On this day in 1967, Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman as a tough, anti-authoritarian, poker-playing prisoner, debuts in theaters. Newman received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the jail-breaking Luke Jackson, whom the American Film Institute in 2003 named one of the top 50 greatest movie heroes in history. For his role as the chain-gang boss, Dragline, co-star George Jackson collected a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Voyage of the Damned, The Amityville Horror, The Pope of Greenwich Village), Cool Hand Luke contained the now-famous lines: “What we have here is a failure to communicate” and “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I have my plastic Jesus, right here on the dashboard of my car…”
At the time of Cool Hand Luke’s debut, Paul Newman was already on the path to becoming one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. The actor, who was born January 26, 1925, in Cleveland and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later graduated from Kenyon College. He acted on Broadway in the early 1950s and made his big-screen debut in 1954’s The Silver Chalice. Newman received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Brick Pollitt in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, based on the Tennessee Williams play and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor. Newman’s next two Best Actor Oscar nominations came for The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963).
In 1969, the famously blue-eyed actor teamed up with Robert Redford to play a pair of Old West bank robbers in the hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The two handsome screen icons collaborated again in 1973’s The Sting, which collected seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Newman went on to star in such movies as Absence of Malice (1981) and The Verdict (1982), both of which earned him Best Actor Oscar nominations, and The Color of Money (1986), for which he took home his first Best Actor Oscar. In the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, Newman plays Fast Eddie Felson, a pool hustler who finds a protege in a young player portrayed by Tom Cruise. In the later years of his acting career, Newman also received Oscar nominations for his performances in Nobody’s Fool (1994) and Road to Perdition (2002), with Tom Hanks.
Newman, who outside of acting was known for his avid interest in race-car driving and his Newman’s Own line of foods (the profits of which go to charity), also stepped behind the camera to direct such movies as Rachel, Rachel (1968), which starred his second wife, Joanne Woodward (the couple married in 1958 and starred in 10 movies together) and earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and The Glass Menagerie (1987), which featured Woodward and John Malkovich. Paul Newman died at his home in Westport, Connecticut, on September 26, 2008, at the age of 83.