The Surprising Truth About Paul Newman's On Set Behavior

To those who knew him well, actor Paul Newman was a prankster behind the scenes. A trickster at heart, Newman was mistaken early on for the actor Marlon Brando, according to IMDb. Rather than letting the eager fans know who he really was, Newman signed hundreds of autographs, "Best wishes, Marlon Brando."

The pranks that Newman pulled on the movie set were more elaborate than signing another person's autograph. The actor spent considerable time and money pulling off some elaborate practical jokes, according to friend and scriptwriter A.E. Hotchner. The writer attributes his friend's fondness for practical jokes to the fact that he stayed attuned to his inner child. In his 2010 memoir "Paul and Me" (quoted at Daily Beast), Hotchner wrote, "Paul always maintained that the best actors, including himself, were the ones who preserved the child within them, performing as they do with makeup and costumes and toy guns and all the other make-believes of their childhoods."

Paul Newman vs. director George Roy Hill

There was a special place in Paul Newman's heart for playing tricks on directors, and George Roy Hill (above) was Newman's favorite director to trick, according to the Daily Beast. The two worked together on "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), "The Sting" (1973), and other films. During the filming of "Butch Cassidy," Newman suggested changes to a scene, which Hill ignored. Newman retaliated by arranging to have Hill's desk sawed in half. The work was done so neatly that the desk still appeared to be whole until the director sat down, and it collapsed in his lap.

During filming of "The Sting," Newman asked to change the ending of the movie, and Hill refused his request. This time, Newman sawed Hill's car in half. Leaving the set on the way to the wrap party, Hill discovered his car in two pieces and called a cab. Arriving at the party, he was met at the door by Newman holding keys to the new car he had bought for the director, telling him, "You needed an upgrade."

Paul Newman plays the same trick twice

Like Hollywood stunts on the big screen, Paul Newman's practical jokes should not be tried at home. The actor was known to fake his own death — repeatedly so, according to the Daily Beast. In "Exodus" (1960), Paul Newman had a fight scene on a balcony, but substituted a lookalike dummy of himself, which was tossed off the balcony to the ground below with cameras rolling. The director, Otto Preminger, was so shaken he reportedly collapsed and needed first aid.

Despite the trouble he caused, Paul Newman decided to pull the same stunt with another director. While filming a scene that took place 60 feet off the ground in John Huston's 1973 film "The MacKintosh Man," Newman pushed a dummy that looked like himself onto the ground. Huston, seeing the dummy fall, yelled "Cut!" and hurried to the scene of the supposed accident. In both instances, Newman staged the pranks to get back at the directors for not changing the script as he requested.

Some of Paul Newman's jokes backfired

While filming the 1976 film "Buffalo Bill and the Indians," Paul Newman tried to play a practical joke on director Robert Altman that backfired, according to the Daily Beast. Filling Altman's trailer with 300 chickens, the star waited for a hilarious reaction. Unfortunately Altman was elsewhere at the time, and was gone long enough for the chickens to die in the heat. Though in later years, Paul Newman would donate proceeds from his "Newman's Own" line of food products to animal organizations (per Animal Adoption Center), he was accidentally responsible for the death of 300 chickens in a practical joke gone wrong.

Newman replaced Altman's trailer at his own expense. The jokes, however, did not stop. Altman hosted a dinner for the cast, at which he served cheap wine. Newman later had a goat delivered to Altman on the set with a note on the collar: "Dear Bob, Since what you serve at dinner is goat p*** you may as well have a goat handy."

Paul Newman gets back at Robert Redford

Paul Newman first co-starred with Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and later in "The Sting." The two leading men kept up a friendship that was "collegial but prickly," A.E. Hochner wrote in his memoir (quoted by the Daily Beast). Redford once played a practical joke on Newman, getting him a Porsche from a junkyard for his birthday and presenting it wrapped in a blue ribbon in the driveway. The car came with neither wheels nor fenders, and was useless to Newman, who was passionate about racing cars.

Newman devised a way to get back at his friend. He arranged to have the car compacted and — in exchange for an autographed picture of himself — also arranged to have the crate of crushed metal delivered to Redford's living room with the blue ribbon still on it. Presumably the signed picture he gave away in this transaction had his own name on it, not Marlon Brando's.

Paul Newman 'enjoyed life'

According to Paul Newman's friend A.E. Hotchner, the practical jokes were simply an extension of how Newman lived his life. "Paul so enjoyed life, and never acted like a superstar," Hotchner told Deadline in an interview. "Whether he was pulling pranks on a movie set, or mixing the first batch of Newman's Own salad dressing with a canoe paddle, he was a maverick who did what he wanted."

Hotchner went on to insist that the same impish creative force was present in everything Newman did, on or off the screen. "He never would have turned in those performances if he wasn't a person who took risks and had fun."

Newman didn't just have fun at other people's expense, however. His biting wit even took aim at himself. He famously said of his popular line of "Newman's Own" food products (via Britannica): "The embarrassing thing is that my salad dressing is out-grossing my films."