Hollywood stars are fleeting, but the legacy these stars leave behind will be remembered forever. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward left a legacy of greatness, philanthropy, and a long-lasting relationship. These two huge movie stars were the last of a generation, the likes of which never will be seen again. What they have left behind will not be forgotten.
Paul Newman wasn’t married to Joanne Woodward his whole adult life — he had another marriage before her. For many years they were in a relationship before they actually got married to one another. Between his first marriage and second (to Woodward), Newman had six children. One of which Scott died of drug abuse. His daughters bore him grandchildren and had successful marriages of their own. Their legacy lives on in them.
Ethan Hawke was approached by the children of Newman and Woodward about doing a documentary about them. He would use video transcripts to get at the heart of who these two Hollywood legends are. The original videos were destroyed; all that was left were the transcripts. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and he couldn’t do the usual interviewing of the people who knew them best and had worked with them in the past. Instead, he insisted on his own friends and decided to have them play the people in Newman and Woodward’s life by reading the transcripts as them. What an ingenious way of doing a documentary. Also, this would all be done on Zoom calls, bringing this documentary to life.
Hawke didn’t shy away from the other typical thing that documentaries do: using archival footage and television interviews to break up the reading of the transcripts — going from the beginning of their careers and how they met. There are a lot of old photos that were added into film reels that showed pictures of the family from way back. The old Hollywood stuff was some of the best they used to show them in their element at premieres or working on various films together or separately. They both had very successful careers on the screen, both big and small. Hawke got to the heart of who these legends were, and he pulled no punches regarding the ups and downs in their relationship and Newman’s battle with alcoholism which almost destroyed their relationship.
Newman’s career spanned sixty years, and Woodward’s was a little longer because she outlived her husband. Newman was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one for The Color of Money in 1986. Martin Scorsese, the director of the film, was one of the talking heads in the documentary. He was just one of many who gushed about The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Verdict, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He could have won the Academy award for any of these films. The documentary goes into that briefly in the sixth episode. I wasn’t as aware of Woodward’s career, but she was as prolific an actress as he was. They both learned their craft at the actor’s studio in New York City. She won three Oscars and nineteen Emmy Awards, among many others in her career. Arguably she was a bigger star than he was.
Their philanthropic efforts, such as The Hole in the Wall Gang and Newman’s own, were connected at the hip. All the proceeds from Newman’s Own salad dressing, lemonade, and spaghetti sauce, among other products, grossed millions of dollars. Newman and Woodward never received a dime from all of this stuff. All the money went to the kid’s camps they set up for underprivileged kids in Connecticut. The documentary also goes into Newman’s racing career. This film deals with a lot about these two people’s lives. It’s a very in-depth film.
It’s a rare thing that a film can get at the heart of who it’s depicting, and even though Hawke had to do this unconventionally, it still worked to perfection. The talking heads were a who’s who of Hollywood, and the people — or as he says, his friends — Hawke got to read the transcript were cool, and they benefited the film that much more. The interviews stopped in 1991, so that’s the end of the transcripts. This documentary was a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, and it was partly an accident due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder/EIC disappointment media