The Truth About Paul Newman's Relationship With Joanne Woodward

Hollywood couples are like microwave dinners: quick, hot and stared at through glass, despite the suggestion not to. In a land of hopes and dreams, Hollywood couples end up less like Cinderella and Prince Charming and more like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Alone, a celebrity can generate bright lights and cameras in their faces like they never left the movie set. Two celebrities seem to bring out twice the amount of attention, especially if the couple is married, and definitely if they separate and begin other relationships.

However, this is far from the rule and there have been several notable exceptions. Actors and activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were happily married for nearly 60 years before their deaths (via The New York Times). In about two decades, actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn will match Davis and Dee, though the pair have decided not to marry (per Brides). Then we have the gold standard for a Hollywood marriage, with the late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

When they met, they were young actors at the prestigious Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio (per History), both appearing in the same Broadway production. By the time two decided to finally tie the knot in 1958, they had become A-list stars on the red carpet. They would stay married for the next half-century before Newman's death in 2008. Their films, together and separately, have stood the test of time, and more importantly, both remained committed to each other throughout that time.

Paul Newman's and Joanne Woodward first met trying to get cool

In 1953, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were young actors in their 20s seeking success in the entertainment industry. Aside from this shared interest, the only other aspect they had in common was that they had the same agent (via Southern Living). It was through their agent that the pair met when the two actors, escaping the heat, took refuge in their agent's air-conditioned office.

Woodward recalled first seeing Newman in the office in an interview with "Today" (via Country Living). At the time, Woodward thought her future husband was "just a pretty face." Newman on the other hand was smitten by Woodward, as he explained in Shawn Levy's biography on the actor, "Paul Newman: A Life." The pair would co-star in the Broadway play, "Picnic," that same year, with the 28-year-old Newman playing a supporting role and the 22-year-old Woodward taking an understudy role.

Despite her early apprehension towards Newman, the duo formed a close, platonic friendship on set. At the time, Newman was married to his first wife, Jackie Witte, with whom he had three children. Around the same time, Woodward was in a rumored relationship with writer and intellectual Gore Vidal (via the Los Angeles Times). However, the pair were simply friends, as Woodward pretended to be Vidal's partner to hide his sexuality. After the success of the play, both actors packed up and headed to Hollywood to begin their successful film careers (per History).

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward fell in love in the film, "The Long Hot Summer"

Four years after their initial meeting, the careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward led them to each other again. This time, however, the two actors were no longer young upstarts attempting to make it in the entertainment industry, but stars on the ascent in Hollywood (via History). Newman's film career did not start strong; he had a box office flop in his first feature, "The Silver Chalice," though he would rebound in the biopic, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," playing the lead, champion boxer Rocky Graziano. On the other hand, Woodward had some fairly decent success, including winning the Oscar for best actress in the film "The Three Faces of Eve." It was only her third film (via Britannica).

In 1957, the duo reunited to co-star in the drama "The Long, Hot Summer." On the set, the two friends followed their characters in the film and slowly fell in love with each other (via Southern Living). Despite Newman still being married, shortly after the film finished production, the actor and Witte agreed to divorce (per Country Living). Newman stated in his biography that the divorce made him feel "guilty as hell," something he would "carry" for the rest of his life. Still, the guilt did not prevent him from marrying Woodward in January 1958, less than a year into their romantic relationship, and moving into a home in Connecticut.

The couple appeared in numerous films together

It should not come as a surprise that two of the biggest stars in Hollywood would appear together in a number of films. During their relationship, the pair appeared in 11 films and miniseries (per Classic Movie Hub). Paul Newman also directed six films featuring Woodward, including the 1968 film "Rachel, Rachel," for which Woodward was nominated for another best actress Academy Award (via Southern Living).

When discussing their relationship, Woodward said that their appearances were not an important part of their relationship. "Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that is a treat." Newman quipped about his own reasons for staying married to Woodward, saying, "people stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked."

Aside from jokes, the pair also helped each other in difficult times, such as when Newman's son, Scott Newman, from his first marriage, died of a drug overdose in 1978 (per Country Living). By the end of the 1960s and a decade into marriage, the couple had three girls together, Nell, Lissy and Clea, and were expanding their interest outside of the big screen (via Country Living). Both actors were lifelong liberals in their politics and usually gave donations to Democratic candidates and charities (via History). During the Jimmy Carter administration, the president gave Newman a seat at the United Nations Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.

Joanne Woodward lamented losing her career after starting a family

For a couple with the status of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, it would be impossible to have a normal life if they lived in a big city. The couple moved to Connecticut to raise their family in the late 1950s. Newman continued to find steady success throughout the decades, which finally culminated in a best actor Oscar of his own in 1987 for his role in "The Color of Money" (via History).

While Woodward maintained her career, she appeared in fewer films than Newman, and many films featured her husband behind the scenes. Despite earning three more best actress nominations from the Oscars after her victory in 1958, Woodward's career did not reach the same heights or productivity by the end of the 1960s. In 1981, the 51-year-old actress spoke to The New York Times about putting her family in front of her career. "Initially, I probably had a real movie-star dream. It faded somewhere in my mid-30s when I realized I wasn't going to be that kind of actor. It was painful ... I curtailed my career because of my children. Quite a bit. I resented it at the time, which was not a good way to be around the children." To his credit, one of the reasons for Newman's move to the director's chair was to give his wife the opportunity to work on screen again.

The pair remained in love throughout their marriage

Actor Ansel Elgort spoke to Town and Country Magazine about a story his chauffeur told him about his favorite celebrities to drive around. "The nicest guy was Paul Newman. He asked me about myself, but also he had his wife [Joanne Woodward] in the back seat, and this guy was like 80 and he was making out with his wife. They were just PDA and they were giggling and his arm was around her and he's kissing her."

Newman was a sex icon for his era. The actor was referred to by Vogue as "an eternal sex symbol" and his portrayals of anti-heroes in films such as "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" did as much to swoon women as they did earn him acting credibility. Still, while some men would jump at the opportunity to have affairs, Newman remained committed to Woodward. In a famous quote when asked about staying faithful to Joanne Woodward, Newman said, "I have steak at home. Why should I go out for a hamburger?"

In spite of Newman's biography after his death claiming he had an 18-month affair and was an alcoholic — which Woodward and others denied — the couple spent their half-century marriage in bliss (via Irish Independent). Newman died of lung cancer in 2008 at 83 years old, with his wife and family at his side.