Leveraging his insights as a film critic, Levy observes, “He could be caught out working his machinery deliberately in a number of films – stiffness and calculation somewhat limited even the best performances of his first decade or so in the movies.”
But it didn’t matter. Newman more than compensated with an innate presence and facial features that made one wonder whether his family lineage could be traced back to Mt. Olympus.
Levy shares numerous anecdotes about how women treated the star’s blue eyes as if they were a Smithsonian exhibit, constantly asking him to remove his sunglasses. No wonder Newman yearned to be a character actor. As such, he shied away from playing a romantic lead and gravitated toward characters with an antiauthoritarian streak, choices that allowed him to transition from the traditional fare of Hollywood’s golden age into edgier productions that appealed to the hippie generation..
“He fit in precisely with neither the Greatest Generation nor the Baby Boomers but represented instead a vital link in the American century – a band of men who were meant to inherit a system that was no longer reliably in place by the time their fathers willed it to them,” writes Levy. “Torn by the conflicting impulses to rule and rebel, his was arguably the pivotal generation of the twentieth century, and Newman, almost unconsciously, was its actor laureate.”
Bit by bit, Newman steadily improved as an actor. By his 40s, cinema’s very own Dorian Gray was able to mete out immensely popular hits – “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting,” and “The Towering Inferno” – in between a surprising number of duds. Eventually, though, the flops began to stack up and the star became bored with acting. Worse, Newman had to repair his marriage after a two-year affair and, later, he suffered the devastating loss of his son to drug abuse.