Last week's tributes to Paul Newman paid apt homage to his sexiness, the way he matured into a versatile actor, his quiet political activism, his charitable giving, his skill as an auto racer and longevity as a family man.
But few mentioned the reason he was the quintessential American movie star of the last half-century: In film after film over five decades, he played guys who couldn't stand to take orders.
From “Hud” to “Cool Hand Luke,” from “Exodus” to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” he embodied the stubbornly independent streak many Americans consider a virtue. (Though he often showed how it became a vice, if applied with too little regard for others.)
His characters didn't want a boss, didn't want to be fenced in emotionally, didn't even want advice that might have saved their souls or lives. They listened to their own drummers, and they sometimes marched over cliffs.
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Newman earned an Oscar nomination as angry loner Fast Eddie Felson in “The Hustler.” Here he is, chewing out his former business manager: “How should I play that one, Bert? Play it safe? That's the way you always told me to play it: safe. Play the percentage. Well, here we go – fast and loose. One ball, corner pocket. Yeah, percentage players die broke, too, don't they, Bert?”
TCM will devote an entire 24 hours to 11 of Newman's movies, starting Sunday at 6 a.m. with “The Rack.” (Visit www.tcm.com for the list.) Do yourself a favor and get a recording device ready.