The allure of a gorgeous, talented movie star is magnified when two of them marry each other. The Last Movie Stars understand this as it celebrates Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Each episode of the documentary gives equal weight to both of these actors, so the title of Chapter 3 refers to the height of Newman’s fame and its effects.
Woodward’s work took more of a backseat to Newman’s as they had more children. But Newman also begins his occasional forays into directing during this period and takes Woodward with him. You could say that their legendary status becomes solidified during these years. The Last Movie Stars Chapter 3 gives insight and depth into an important part of Newman and Woodward’s lives.
It is almost impossible to overstate the level of fame Paul Newman was experiencing by the late 1960s. When the Beatles were asked which star they were excited to meet, Ringo said “Paul Newman” if that tells you anything. Newman had more Oscar nominations under his belt and tons of female adoration. Even Woodward says in an interview that she gets “that ‘whoo’ thing” about him when she watches him! That’s the kind of relatable thing this series gives us through its mix of source materials.
The background about Newman’s early life in Chapter 3 is completely engaging. There’s fascinating detail regarding what Newman referred to as his “half-Jewish” heritage and how it influenced him. And the myth of Sisyphus is evoked as an analogy for how he felt about his relationship with his mother.
It’s slightly bittersweet to learn about his first marriage, considering how much of an iconic pairing he and Woodward turned out to be. However, the way Newman’s children with his first wife talk about Joanne in The Last Movie Stars Chapter 3 is heartwarming. Stephanie actually got Joanne’s name tattooed on her arm and says Joanne is the “best thing” that happened to them. It’s just wonderful to hear someone say that about their stepmom.
This time was a particularly fertile one for the quality of work Newman and Woodward were doing. After an Oscar nomination for Cool Hand Luke, Newman took the director’s chair for the first time for Rachel, Rachel with Woodward in the lead role. After Best Picture and Best Actress nominations for that film, Newman went on to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Quite an impressive stretch.
To hear the opinions and anecdotes of people like director Martin Ritt on Newman’s work is a real treat for film buffs like me. Fun facts you didn’t know pop up here quite often. Luke director Stuart Rosenberg recalls Newman being “too good” in the first take of the banjo song scene. And did you know that Woodward is the one who suggested Robert Redford for The Sundance Kid?
It must be a gratifying feeling for an actor to be in a position to go beyond steady work and developing fame to just honing your craft. That is where Newman and Woodward are as the events of Chapter 3 come to a close. The director of this series, Ethan Hawke, takes advantage of the talents of his actor friends to voice transcripts of interviews for a memoir Newman started in the 1980s but never finished. The actors also take the time to talk about Newman and Woodward’s roles, and that insight is one element that makes The Last Movie Stars so special.
The Last Movie Stars is streaming on HBO Max.