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Based on The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald, Harper was a big hit for Paul Newman. Interestingly, the main character’s original name is Lew Archer, but Newman thought “Harper” was better. The new “H” name was a nod to his other successful films Hud and The Hustler.
1. A star turned down the role.
Frank Sinatra was offered the lead, but he declined the part. However, Sinatra would play a detective a year later in Tony Rome followed by its sequel Lady in Cement.
2. Newman’s first wife has a part.
Jackie Witte Newman (credited as Jacqueline de Wit) appears with her ex-husband during the bar scene. The pair hadn’t had not acted together since doing summer stock shows. At the time, Newman was married to Joanne Woodward.
3. Newman was inspired by RFK.
Newman once said, “My own personality is so vapid and bland, I have to go steal the personalities of other people to be effective.” In this case, he borrowed from Robert F. Kennedy, who would often listen to people while looking away from them with a slight head tilt.