable amount of time in Stillman’s Gym. There, Paul went into training. Often his work day would begin around dawn and end as late as eight in the evening.
The results are now on film, which will soon be released. And they’re already saying that next year Paul will be going formal to the Academy Award presentations — as a nominee. There is probably only one person in Hollywood who would consider this feat incredible. His name Paul Newman.
Five months after he left drama school, Paul was in stage hit “Picnic,” then went into star role in “The Silver Chalice”.
Membership in The Actors’ Studio is hard to get. But Paul got in — on somebody else’s audition!
Because he plans to return East for a play, Paul’s wife, children remained on Long Island. But he misses them.
Making “Somebody up there likes me,” he forgot to duck!
Source: Photoplay Magazine, August 1956