One of Hollywood’s most enduring marriages begins on this day in 1958, when Paul Newman weds Joanne Woodward in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The two actors first met in the early 1950s while working in New York City on a Broadway production of the romantic drama Picnic. Newman had a supporting role and filled in for the show’s star, while Woodward was the understudy to the play’s female leads. They were both members of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actors Studio, alongside Marlon Brando, James Dean and Rod Steiger. After the play’s success, Newman and Woodward both headed to Hollywood, where he signed a contract with Warner Brothers and she began working with 20th Century Fox. Though Newman’s first film, The Silver Chalice (1954), was a bomb, he followed it up with an acclaimed turn as the boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). Woodward had even more early success, starring as a woman with multiple personality disorder in The Three Faces of Eve (1957). The role won her an Oscar for Best Actress.
In 1957, Newman was cast opposite Woodward and Orson Welles in The Long, Hot Summer (1958), a film set in a small, sweltering Mississippi town and based on short stories by William Faulkner. By the time filming ended, Newman and Woodward were discreetly living together. After Newman’s divorce from his first wife was finalized, the couple headed to Las Vegas, where they were married in January 1958. After the ceremony, the couple honeymooned at London’s Connaught Hotel.
Over the course of the next two decades, Newman starred in a series of critically acclaimed, commercially successful movies, most notably The Hustler (1960), Hud (1962), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and two blockbuster pairings with Robert Redford: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973). He and Woodward starred together in a number of films, including From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961) and A New Kind of Love (1963), none of which matched the success of The Long, Hot Summer. In 1968, Newman made his directorial debut with the film Rachel, Rachel. As the title character, Woodward garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, one of four total nominations that the film received.
Upon the film’s release, Newman remarked in the press that Woodward had “given up her career” for him, and that’s why he directed the movie “for her.” By that time, Woodward and Newman had three daughters and were living in Connecticut, far from the glare of the Hollywood spotlight. In addition to the diverse worlds of film and auto-racing (which Newman got involved with after starring in the 1969 film Winning), the couple was also active in liberal politics, lobbying for various causes and speaking publicly on behalf of Democratic candidates. Newman was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on a United Nations Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.
Throughout, the couple diligently defended the solidity of their marriage against press speculation, posing together for a LIFE magazine spread in 1968 and placing a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times the following year proclaiming that they were still happily together. The marriage weathered some hard times–they later admitted that their work together on The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds (1972), in which Newman again directed his wife, caused strain in the marriage–and sustained them through tragedy, as Newman’s son Scott died from a drug overdose in 1978.
In 1987, Newman once again directed his wife in the well-reviewed film The Glass Menagerie. That same year, he won his first Oscar, for Best Actor, after he reprised his Hustler role as Fast Eddie Felson in the Martin Scorsese-directed sequel, The Color of Money. In 1990, Newman and Woodward starred together for the 10th time, in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge; they also both appeared in the HBO movie Empire Falls (2005), but had no scenes together. By that time, Newman had turned another of his “hobbies”–a small salad-dressing company he started in 1982–into a retail empire, Newman’s Own, which would eventually generate more than $220 million in charitable donations and expand to include popcorn, pasta sauces, salsas and fruit drinks.
Newman and Woodward celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January 2008. Later that year, Newman was set to direct a stage production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut, where Woodward is the artistic director. He withdrew from the production in June, citing health reasons, and it was later reported that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Newman died on September 26, 2008, at the age of 83.