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Paul Newman was Hollywood’s original multi-hyphenate: Oscar-winning actor, film director, navy man, racing-car driver, entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist (his eponymous charitable salad dressing, Newman’s Own, remains on shelves today) and possibly one of the most stylish men who has ever lived. That is according to just about every list on the matter – he was the handsome Hollywood front man whose unassuming on-screen demeanour matched an always effortless, and undeniably American, sense of style. He was a man who never looked like he was trying.
He was also a movie star with a capital ‘M’, a breezier iteration of James Dean and Marlon Brando, the brooding rebel-men to whom he was often compared (though he was no less passionate or, indeed, talented). He was the suited pool shark ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson (accessorised with a perennially lit cigarette) in The Hustler, the athletic Brick Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, opposite a smouldering Elizabeth Taylor, and the amiable outlaw Butch Cassidy in Butch and the Sundance Kid, perhaps his most memorable role (and memorably outfitted – Newman adopted the Western uniform with particular aplomb). He’d have to wait until later to win his sole Oscar: a reprisal of ’Fast Eddie’ Felson, 25 years later, in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money.
And, while his numerous films showed his propensity for on-screen style, his extra-curricular activities showed a knack for it off-screen, too. There’s a young Newman on a boardwalk in the 1950s, hair swept back, in a preppy V-neck pullover, turned-up cords, white socks and plimsolls (in his mouth, a requisite cocktail stick); in white slacks and an unbuttoned shirt, beer and cigarette in hand, on a fishing boat in the 1960s; or gliding through the Venice lido on a water taxi in a black tuxedo and bowtie.
The truth about Newman was that he probably never really cared much for the exactitudes of clothing – he wore what he liked, and what he liked he looked good in. By the end, according to his friend and publicist Warren Cowan, he had whittled his wardrobe down to its bare essentials: “a few pairs of slacks and cords, a few shirts and sweaters. He says his life is much simpler. He’s much happier.”
“I check my pulse and if I can find it, I know I’ve got a chance”
– Paul Newman