The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir


    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The raw, candid, unvarnished memoir of an American icon. The greatest movie star of the past 75 years covers everything: his traumatic childhood, his career, his drinking, his thoughts on Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, John Huston, his greatest roles, acting, his intimate life with Joanne Woodward, his innermost fears and passions and joys. With thoughts/comments throughout from Joanne Woodward, George Roy Hill, Tom Cruise, Elia Kazan and many others.


"Newman at his best…with his self-aware persona, storied marriage and generous charitable activities…this rich book somehow imbues his characters’ pain and joy with fresh technicolor." —The Wall Street Journal

In 1986, Paul Newman and his closest friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern, began an extraordinary project. Stuart was to compile an oral history, to have Newman’s family and friends and those who worked closely with him, talk about the actor’s life. And then Newman would work with Stewart and give his side of the story. The only stipulation was that anyone who spoke on the record had to be completely honest. That same stipulation applied to Newman himself. The project lasted five years.
The result is an extraordinary memoir, culled from thousands of pages of transcripts. The book is insightful, revealing, surprising. Newman’s voice is powerful, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, always meeting that high standard of searing honesty. The additional voices—from childhood friends and Navy buddies, from family members and film and theater collaborators such as Tom Cruise, George Roy Hill, Martin Ritt, and John Huston—that run throughout add richness and color and context to the story Newman is telling.
Newman’s often traumatic childhood is brilliantly detailed. He talks about his teenage insecurities, his early failures with women, his rise to stardom, his early rivals (Marlon Brando and James Dean), his first marriage, his drinking, his philanthropy, the death of his son Scott, his strong desire for his daughters to know and understand the truth about their father. Perhaps the most moving material in the book centers around his relationship with Joanne Woodward—their love for each other, his dependence on her, the way she shaped him intellectually, emotionally and sexually.
The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is revelatory and introspective, personal and analytical, loving and tender in some places, always complex and profound.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593467718
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 119,025
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

PAUL NEWMAN was an actor, film director, race car driver, and entrepreneur. A ten-time Oscar nominee, Newman won an Academy Award for Best Actor for The Color of Money. He was also the recipient of numerous other awards, including a BAFTA Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. His films include The Hustler, Hud, Harper, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Verdict, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Nobody’s Fool, Road to Perdition, and Disney-Pixar’s Cars. As a political activist and humanitarian, he raised and donated nearly $1 billion to many charities. Newman had six children and was married to Oscar-winning actress Joanne Woodward for fifty years. He died in 2008 at the age of eighty-three.

Read an Excerpt

The incredibly stupid mistake I made coming out of the war, having not been shot down in the Pacific, was signing up for a non-coed school like Kenyon College. I thought what I wanted, even more than women, was a good education. I was something of a rake, and having women on campus, as I found at Ohio University, could cause a deflection in my concentration; going coed would be a great detriment to me. In an all-male school, I could really buckle down and study. Problem was, without women there, women became the obsession. Your every waking hour was spent figuring how you could get yourself a Gambier, Ohio, town girl. So instead of having girls on campus and kind of basking in their company, being able to pick and choose, their absence became the preoccupation.

I had also neglected to research Kenyon College’s reputation as a party school.

The very day I arrived there, dropped off by my parents on a Sunday afternoon in June at about three, I got distracted by a beer keg. By six o’clock, I was crocked. That was how long it took me to get in with the wrong crowd at Kenyon. So much for discipline. By the time I left Kenyon, I had no real education but owned the school’s beer-chugalug record. The caption under my yearbook photo said: “Prone to getting out of hand on long tiring evenings.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t really a student of anything. I did start out by signing up to be an economics major. Maybe I’d been thinking that I could end up working for my father at Newman-Stern (I even mentioned that as a possibility on my Kenyon application). I liked the store—and as I said, I was a good salesman—but the idea of a career there bored me. And while I got through my economics classes, even through accounting, I switched my major to poli sci. To tell you the truth, though, aided by the new stature I’d attained in the Navy, what I most enjoyed was being on the college’s football squad.

Of course, when I found myself in disciplinary trouble, my plans had to change. Here’s how that happened, and it had everything to do with attending an all-male school.

About ten miles east of Kenyon is Mount Vernon, Ohio, where many of us would hang out. There was a club there, the Bluebird Club, that sometimes had live dance bands or popular canned music. On the weekends, it was where you went to try and pick up single girls from town. And on this particular night, a bunch of us from the football team decided to visit together.

There was a lot of antipathy between the local town boys and us. The townies were about our age, but they weren’t in school, many of them working for a living with their hands. We were the outsider college kids, so the antagonism was natural. It wasn’t unusual for fights to break out. What precipitated things was that we Kenyon guys were regularly trying to take their girls away from them. The townies would go to the john and when they came back, we’d be dancing with their dates.

Usually these fights were really more pushing matches than anything else. Maybe some bloody noses or black eyes. But nobody ever kicked anyone when they were on the ground, and no one hid anything in their pockets. In fact in the days after these typical altercations, you might be walking down the street and see one of the townies you fought walking just across the way. You’d wave at each other and say, “I’m going to get you next week,” and the other kid would reply, “I’m around,” and that’s all there was to it.

One night though, things might have gone a little extra over the line; there’d been more of a real fight, though it quickly had simmered down. But the bartender at the club called the cops, and two plainclothesmen came through the door. Before they could fish out their badges, Bert Forman, our quarterback, decked one of them. Bert went out into the middle of the dance floor and said, “Come and get me!” One cop now flashes his badge and Bert responds, “I’m right here, where do you want me to go?” 

The other plainclothesman turns to the bartender and asks, “Who started all of it?” and the barman pointed to three or four of our guys, who were promptly marched outside and put into police cars. Just as they were about to be driven away, one of the guys flipped me his keys and said, “Bring my car into town.”

So forty-five minutes later I take his car to the police station and I find the sergeant and tell him, “One of the guys you’ve got in the slammer asked me to drop his keys off.” And the sergeant answers, “Let me see your knuckles.” And, of course, my knuckles were pretty cut up from the fight. Before I knew it, the sergeant said, “Well, you’re in, too,” and they threw me in the slammer with our other guys.

When I looked outside through the bars, I saw the whole courtyard next to the station house loaded with Kenyon kids who’d come out to support us. Someone had gotten a keg of beer, and everyone was sitting on the ground singing old college songs until about three a.m., when the cops dispersed them. There was a great sense of fun about the whole thing.

The next day, the story appeared in the newspapers, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer—Kenyon’s football team was in hot water. My name was listed among those arrested, and my father saw the article—it was, to him, a reaffirmation that I was screwing up, which I was. Three or four kids were thrown out of Kenyon right away, and another three or four, including me, were placed on probation. For good measure, I was also kicked off the football squad.

With all this extra time suddenly on my hands, I went down to the speech department and read for a play. I was going to try out for the theater.

It made sense. I had done some drama at Ohio U and liked the experience. Plays were less problematic for me than taking traditional classes; I had always had a terrible time studying from books. Part of the reason was that I had never learned how to study. I still maintain I have a learning disability, and even today I don’t read right. In fact, I still have difficulty memorizing scripts.

I’d actually started early onstage; in grammar school, we put on a show about Robin Hood, and I played the court jester. I sang a song my uncle Joe (who besides being my father’s business partner was a published author of light verse and even the lyricist of the song “Black Cross,” recorded by both Lord Buckley and Bob Dylan) had written for me about Robin’s bow and arrow: “Robin Hood he saw a flea / And knocked the fuzz right off its knee / In merry England isle-o”—and then I yodeled. (I was a very good yodeler before my testicles descended. I yodeled until my thirty-eighth year, waiting, hoping. Well, not really that long, but my body did grow up late— late growing hair, late growing taller, late growing testicles. A close friend of mine, steeped in psychoanalytic theory, once suggested that I subconsciously caused the delay in my testicular descent as a way of prolonging my mother’s babying me. “Boy,” I replied, “that would be one incredible act of will!”)

Some people thought “Isn’t he cute?” and after a few more stage turns, my mother decided to get me into the theater, regardless of what I wanted to do. My mother had hated football, and didn’t want me to play a game that was inherently dangerous. She was always fluttering around trying to put on my eyelashes and straighten my lipstick when I escaped to football practice.


I remember Paul used to say to me, “For God’s sake, she treated me like a girl, she wanted me to be a girl!” He was her doll.

My mother wanted me to sing, to go to dancing school, to do something arty like be an actor. So she brought me down to the Cleveland Play House, where the legendary K. Elmo Lowe, a good friend of Uncle Joe’s, was the artistic director. The Play House was an acclaimed regional theater, and also ran a highly-regarded program for youngsters, called the Curtain Pullers, to which I was admitted. One play we put on was St. George and the Dragon, a kids’ version, where at age nine I got to be St. George. I didn’t slay the dragon, but I did pour salt on its tail, put my foot on its chest, and make a fiery gesture with my wooden sword. The poor dragon went through a terrible fit of writhing. It even resulted in my first professional stage photo. We did a few performances, apparently successful, and most of the moms and dads came to see us.

At Kenyon, we would put on a full schedule, between eight and ten productions a year, at the Hill Theater. Jim Michael, who was my instructor, director, and ultimately good friend, gave me a great deal of confidence by casting me all the time. Did I reach that moment of understanding or perception that someone instills in you, plugs you in, and all of a sudden the light goes on? It certainly wasn’t that. I never got the sense that anything I did on stage there was spectacular, or even something very exciting. It may have been workmanlike or okay, but I was really a highly, highly unknowledgeable actor. I was a kid with an attractive exterior, had a tremendous amount of energy and a lot of personality. But was I someone who instinctively knew how to do Shakespeare or naturalistic roles? My stage work at Kenyon was just an average college performance; it would have been recognized as a product of a university and a lot of phonetics classes.

In my own mind, certainly, there was nothing special going on. Everybody shakes their heads and says, “Couldn’t you read the signals that people thought you were really something?” To which I say, “No.”

Take someone whose experience at almost everything has been mediocre and who then finds something that at least is the best of whatever it is that they can do—it’s not great, it’s not even all that rewarding, but it is their best. They know that they wouldn’t be a good mechanic, they wouldn’t be a good football coach, they couldn’t teach history or algebra. They could still sell bowling balls— but they don’t want to sell bowling balls. So the next best thing they can do is to somehow be connected to the theater. And it’s not a triumphal thing, but it is, again, the best they can do.

If I think back at the work I did early in my career ages ago, I can’t even look at it. That doesn’t make me a bad person, it doesn’t mean I aspired to something unreasonable. And even though that may not be okay for you, it’s okay for me. I just get so pissed off when everyone imposes their standards and evaluations and their remembrances of what they worked on, what they did, and they assume that’s the way it happened for me, too.

I never enjoyed acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work—the detail, the observation, putting things together. Every once in a while I’d do a scene that might come together in some unusual way and I would be astonished. But that was a tiny percentage of the time I actually spent doing it.

It’s probably a reason I drank as much as I did. The exuberance, the danger, the exultation of performing was multiplied by a factor of eighty. If I got it just from acting, I wouldn’t have had to go out and get bombed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews