We have lost one of the greatest actors of our time. Paul Newman “died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near Westport,” according to the Associated Press. He was 83 years old.
Newman’s presence on the screen was magnetic, whether he was performing in Exodus (1960), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), The Verdict (1982), Road to Perdition (2002), or ... well, the list could go on and on. As Britain’s The Guardian notes, “He appeared in about 60 films over a period of 50 years.” In two of those, Newman played Ross Macdonald’s fictional private eye, Lew Archer (renamed Lew Harper for Hollywood): Harper (1966, adapted from 1949’s The Moving Target) and The Drowning Pool (1975). And in a third film, the 1998 noir thriller Twilight, he played another ex-cop turned private detective, Harry Ross, who could have been Archer/Harper at an older age. (That film, by the way, also featured James Garner, whose creds in the fictional P.I. field are equally strong.)
In addition to his screen work, the handsome, blue-eyed Newman was famous for his charitable contributions and his political activism. A strong and determined liberal, he wound up on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” supported Ned Lamont’s candidacy in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Primary race against turncoat Senator Joe Lieberman, contributed infrequently to The Nation, and would no doubt have loved to be around to see an end to George W. Bush’s presidency and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
This is a day for remembering all of Paul Newman’s fine work, in various arenas. But tonight will be spent at my house with Harper and Butch Cassidy in the DVD deck.