Love Behind the Scenes: Newman and Woodward

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward had a love for the ages.

The two met when their careers were just beginning. In 1953, they were cast in the Broadway play, Picnic – him in a supporting role and her as the female lead’s understudy.

Recalling the first time she saw him, Woodward said, “Out steps this bandbox creature in this gorgeous arrow collar and seersucker suit. [He] looked like he had just been kept on ice.”

While there was mutual interest, it was during the performances that sparks started to fly.

Every night, while the leads danced on stage during a scene, Newman and Woodward danced backstage. Paul felt awkward dancing, so Joanne practiced the sequence with him, a dance which was intended to show the main characters’ attraction to each other.

“It’s how Joanne and I fell in love,” Newman revealed.

At the time, however, Newman was married with children. It would be several years before their relationship became official, after he received a divorce.

Along with a new romance, the pair was also on the verge of Hollywood success.

Woodward was the first to breakout thanks to her role in The Three Faces of Eve where she played a woman with multiple personalities. The demanding part was scary, since nothing quite like it had been done on the screen before. The challenge, of course, was bringing to life three distinct personalities – a feat that Joanne accomplished by changing the way her body moved. Not only was her performance critically acclaimed, but it also earned her an Academy Award in 1958.

Meanwhile, Newman struggled to find to his niche. Auditions for East of Eden and Oklahoma! lead nowhere, and in many ways, the films that he was cast in were parts which other rising actors had declined. He finally landed a meaningful role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, a movie which was meant to star James Dean, before his tragic death. While he wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, it proved that he was ready for the spotlight.

And audiences were paying attention to the couple, especially when they had the chance to work together in The Long, Hot Summer.

Newman said, “It was just wonderful to be able to go out and do with Joanne in public what we’d longed to do in public for years, to put on the screen what had already been discovered privately between us.”

Working together proved to be a joy for the married couple.

In a joint interview, Woodward recalled, “All during the picture, we laugh at each other [even though] we’re at each other’s throats in every scene. Of course, there’s something nice I think about being able to fight with your husband and get paid for it.”

“Well, like Stanislavski said, art is never accidental,” Newman said with a laugh.

Throughout their careers, Newman and Woodward made 16 films, three Broadway productions, and many televisions shows together. They even imprinted their hands and feet on the same cement slab at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1963, the second couple to do so.

As their family grew, Woodward chose to pause her career at certain moments to care for their children, while Newman remained active, even becoming a national star thanks to his looks. Interestingly, he always credited his wife for bringing his sexual tension to the screen.

“There should be a parade in Joanne’s honor as the creator of the symbol,” he said.

 “When I go and see him in films, I get a whole thing about him too,” Woodward said with a smile.

While many saw theirs as the perfect marriage, the couple admitted that, like any relationship, it took work.

Paul said, “Joanne and I have had our hurdles. Sometimes Joanne was just as adolescent as I was.”

Similarly, she said, “There were times when Paul and I both had to hang in, when it felt like that the marriage wouldn’t last another day. We had to step outside of ourselves and become aware of three things that were operating – my ego, his ego, and our ego. For the relationship to survive, we had to put the his and hers on hold and just go for the our.”

Woodward and Newman were married until his death 2008. In the end, their mutual respect and admiration for each other was the key to their relationship.

When asked if he was ever tempted to stray, Newman wisely replied, “I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?”