April in Chicago — —this year, anyway — —is the cruelest month. On a dreary Monday-morning coming down just after the frenetic early-hour commuter boogie in the Loop, a pall of icewater rain, laced with stinging shards of birdshot sleet, is freezing the streets in a muddy glaze. Despite the vile weather, however, a crowd of about a thousand spectators is milling about in the high-vaulted waiting room at Union Station, an imposing, marble-appointed structure that falls architecturally somewhere between San Simeon and Lourdes.
The crowd, assembled behind police rope barriers, is orderly and polite, but hums with a muted expectancy. All these men, women and children——with the emphasis distinctly on women——are waiting in the waiting room to catch a glimpse of their fantasies fleshed out—to watch Paul Newman and Robert Redford and the English actor Robert Shaw enact a brief location scene for a $4.5 million-budgeted film about Depression-Era con men called The Sting.
Local media hawkshaws are in attendance in force, and several television crews are preparing to record the forthcoming event for a posterity that will extend at least unto the ten o’clock news. Hovering about from out of town, there’s also a toney lady from Time, Inc., a writer from San Francisco, and the critically-esteemed painter-turned-Land film photographer, Marie Cosindas, who, like Julia Child, is made possible by a grant from the Polaroid Corporation. Cosindas, a fragile-featured little woman swaddled to the throat in a black patent-leather greatcoat, ordinarily plies her career by jetting around the country capturing exquisitely-detailed portraits of dandies in the aspic of her Land film, but right now, waiting for the stars to appear, she’s snapping random faces in the crowd.
The lady from Time, Inc., is hopping from one foot to another, looking as if she might just wet her smart Gucci pantsuit at any moment. The reason for her distress, she tells the film’s unit publicist, is that she’s convinced——she knows in her bones——that Newman won’t grant her any time in private. “The last time he gave an interview worth the name,” she complains in a wail, “was in 1967.”
The publicist has troubles of her own — she’s lost her wallet, containing a couple of hundred dollars in cash and all her credit cards. “Maybe I dropped it in the cab,” she frets forlornly. “Or when Newman kissed my hand when I got out of it. Oh, my——what a dear price to pay.”
By mid-morning, the prop men have finished dressing the set, which is a Thirties-vintage newsstand displaying mint copies of such period magazines as Movie Pic, Crime Detective, Love Stories, Lady Beautiful, Air Classics, House Beautiful, Love Novelettes and Radio Guide. Georgia’s primordially racist “Our Gene” Talmadge smiles benignly off the cover of Time. As a final touch, an electrician hooks up a popcorn machine at the end of the newsstand counter, and an assistant director positions 30-odd extras costumed in Depression drag—the women rouged up, the men slicked down—among the oaken waiting room pews.
By now, George Roy Hill, the director who worked with Newman and Redford on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, is taking an experimental ride on a dolly to calculate whether the setup he has in mind will work. Wearing a baggy, mouse-colored cardigan and a saucily-tilted Alpine hat, Robert Surtees, the chunky little cinematographer who manned the camera on The Last Picture Show, is squinting through a viewfinder at Redford’s uncanny look-alike/stand-in, a young Southern California surfer-type named Greg. “Aw, c’mon, Bob,” Greg teases with a laugh, “roll a few feet, why don’t you. Some of my greatest moments come when I’m clickin’ the ol’ slate.”
A young sailor, his seabag at the heft, has somehow or other managed to wander behind the rope barricades, and he hesitantly taps Surtees on the shoulder. “Hey, what’s goin’ on?” he asks in a voice that hasn’t quite navigated its changes yet. “Gimme a rundown on the picture, would you, sir?” Surtees smiles and traces a finger along the bridge of his broad nose: “Um … well, do you remember The Hustler?” O-eyed, the boy nods yes and stammers that he saw the picture on TV. “Well, in The Hustler, it was pool. In this one, it’s poker. But it’s the same guy.”
Over in the crush of spectators, a fetching young secretary in a Tango ensemble of miniskirt, maxicoat, and high, glossy boots nudges her girlfriend excitedly: “Oh, I’m so thrilled. Nothing like this ever happens in Chicago! I’d even take Redford’s stand-in.” Then her eyes go wide and she squeals, “Oh, my God, look, look! Jesus Christ, it’s him! It’s Paul Newman Superstar!”
A susurrous moment of hush falls over the station as Newman, trailed by Redford and Robert Shaw, strolls down the center aisle toward the newsstand. Newman and Redford are both decked out in three-piece worsted suits and soft-crushed fedoras. Shaw, who plays a would-be classy New York racketeer in the film, is wearing a camel-hair topcoat and a black homburg, and he’s limping noticeably due to a recent spill on a handball court.
The eerie suspension of noise in the vast terminal sustains itself until Newman surveys the crowd with a jolting blue glance and flashes a dazzling smile to one and all. Then a pandemonium of cheers and applause breaks loose——quite literally, it’s a standing ovation. A little sheepishly, Newman acknowledges the crowd’s worshipful tribute by raising his hands like a champ in the ring, then cuts a beeline for the newsstand, where he helps himself to a double handful of popcorn and listens, head bent intently, snapping, electric eyes alert in concentration, to George Roy Hill’s instructions about the upcoming scene. It’s a relatively simple dolly shot showing a wordless but significant encounter between Newman and Redford, and Shaw and a retinue of burly actors portraying Shaw’s bodyguards.
Redford waves a general hello to the crew, embraces Marie Cosindas, who’s an old friend, and shakes hands with the writer from San Francisco, whom he’s also known previously. “My God, what a reception,” the publicist murmurs, looking a little shell-shocked by it all. Redford gestures self-effacingly—it’s one of his most appealing mannerisms—and glances fondly in Newman’s direction. “It’s Paul’s day, I guess,” he shrugs.
Near the edge of the crowd, a couple of middle-aged data analysts who work for the Milwaukee Road are still agog over the furor Newman’s arrival caused, too. “I used to go see Sinatra at the Paramount in New York when I was a kid,” one man tells the other, “and, my God, I never saw anything like that. I bet the temperature in here went up 22 degrees when Newman walked in.” “I never saw anything like it, either,” the second man says. “Myself, I think we ought to rope off that center aisle and never let anybody use it again.”
Ringed three-quarters around by avid faces, mostly women’s faces whose eyes are rapidly ping-ponging back and forth between Newman and Redford, the scene requires little more than an hour to shoot. From take to take, both Newman and Redford vary their dramatic business, and it’s obvious that they’re having fun and relishing each other’s company. When George Roy Hill declares the scene a wrap just before noon, Lee Paul, a baby-faced giant who plays one of Shaw’s bodyguards, loosens his tie and sniffs the air. “I smell pot’ he announces gleefully.
A longish-haired young trader from the Commodities Exchange, which is located in the building next to the terminal, introduces himself to Newman and offers to take him on a tour of the facility, which is the Midwestern equivalent of the Wall Street Stock Exchange. Newman tilts his fedora forward over one eye and grins: “Sure, why not? Sounds interesting. Man ought to be curious.”
When they hear where Newman’s going, Redford, Shaw and Hill all decide to tag along, too, and a police escort is assembled. On the way to the exchange, which involves traversing several heavily-traveled corridors and stairwells, Newman picks up a Pied Piper-like entourage of followers, numbering at times around 300 people. Everybody wants to touch him, as if to reassure themselves that he really exists. Nobody attempts to separate him from his clothes, but the men scramble for the opportunity to shake his hand, and the women jockey for position to pat him on the arm, the shoulder, the back. To those who ask him for his autograph, Newman politely but firmly declines, muttering some variant of “I’m waging a one-man war against autographs.”
The Commodities Exchange, which deals in such profit-skimming intangibles as pork belly and grain futures, is a huge hall with an open pit for bidding, a floor that resembles the aftermath of an explosion in the National Archives, and electronic tote boards that soar two stories high. Upon Newman’s entry, the action on the boards …… stops. Hundreds of traders and their secretaries leave off trading money——the sole purpose and function of the exchange——and crowd around Newman, angling for a glimpse of him, a touch of him, a word from him.
An expensively-tailored executive-type who carries himself with stern authority elbows his way up to Newman, causing all the traders nearby to take a respectful step backwards. The man extends his business card to Newman and says, rather imperiously, “I’d like your autograph, please. For my wife.”
Politely, but without accepting the card, Newman explains that he doesn’t sign autographs.
Newman’s tour guide, the longish-haired trader, coughs delicately into his palm: “Uh, Mr. Newman, I’d like to introduce you to, uh, Mr. E.P. Harris. Mr. Harris is, uh, the president of the Commodities Exchange.”
Newman blinks, then gingerly accepts the card between thumb and forefinger. He studies it a moment, then slips it in his breast pocket. Then he winks and leans forward gravely to whisper in Harris’ ear, “Maybe I’ll mail it to you, pal.”
* * *
Due to Mayor Daley’s tightfisted municipal fiscal policies and various union conflict, the filming of big-budget film productions is a rarity in Chicago, and the local television fare that evening reflects the city’s keenly aroused interest in the presence of the Sting troupe. Channels 5 and 7 compete for the eight o’clock movie-viewing audience by pitting The Secret War of Harry Frigg, starring Paul Newman, against Situation Hopeless, But Not Serious, starring Robert Redford. And, on the news at ten on Channel 2, prominent coverage is given to the day’s filming activities at Union Station. Sipping scotch with a couple of guests and his wife, the much-acclaimed English actress Mary Ure, Robert Shaw watches the report with a beetled brow in the elegantly-appointed sitting room of his suite——the “Eva Gabor Suite”——at the Ambassador Hotel. Shaw is wearing maroon velveteen flares, and Mary, a striking blonde who laughs often and easily, an eye-catching blue-and-white checked pantsuit. A huge cream-colored porcelain stove warms the room.
“The movie stars finally made it to Chicago,” the announcer intones in a voice-over of footage showing the waiting crowd at the terminal, “and although they are not anxious to have much publicity, we found them filming at Union Station. In fact, Union Station hasn’t looked so good in years. The catch is, in the movie The Sting, it’s supposed to be New York’s Central. Maybe that’s why they had to rope off the real Chicago straining to hear the sounds of lights, camera, action.
“Suddenly, it’s 1936 and a con man ambles down the aisle—that wide-brim hat gives him away—a face you’ve seen many times, but can’t remember his name. I did remember what Robert Redford looked like, even at 50 yards. He was over there near the camera and director, listening to instructions being given to Paul Newman. I remembered him, too, from the McCarthy campaign. We’ll be able to see him in a minute—there he is.
“The secretaries would squeal every time he’d pass. One even broke through the lines just to touch him; it makes one pause to write off moviemaking as glamorous and exciting—all those people waiting to be thrilled.
“And then, even before I could get his autograph, it was over. The lights went out, and so did Newman, who must have seen more Chicago policemen today than the character he’s playin—g—a 1936 small-time hood. No violence in today’s shooting, not even as Paul Newman tried to get through the crowd to have lunch.
“The movie is named The Sting, which might sum up the feeling of the director when he saw today’s weather. Well, that’s show business——at least, that’s what they say in Hollywood.”
A commercial for Primateen tablets flashes on the screen, and Shaw snorts and hobbles across the room to turn off the set, favoring his game leg at each step. “Well, then,” he enunciates in a crisp English baritone as he limps back to his seat beside Mary and his scotch, “let’s do have our drink, and let’s just let me think about all this … Hmn, I wonder … I was going to say that Newman is, in a sense, one of the film stars in the proper sense of the word. I mean, especially in this country today. I mean, who knows what would’ve happened if we hadn’t had any police, and he and Redford had just entered the stock exchange or whatever it is without any escort? In other words, if no attention had been drawn at all, possibly nobody would’ve noticed this respectable middle-aged man with a mustache—they mayn’t have recognized him at all, do you see? But since attention was drawn, everybody came out, and it was Newman that they shouted about—it was not Redford. Myself—” Shaw grimaces wryly—”I found myself grappling in the wake at the back. With my broken leg.”
Mary peals with laughter: “Oh, poor dear, I feel so sorry for you, Robert.”
“Well, I felt absurd, you know. I was trying to keep up, and I became separated from the police escort, and when I got to the stock exchange, I had to explain who I was in order to get in.”
“With that suspicious look on your face, I’m not surprised,” Mary trills, clapping her hands.
“Yes, well, precisely. But I did notice that it was Newman everywhere we passed through. I mean, I picked up about two fans on the way, and those two ladies guided me back to the station, and with great joy they introduced me to people along the way— ‘This is Mr. Robert Shaw’—and none of these absolute layers of girls knew who the hell I was. But they all recognized Newman, to be sure. I mean, everybody would come up and kind of swoon over him, but they didn’t in Redford’s case, not at all. It was very noticeable to me.
“There’s no question about it——that was a pretty powerful reaction. I mean, it’s never happened to me, except years ago when I was in television. Then it happens to you. But I found it absolutely amazing that those businessmen should stop their transactions——I presume they dropped thousands of dollars in trade——simply because of Newman’s presence.
“It’s all very weird, because I found about ten people spoke to me, all of them talking about From Russia with Love, which is a picture I did, for Christ’s sake, about 12 years ago in which I didn’t even speak. I mean, it makes you wonder about all the things you’ve done in between.
“What I think it is in Newman’s case is that his image is so constant from picture to picture. As John Wayne’s is, also. That really is the ‘movie star’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all, that’s just what it is.”
Mary takes a sip of scotch and turns toward Shaw: “Explain something to me. Do people therefore feel that he is unreal, or realer, or … I don’t quite understand. I mean, what is it your ordinary person feels about this?”
Shaw gestures airily: “Well, it’s the same reaction as if any fairy tale princess came to town. That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s like when we were children, and we went to see the queen, I mean to say. Obviously, he carries for them enormous glamour.”
“And they’re gratified to see that one of their fantasy creatures exists in flesh and blood,” Mary muses.
“Exactly. But the same would presumably happen to any really top-class sportsman. The same would have happened if Lee Trevino had gone through there, or Jack Nicklaus——”
It’s being a pop figure, one of the guests suggests.
“Precisely,” Shaw nods emphatically. “It has nothing to do with anything else but that aspect.”
“Are they curious as to whether he’s approachable?”
“Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure they’re very flattered that it’s their town he’s come to visit. That’s what I mean by the queen——because when she comes to tour old Cornwall and launch a ship, everybody in that town will turn out.
“The fact is, I’ve only played two scenes with Newman. I’ve worked with better and worse actors, and, ah … I’m pretty secure in that area. Insecure in other areas, such as alcohol and sex and things like that. But in terms of the professional arena, I don’t fear anybody, really, at all.
“Boldness has nothing to do with acting. Newman is a movie star, I say. I know better actors and I know worse actors, you know what I mean? He absolutely has a quality which is remarkable when it’s on the screen. And that seems to be something that hasn’t particularly to do with him as a person or anything else. I recognize it—it’s very powerful. I’ve known it in other people. And it’s nothing to do with intelligence, although Newman is a pretty intelligent guy. I don’t know how we relate to this curious sort of stark quality or whatever …
… “Look——what I mean is, you cannot define this kind of magnetism that he has any more than you can define a kind of animal magnetism that Olivier has, or one or two others. But he has it. I don’t know exactly what it is. Fucked if I know what it is, but it’s very strongly there. And, ah … it’s a quality that’s so powerful that I don’t know where it comes from. A lot of very good actors don’t have it at all, yet I’m questioning myself because I don’t know if it’s been built up in my mind as a bit of a myth by now. I mean, I don’t know what I would’ve thought, you know, if he’d have come into this room when he was 18 or something. I certainly don’t feel in any way as an actor that he’s overawing at all. I tell you candidly that what he does always seems to me to be better in the dailies than I think it is at the time. That’s because of the very quality we’re talking about. There’s something photogenic——a chemistry. What the hell is it? I don’t know,— but he certainly has it. If Newman were a completely unknown actor and had two lines in a potboiler, he would absolutely stand out.”
Speaking of potboilers, one of the guests says, Redford and Newman had one each on the tube this very evening.
“Who do you suppose wrote Situation Hopeless?” Mary inquires brightly. “Ta-dah! My husband!”
“Oh, no, not the movie,” Shaw groans, clutching his throat. “It was originally called The Hiding Place … my first novel. [Shaw has written five novels and two plays.] I’ve never seen the movie. I’ve never seen it because I was so shocked when I read the script that I …
“That was the first time I met Redford. I was in a play called The Physicist on Broadway, and he was in that comedy we did with Jane Fonda—oh, what was the name of it?”
“Barefoot in the Park,” Mary puts in helpfully.
“That’s it. And Redford came to me and said that he’d just read the book and was going to Germany to do the film, except he said the script didn’t seem so good to him, so maybe I should read it. I did——it’s been turned into a dreadful zany comedy——and that’s the reason I haven’t seen the film.”
“A friend of ours,” Mary purrs, “said that Robert is the only intellectual he’d ever met who could also act.”
“Well,” Shaw harrumphs, “there are plenty of intelligent actors—”
“Oh, yes, yes, there are plenty of intelligent actors, but I wouldn’t say that they are very intellectual. I mean, like Olivier. You’d never say he was an intellectual, but he’s absolutely monkey-shrewd as a human being and as an actor.”
“Hmn. I think that Newman and Olivier are, in some ways, very similar people. In that charismatic, in that animal sense. I think all their best effects are instinctive, and they’re great technicians.”
Shaw laughs drolly: “Newman, I must say, is a kind man. Occasionally, he expresses concern about my leg. On the other hand, Redford couldn’t give a shit if my leg falls off at the hip.”
“Robert!” Mary cries in mock alarm.
“It’s true. Newman really remembers it every now and again. But as far as Redford’s concerned, if you drop out of the posse, that’s it. You crawl up the mountain trail on your own.”
Mary convulses with laughter: “Oh, Robert——I can just see you hanging on to those reins … with your legs flinging out behind!”
“I wish I hadn’t injured my leg because I would have loved to play tennis with Redford. I hear he’s quite good.” “Robert is quite good, very good,” Mary assures the guests. “I am, yes. I mean, I’m quite good. I could beat Paul in my present condition.”
“Robert! That’s not true——you couldn’t beat anybody.”
“Of course I could. Oh, yes, I could. I’d stand on the baseline with Newman. That wouldn’t be too hard. You can tell those kinds of things. Redford, on the other hand, is the type who serves and moves up.”
“Well, perhaps Paul doesn’t fancy himself a competitor in sports. Perhaps he——”
“Of course. A lot of those kind of actors aren’t, you know. Olivier’s the same, Burton’s the same, Paul Scofield’s the same. You can never actually nail them, you see, because, as Redford would say, in a foot race, there’s only one winner. In the area of the arts, who is to say, you know?”
“Not that I know Newman, but you’re absolutely right about the other men I’ve worked with. They all have this extraordinarily elusive quality that you cannot nail down. I mean, I think Scofield is the most competitive of the lot, although you’d never think it because of his gentle exterior.”
Shaw drains off his scotch and tents his fingers in front of his face, peering through the interstices of his fingers: “Competitive as an actor, you mean?”
“Well, yes, that’s his whole life. He hasn’t got anything else, has he?”
“But he wouldn’t play me at table tennis if I gave him a 17-point start.”
“Of course he wouldn’t play at table tennis. He’s not interested.”
“I know——it’s the fear of defeat.”
“Harold Pinter’s a great competitor, too, in every way, don’t you agree?”
Shaw belly-laughs: “Well, you always know where you are with Pinter. He’s a very basic, private man who always says exactly what he thinks. He’s a kind of Jewish Redford, hah!”
Shaw limps over to the bar to pour himself another drink.
“Yes,” he muses in a brooding tone, “I could beat Newman from the baseline. But if Redford and I were ever to play tennis, one of us would, ahem … die.”
The next morning, the foul weather persists, but Newman and the film company attract another large crowd of onlookers outside the elegant old barber shop in the Illinois Central depot. “You waiting for Redford?” an assistant director asks George Roy Hill. Chewing dreamily on a wad of gum, Hill rolls his eyes in mock exasperation: “Who’re we always waiting for?” When Redford arrives a few minutes later, the film troupe applauds to a man.
The scene, showing Redford and Newman getting manicures in the barber shop, is quickly dispatched, and as the cumbersome camera equipment is being trundled away to the next location site at the La Salle Street depot, Newman waggles a beckoning finger at the writer from San Francisco. “Redford tells me you’re OK,” he says with an easy smile. “Whyn’t you ride back with us to the hotel and we’ll pop a couple of cold ones.” The toney lady from Time, Inc., who’s standing within earshot, takes on the look of someone who’s contemplating opening a major vein.
Walking with Redford and the writer to the Teamster-driven limo that will drive them to the Ambassador Hotel, Newman waves gaily to the people behind the rope barricades who are calling out to him and mutters out of the corner of his mouth, “I’m always just faintly embarrassed by all this, if that makes any sense. I mean, yesterday, we apparently stopped the market. It’s like sticking a gun in your mouth. I had no idea it was going to be like that. Whew.”
In the car, Redford, scowling, complains at length about film critics and writers.
“Ah, nobody reads that shit,” Newman scoffs. “But also, I guess it’s kind of hard on journalists. I’m sure there are a lot of times in the Time/Life situations where you’re sucked into a common form. The real bad ones, I gather, are the ladies magazines——Home Journal, Redbook——”
“It’s funny—the critics for Time magazine, the movie critics there all seem interchangeable. It’s because the style is so definite. They must impose a style.”
“Hah!” Newman snorts. “I took off on Jay Cocks on the Cavett show. I did him in.”
“Yeah, he’s a punk, Cocks. He’s one of those guys who’s never been anywhere. He’s never been to the Bahamas, and yet he wears leathers, long hair, you know … Again, those guys who want to be in Hollywood, I wish they’d just go and settle there and write a script or whatever it is they want to do.”
“I said the worst thing about Cocks,” Newman says with a ghoulish cackle. “I said he’s cute. He writes cute. That’s really got to set the guy on edge, you know. That must be the worst thing you could call a writer.
“The thing is, when they’re really down on something, they——Take Gamma Rays, which I just did with Joanne [Woodward, Newman’s wife]. Vincent Canby of the Times obviously hated the play. He hated the play so badly that he was stammering. He hated the play so much he couldn’t see the movie. To the point where there was nothing in the picture. I shot it in Bridgeport, you know, and I filmed what was there. It’s a terribly depressing little town—the mayor calls it the armpit of New England. But Canby had to hate everything about the picture, so in his review he even had to quarrel with my choice of where to shoot it. Whew—such bullshit.” Newman grimaces and drains off the last of his beer.
“Well, I think the end of us all is going to be Pauline Kael,” Redford mutters darkly as the limo swings into the auto portal at the hotel. “She claimed that in the end of Jeremiah Johnson, I was giving the Indian the finger. The finger, for Christ’s sake.”
Newman laughs and stretches forth his hand: “In the last scene? When you were going like this?”
“Yeah, I just reached my hand out. That, she claimed, was the final blow, the final insult. When I read that, I realized that she was so out of line, she was so bent that she’s probably a woman who ought to be locked up somewhere, you know. When you get that balled up, it’s bye-bye time.”
* * *
Redford goes his separate way for lunch and upstairs in the corridor outside his suite on the hotel’s ninth floor, Newman fumbles through the various pockets of his suit, searching for his room key. “I’ve got a memory like a sieve,” he says with a rueful smile. “Maybe I didn’t even bring it. No, here it is, here we go.”
Inside the suite, Newman sails his fedora onto the couch, gestures for the writer to make himself comfortable, dashes cold water on his face in the bathroom, fetches two icy Heineken’s beers from the mini-fridge in the bedroom, and makes two brief phone calls to business associates. Then he plops down in a wingback chair facing the couch and takes a long, satisfying tap of his beer.
Remembering Robert Shaw’s curiosity about Newman of the evening before, the writer asks Newman if he’s bored with his charismatic superstar status.
“No …… I’m not bored by it. You can’t be bored by it. You can be plenty embarrassed by it, though, because what they’re applauding has nothing to do with me. They’re applauding Harper, Hombre, Hud——all those celluloid manifestations of what I’m supposed to be like. But those characters were created by writers. They were interpreted by me as an actor, but they were created by writers, and they have nothing to do with me. That’s why it’s embarrassing, because people don’t seem to be willing to separate the allure of the character and the actor who plays him.”
The phone rings.
“Yes?” Newman answers. “Yes, ma’am…. … Two hours to Detroit? But it’s two hours from New York, too …… Must be the time change, yeah …… And that’s United …… OK, I’ll see how we do tonight, and I’ll call you back tomorrow. Thanks very much.”
Newman hangs up the receiver and sinks back down in the wingback chair, propping one wing-tipped shoe against the marble-topped coffee table.
“Anyway …… where were we? Oh, yeah——acting. It’s funny, because I never knew what to make out of all that. I mean, I suppose you could say there’s been one constant in my life, and that, of course, has been the theater. It annoyed me, actually, because it was the only thing I had any talent for, even as a kid. I would’ve loved to have been a professional athlete of one kind or another, but I had no talent for it at all. So from the time when I was just a little kid, I was always in something——school plays in Shaker Heights, repertory theater in Cleveland, one thing or another.
“Then I gave it up for six or seven years. My family was very upper-class, half Catholic, half Jewish. Oddly enough, I was raised as a Christian Scientist, but that didn’t really take on me. My boyhood was cloistered, I suppose. My father owned a sporting goods store in Cleveland——one of the greatest sporting goods stores in the country. It’s no longer in the family. After my father died, my brother ran it for awhile, but —then the family sold it, and my brother became a film production engineer.
“I mean, it’s so funny to trace these things,” “Newman reflects, tugging at his neatly-clipped mustache. “It always seems to me that most things are accidental. There’s so much accident in getting places. You know—being in the right place at the right time, falling into a certain kind of vacuum. It’s all an incredible sham.
“After high school, I enrolled in Kenyon College, but just about then World War II broke out and I enlisted in the Navy. I served three years as a radioman-gunner. The combat situation was …… well, we got a few submarine patrols and so forth when we were flying torpedo planes out of Okinawa and Guam.
“After the war, I went back to Kenyon, on the GI Bill. That’s where I got heavily involved in the whole thing of theater again. That came about because I got thrown off the football team, and also thrown in the clink. What happened was, we were six guys on the football team, and we got into a brawl with some locals, and we all got thrown in the clink. Three of the guys were thrown out of school, and two of us were left on probation. All the guys who were thrown out graduated Phi Beta Kappa from some other university. Hah!
“Oh, God, it was really funny. It was a funny night. Brawls were fun in those days, you know. Like I got a black eye or a busted nose or something, but what the hell? There was a kind of gallantry about it.
“Anyway, the cops rousted us, and the next thing I knew it was morning and I woke up in the clink. I remember that the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which, of course, is the big newspaper where I come from, had a story on the lower two columns of the front page——Kenyon College in Trouble Again. Christ, I mean, we lost our quarterback, tackle, halfback, you name it.
“In my case, it was no great loss. I was one of the worst football players in the history of Kenyon. I was a defensive linebacker, and I weighed 152 pounds. Crunch——oh, man, I used to get hit.”
Grinning, Newman broken-field sprints into the bedroom and returns with two more frosty bottles of beer.
“Well, that was an accident, see what I mean? Getting thrown in the jug, that was accidental. Because I had given up the theater—I was an economics major at the time. So, I mean, because of that quirky little thing of getting bounced off the team, I had nothing to do with my free time, so I just went down and read for a play. That started it, really. That was at the beginning of my junior year, and I did ten plays between then and graduation, including lighting, directing, and starring in a musical.
“All of that was an accident. Then you go to the point when my father died, which left me with no further obligation to continue on with the tradition of the family business. That left me free to go to the Yale Drama School. After I left Yale, I walked into major part in Picnic, a play that won the Pulitzer Prize and ran for 14 months. That was luck. If that play hadn’t been successful——I was married to my first wife by then, and had two children——I don’t know if I could’ve stayed in the theater. I mean, a play that would last 14 months and” make you financially independent for a^= couple of years and give you time to study——I had 14 months to study by myself at the Actor’s Studio——that’s absolute luck.
“And the Actor’s Studio was fabulous in those days. Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan were still teaching there in those days. Jimmy Dean was there, Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson. It was very exciting. I learned more in those 14 months of studying there than I did in the 25 years that preceded it. Easy. Because, you see, when I came to New York, I was really collegiate Also, I’d just gone through a terrible bomb of a movie. Luckily I was already in the play before it was released. That was a clinker called The Silver Chalice, my first picture. That’s the one I took the ad out in the trades warning people not to watch on TV in L.A. Except that move backfired, and everybody watched it to see what I was talking about.” —
Newman takes a hit of his beer and squirms around uneasily in his chair.
“Listen,” he blurts, “am I boring you? I mean, I wish I could come up with some reflections about all this. Repeating the history of my career, you know, almost bores me, so I always have the feeling that I must be boring the shit out of the other guy. No? You sure? OK.
“Well, I mean, I try not to have too much of a fat head about myself. Actually, the advantage that Redford and I have had is that it’s a very, very slow process making it up the ladder. I first appeared professionally as an actor in 1950, and this is 23 years later. And you can’t get a fat head from that kind of thing, because it happens very, very slowly. The people I feel sorry for are the instant celebrities, the guys like Mark Spitz. I figure those guys have got a very, very tough time of it.
“Oh, sure, it’s flattering to your ego to have droves of women flocking after you. At first, anyway—but then I’m happily married and have been for a long time. I remember first noticing that beginning to happen to me when we were filming Hud down in Texas. I mean, women were literally trying to climb through the transoms at the motel. It was a bad scene, really, ’cause there were all these teenyboppers coming from hundreds of miles around. And there was a junior college right close by——that’s where a lot of the problems came from. Some of the guys on the crew were taking these young ladies to their rooms and feeding them beer and booze and … Somebody finally called in the vice squad.
“God, I remember this one broad was banging on my door at three o’clock in the morning for about 15 minutes.” Newman grins lopsidedly. “Finally, I had to let her out. I felt so old.”
The writer asks Newman, who used to be touted by studio flacks as the “New Brando,” his opinion of Brando’s method of declining the Oscar.
“First, I’ve got to tell you, I had fun with that comparison thing between Brando and me. When I first went out to Hollywood and everybody was referring to me as the ‘road company Brando’ and things like that, I found it was kind of interesting, ’cause that’s what I consider lazy journalism. It’s very easy for them to say, ‘Well, so-and-so’s a young Bill Holden’ or ‘a young Bette Davis’ or any of that. I liked to nail those guys, and it’s very simple to do. You ask them, ‘What is Marlon’s basic quality? What does he carry within himself?’ Well, they’re absolutely stumped, and they flop around a lot, and I ask, ‘Well, what do you think my basic quality is?’ And they wouldn’t know that, either. They didn’t have the vaguest idea of what Marlon’s focus is, which is eruptability. Eruptability is always in the potential of the masses-type hero. And the quality that I carry is Ivy League—Shaker Heights and like that.
“On the Oscar thing——I’m not a member of the Academy, by the way——there’s