Paul Newman memoir stuns with brutal honesty

Douglass K. Daniel

“The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir” by Paul Newman (Knopf):

Paul Newman may have been a better actor than many moviegoers realized. Self-assured in his talents the Oscar winner was not. A sexual ace with the ladies? hard Nor was he the devoted husband and family man presented to the public.

Newman grappled with alcoholism, too, and the man who famously played fun-loving Butch Cassidy could turn into an ugly drunk before passing out. After he became a social activist in the 1960s and ’70s he considered getting into politics, but thought his drinking might become an issue. The movie star who craved privacy had a lot to keep private.

Says who? Newman himself, in “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man,” a stunning memoir by an actor who could convincingly play a charismatic but self-destructive outsider because he knew the breed all too well. Just watch “The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” or “Nobody’s Fool.”

Newman, who died in 2008 at age 83, began working on a memoir in 1986 with a pal and confidant, writer Stewart Stern. After several years of effort that included recorded interviews with relatives, friends and colleagues, their project began to drift. Newman’s daughters Melissa and Clea decided to turn that raw material into a book punctuated by first-person accounts by others, including Newman’s first wife as well as his second, actress Joanne Woodward. The result is a brutally frank reflection on a life filed with self-doubt.

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