Tuesday, July 26, 2022

How Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward Saved Me By: Candice Smith


Recently I took the six hours needed to watch Ethan Hawke’s documentary called The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max) and was blown away.

If you don’t know who Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were and are, then research needs to occur before reading this piece any further. For the rest of us, these two were a part of the fabric of my American upbringing. I knew their movies, I knew their love story, I knew their politics, his racing, her theater, and their philanthropy. I thought.

Watching this comprehensive documentary with their words, their children, and their images completely transformed how I looked at them as individuals, as a couple, and, more importantly to me, how I looked at myself.

Like many in the world, my first world, I suffer. I suffer with self-esteem issues. I suffer from mental issues. I suffer from the post-COVID world. I suffer from having teenagers. I suffer from anything and everything and nothing at all.

Watching Newman and Woodward on my television for six hours brought a profound understanding, a clarity that I had heretofore never experienced in my life. Ever.

They were enraptured with one another when they met. Their passion ebbed and flowed but never disappeared.

They were equally impressed with one another’s talent, perhaps more he than her.

She sacrificed to raise a family, his and theirs. She did it brilliantly if not perfectly, but it wasn’t the path she would choose again perhaps.

He was an alcoholic. She stayed despite the pain, uncertainty, and boorishness it brought.

He took up racing at 47 years of age. She rooted him on race after race.

They were a couple, a team, a family.

And, yet they were pulled together and apart like any marriage.

They continued to reinvent themselves.

They continued to make mistakes. The same mistakes.

They loved, hard.

They shared tragedy.

They shared joy.

They shared recipes with America and made millions for charity when no one else was doing this. Is ANYONE doing it even now besides them?

And while watching and learning and gleaning and sitting transfixed, I couldn’t help feeling good about myself.

Good about my marriage.

Good about my future.

You see, I’m nothing like them, and I’m everything like them.

My marriage is happy and joyful and flawed and terrible.

My desire to reinvent myself shows promise and then winds back onto itself to normalcy.

Creatures of habit.

My world has been dark of late. Problems that will remain unnamed yet are real and heavy and robbers of joy.

They affect my marriage, my family life, my serenity.

But, by seeing that Newman and Woodward had problems, too, I see a different perspective. That they suffered and endured. They reveled in one another and persevered, I am able to feel an optimism that has escaped me for far too long.

Perhaps I’d held myself, my husband, our marriage, and our family to far too high a standard.

We’re doing pretty great, thanks.

Oh, we still have problems, we’ll still fight, and we’ll be grumpy, scared, and over it, but we’ll never quit.

See, we love each other.

We’re imperfectly perfect for one another.

We love our children, our home, our lives, and each other.

And, if two crazy movie stars can muddle their way through life and keep a marriage together for 50 years, there’s no telling what two regular people like my husband and I can do – we’re nearly through the first thirty years!

So, thank you Ethan Hawke for saying yes to the project and putting a human light on two of Hollywood’s biggest deities.

Thank you, Newman children, for opening up about your parents, their story through your eyes, and for letting us know how much you loved your flawed parents.

And, thank you Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, for doing your thing for all of those decades. Right or wrong, good or bad, love or hate, drunk or sober, knowledgeable or ignorant, you provided one type of roadmap for this lady to consult when she’s feeling lost.

Lost I felt – and will feel again, no doubt – but this documentary about your lives makes me feel that whatever Life throws my way, I can navigate it with my husband by my side.