Monday, September 29, 2008

#84 Monday Mourning----Paul Newman

Yes, I'm back in the Avalon Theater again [When will he stop?!]. Because... that's where I saw the great Paul Newman's first two films--The Silver Chalice (1954), and Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)--each of which, in wildly divergent ways, played a role in making him a star. I believe.

But first, I got to know the actor on TV, before and around the time of his movie debut. When he appeared on The Avalon's wide screen as Basil the chalice-maker, I recognized him from starring roles (I don't think he never had a bit part) in several of MY favorite mystery/horror shows of TV's early and mid-fifties: Tales of Tomorrow, The Web, and Suspense. But my parents, culture-grubbers that they were, made me sit through some of those "Golden-Age-of-Television" (mostly they weren't) live-action-drama shows like Playhouse 90 and US Steel Hour. Of course I'm glad they did, because that's where I saw Newman sharpening his acting chops (I presume he was, because I wasn't THAT discerning a viewer then--just people and faces). He was co-lead in Bang the Drum Slowly (later the movie with Moriarty and DeNiro), and played one of his two Billy the Kids: first in the TV Philco Playhouse "Death of..." and later in Arthur Penn's quirky directorial debut "The Left-Handed Gun" (1958--saw this one only recently), where he was truly arriving at his lovable-rebel persona. (Not a very good film, though, and did you know--I can't resist--that some of Penn's literally "sinister" symbolism is compromised now that it's been lately proved that Billy wasn't left-handed after all?--his famous gun-toting photo was reversed in processing.)

He wasn't quite there yet with a "Paul Newman" role in his motion-picture debut, The Silver Chalice. I took my quarter to the Avalon to see yet another wall-to-wall biblical epic (this was the era of The Robe, Quo Vadis, Demetrious and the Gladiators, David and Bathsheba [Susan Hayward randily indeed in her "bath"], Samson and Delilah, Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, etc.--saw 'em all and more) because...they were there, and because, besides Westerns, they were the action-movies cum skin-flicks of their day, much to the delectation of us peri-adolescent boys. This particular matinee was TSC, and I fell in love... not with Paul Newman, but with his co-star Pier Angeli (I was already in love with Natalie Wood, who played one of her usual juvenile roles in this picture), who to my mooney delight would co-star with him again two years later in SUTLM, which was to make him an A-list actor. She was great in TSC; he wasn't--or so I'm told. I wasn't paying that much attention (hey, I was 11), except that he seemed to fill the role assigned to him OK. But in fact, I have learned, Newman himself took out full-page ads the very day after its release to apologize for his performance in the motion picture! Public-spirited already, he was. I guess he learned what kind of role best suited him--certainly NOT the fraught, effete, and dreamy-eyed artiste he played in TSC. Rather, he chooses at least one-half of his future film-persona in his very next role as the boxer "Rocky" Barbella (Stallone plagiarized) in SUTLM: that of the irrepressible REBEL. I was a more sophisticated viewer of 13, and this time he sure did capture my attention, my lust for Pier Angeli notwithstanding. More to come.

No comments: