He was Paul Newman, with those fierce blue eyes and that flawless face, and a hard-earned reputation for playing flawed characters. She was Joanne Woodward, the oldest living winner of the Oscar for best actress.

Their passion for their work – and for each other – lasted half a century. Not only were they megawatt stars, they were a Hollywood anomaly: a happily-married couple.

But that part of their story is more fable than fact.

The remarkable Newman/Woodward story is told fully – and told honestly, warts and all – in a six-part documentary, “The Last Movie Stars,” streaming this week on HBO Max.

The director is an actor, four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke. “I fell more in love with them as I did it,” Hawke told Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. “And the more you care about them, the more you want to do the story justice.”

Hawke landed the gig in a phone call from one of Woodward and Newman’s daughters: “She thought that somebody should make a documentary about her parents. And I was like, ‘Oh, definitely, that would be a great documentary.’ She’s like, ‘Would you do it?’ I remember I was like, ‘Oh, me? Why me?'”

Clea Newman, Joanne and Paul’s youngest, thought a veteran stage and screen actor like Hawke would understand the pressures her parents faced. “They were two really complicated people,” she said. “They were in a really complicated business.”

The words of Newman and Woodward themselves form the core of the documentary.

Ethan Hawke, director of “The Last Movie Stars.”CBS NEWS

Hawke said, “The element that the kids gave me that I knew was gold was an abandoned memoir that Paul was writing in the mid-’80s. He had his best friend, Stewart Stern, interview all the most important people in his life: John Huston, Robert Altman, and people that he worked with. And Joanne. He even interviewed his ex-wife.”

Those interviews were recorded, yet you won’t be hearing them, because in 1991 Paul Newman literally set the tapes on fire. Clea said, “The story is that he took them down to the dump and burned them.”

But he didn’t burn the transcripts. Hawke said, “I had this idea that, ‘What if I asked all my actor friends to play these parts and bring them back to life?'”

Among the cast of the documentary’s transcript recreations are George Clooney as Newman, and Laura Linney as Woodward.

“The glue that held Joanne and me together was that anything seemed possible.”

Clea Newman believes her father had a specific goal when he agreed to be interviewed: “He wanted to dispel the myth that everything was perfect, that everything came easy. That’s not the case.”

Paul and Joanne met on Broadway in 1953. Immediately, they were drawn to each other. And as Mankiewicz notes, in the beginning of their relationship, it was not a complicated conversation about who was the better actor. “Everybody thought Joanne, am I right?” he asked.

“Yeah. Everyone, yeah!” Hawke laughed. “Including Paul.”

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, February 1958.
American actors and newlyweds Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in February 1958. MANCHESTER DAILY EXPRESS/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

The Paul-Joanne romance began as an extramarital affair. Paul had a wife and three young children. In the documentary, Paul’s daughter Stephanie says the divorce was devastating for her mother, Jackie.

By Admins

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