After an incredible premiere episode, The Last Movie Stars Chapter 2 continues the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. “A Star Is Born” begins as they star in their first film together shortly after marrying. (That would be The Long, Hot Summer.)
As in the first episode, archival footage, film clips, and home videos combine to show Newman and Woodward in all their glory. But there is also the element that makes this show unique: voice performances of the interview transcripts for a memoir Newman was planning but abandoned in 1986. This is the layer of this project that adds the most emotional resonance. Chapter 2 of The Last Movie Stars continues to provide interesting and emotional detail to connect the audience to a famous pair they may think they already know.
March of 1958 was a memorable month for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The first film they star in together was released; then Woodward won Best Actress at the Oscars for The Three Faces of Eve. Obviously, Newman was successful, but Woodward’s career was in a stronger position at this point. And Newman supported that. He felt inadequate as an actor, but it wouldn’t be long before his talent would be recognized. He would get his first Oscar nomination for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. Then, he got even bigger commercial and critical success with The Hustler in 1961.
They both completed more films, together and apart, and Newman’s star continued to rise. He recognized that the factor of sex appeal was undeniable in his career. And he credited Woodward for his sex symbol status, saying for his memoir, “There should be a parade in Joanne’s honor as creator of the symbol.” Throughout this time, the early evidence of the couple’s social conscience would appear. Paul and Joanne took part in the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, along with many other celebrities. This is a particular favorite moment of mine in The Last Movie Stars Chapter 2.
Career was not the only area of life presenting big changes for Newman and Woodward around this time. Their first child, Nell, was born in 1959. For me, the most touching revelation of this episode is when Paul talks about how he cried when Joanne gave birth to Nell, which he didn’t even do when his father died. Woodward, however, talks about the fact that her own mother wasn’t equipped to be good at being a mother. She even later dares to admit that though her children were “adored,” she believes that actors don’t make good parents. This was probably a natural reaction to the noticeable effect that having kids had on her career.
Since Newman had already been married before Woodward, he had three other children. The Last Movie Stars Chapter 2 features more of the conversations many of Newman’s children had with director Ethan Hawke. They don’t give much detail, but the viewer is left with the feeling that blending a family is difficult — even when you’re famous. More story awaits in future episodes of this show, particularly about family, and The Last Movie Stars has only gotten started telling it.
The Last Movie Stars is streaming on HBO Max.