Tag Archives: Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman: Oscar Royalty

22 Feb

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Tonight I’ll be watching the Oscars like I always do with a sense of nostalgia for the glamorous stars of the past. A time when the Oscars were the biggest night in movies, the stars all congregated next to each other with their colleagues, handlers, friends, rivals and family members. And among them all, there is always the reigning power couple. Like them or not, Brad and Angelina are the reigning star-coupling. But for me, they can’t hold a candle to the once star-crossed duo of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

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Looking back now they seemed impossibly young and impossibly good-looking. They seemed destined for one-another, in love and in-like for all to see and envy. It’s a toss-up which one of them was more beautiful. But as far as talent, I think both Paul and Joanne were a very well-balanced couple. The fact that they endured and stayed together is even more a testament to their ability to put their egos, and the entertainment business in general, in check.

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They always seemed to have a sense of humility about their position in Hollywood. One that stemmed out of an understanding of just how ridiculous a lot of the industry is, how insular successful actors become, and a desire to not be anything more than what they were – working actors. It made them even more appealing to their fans and that much more infuriating to their detractors (the few they had).

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Paul and Joanne were smart folks, no doubt. They knew their star value and were able to parlay their fame into more then fortune, more than just a superficial affectation of movie star immortality. And because they gave back, they were role-models for stars that came after them. People who may not have had a philanthropic bone in their bodies but learned, like we all do, through mimicking our heroes, what it means to become a real hero to people. To help people you don’t know who are less fortunate than yourself, through no fault of their own.

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Joanne and Paul seemed to be the perfect couple and made their bond look effortless, at least in front of the cameras. I was never fortunate enough to meet them and confess that it doesn’t really make a difference to me how they were behind close doors. Like any couple, I’m sure they had their issues, arguments and hang-ups. To me, what’s important is that they really seemed to get each other, to like each other and provide a loving example for the rest of us mere mortals to strive for. That was their role, like it or not, as a power couple. To reign with benevolence and lead by their mutual sense of good will. And they pulled it off handsomely.

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Newman and Woodward were stars in their own right, both winning Oscars and both pursuing roles that challenged them as the artists they were. Along the way, they pulled off the almost unbelievable feat of getting better looking as they grew older. Paul’s blue eyes became deeper as his face filled out and Joanne’s porcelain-complexion seemingly defied age. They were comfortable with each other, comfortable in their own skin and comfortable in the legacy they built together as philanthropists. Their Newman’s Own Foundation has raised millions and will continue to do so for generations to come. Long after kids today will forget Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Three Faces of Eve – Newman’s Own will be in their refridgerators and on the dinner table, giving back and continuing a legacy that will always be part of Oscar’s yesteryear glory.

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I’ll watch the Oscars tonight and enjoy the spectacle, the glamor and reflect back on when the stars had faces. A time when the stars seemed to be a little loftier, a little higher in the sky and a lot easier to look up to as a result. Maybe it’s because I was younger, shorter and more gullible. Or maybe we’ve lost something that we need desperately both in Hollywood and the rest of the world today: a sense that people who are much for fortunate and successful than the rest of us – care and genuinely want to help out the little people who put them there.

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Katherine Ross: Sundance to Stepford Wife

3 Nov

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Thank god for the internet. Whatever else the internet may be it is definitely our species collective memory from now on forward. A visual and virtual archive of riches from the trivial to the earth-shattering. And on any given night, the internet provides a stroll down memory lane for a cinefile in love with leading ladies like myself. And that’s where Miss Ross comes in. I refuse to believe this fresh-faced, doe-eyes waif of a gorgeous woman is celebrating her 73 birthday this year! Katherine will always be one of the true beauties of the cinema and a goddess of the 60’s and 70’s when her look defined a generation. To me she defined the wholesome, bright and independent women who were emerging out of the 60’s sexual revolution. Her role in The Graduate opposite a very young Dustin Hoffman is only one example of Katherine embodying the changing attitudes and social morays that defined her generation – and subsequent generations to come – in trying to find their place in the world.

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But I wasn’t part of her generation. I came later and experienced Katherine Ross on a different, much more primal level. By the time I caught up to her, I was watching her visage on a tiny (we’re talking 20-inch screen) color TV. All I saw was a ravishingly-beautiful woman so photogenic that she appeared to glow from within. So beautiful, that I instantly wanted to know more about this person – way before the internet could make that instantaneous.

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My first blush with Katherine was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. A classic by any measure and one that captured Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Ross at the height of their physical and creative powers in a modern western fantasy. A fantasy in large part because of Katherine’s shear magnetism, magnified by her two leading men. Check out the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” scene with Paul and Katherine, a bicycle and a bull and tell me it doesn’t immediately put a smile on your face. The beauty of that filmic moment plays on in the mind like an amber-hued echo, no matter how old they were when they first saw it.

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Katherine wore a cowboy hat better than any cowboy ever could!

Of course, the true testament to a movie star will always come down to talent, no matter how beautiful and photogenic they are. Katherine Ross is a perfect example of this because her range was not limited to one specific genre. Name an actress who had a smash hit in a coming-of-age hit, a western and then segued to a sci-fi romp that would inevitably riff off the stereotype of beauty with no soul: in this case, men who replace their beautiful wives with beautiful, doppelganger robots!

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It’s perfect casting because Katherine Ross is perfect. Perfect in that her beauty could easily be her defining trait, but also in that there is much more below the surface. “The Stepford Wives” is one of those films that stands up over time because of a visual sensibility and because the casting was the best special effect so they didn’t muck it up with stupid effects. And Miss Ross is perfect in the role of a woman trying to break the ’70’s stereotype of a woman so beautiful that she must not have brains and talent and right to a life of her own. But most of all, the film is watchable by today’s standards because Katherine is so watchable. Because she elevates the material beyond the mediocre like only a true movie star can transcend time and space and make a connection to their audience, even decades later.

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And there’s my cue for Katherine Ross’s greatest quality: Timeless Beauty mixed with a tinge of sadness. Her eyes convey a soulfulness but also a certain melancholy that magnifies her outward perfection. Her stare is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It conveys (at least to me) that she wants to be respected, understood, loved and not trifled with. Projection, of course – but isn’t that what an actor at the top of their craft do with a single look? Capture and reflect back our own nature like a mirror for the soul? Katherine did this for her own generation and has been doing it ever since for those who see in her a collective sense of loss. Loss of meaning as in The Graduate, loss of the men she loves in Butch & Sundance; loss of our very humanity in The Stepford Wives. In each performance, Katherine embodied a character in the process of loss. And she did it so effortlessly that sometimes people forget what an amazing actress she was in addition to being a beauty for the ages.

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Katherine will always hold a special place in my heart from the days I first met her on that tiny little color TV. For me, she’ll never grow old but stay young and vibrant in the collective memory of several generations of moviegoers.

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Oh, and by the way – she’s still hot today at 73!!