Shooting star: The extraordinary unseen photographs of Paul Newman
Next week, an extraordinary series of unseen photographs will be unveiled to mark the first anniversary of the death of Paul Newman. Carola Long is granted an exclusive sneak preview
Saturday 29 August 2009
Nowadays, the most prominent images of Hollywood stars tend to be split between two extremes.
At one end of the glamour spectrum, there is the manicured gloss of the red carpet; at the other, the "candid" (or snatched) paparazzi shot of actors doing something as painfully banal as loading shopping into their Jeeps. Both types of image are often charged with a sense of desperation, whether it's on the part of the star (to avoid the dreaded worst-dressed list) or derived from our own collective craving to believe that this celebrity revealed in all his or her tracksuit-clad normality is really just like one of us.
In contrast, a new exhibition of rare, unpublished and unseen photos of Paul Newman – which opens in London on Thursday, almost a year after his death – invites the viewer to engage in a calmer form of admiration. To feel as if we are seated at the edge of that Hollywood swimming pool (see page 19), legs dangled and refreshed in the chilled water, while drinking in the cool curve created by Newman's handstand on the diving board. To stare in a way that, even if we'd had access to this Sixties scene, would have verged on the impolite.
The mood of the pictures – shot during the filming of Exodus in 1960, when Newman was at the height of his powers – is of a comfortable intimacy. We feel welcome. That's partly because the photographer Leo Fuchs was invited on to the set. He was a freelancer during the Fifties and Sixties, and one of the few outsiders allowed on to movie sets to befriend the actors and take candid shots, both during and after the actual shooting. His agent then arranged for the photographs to appear in magazines such as Look, Life and Paris Match.
Born in Vienna in 1929 to a family of pastry chefs, Fuchs, who died earlier this year, had emigrated to New York with his family in 1939. He sold his first picture – of Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Brooklyn – to The Day, a Jewish newspaper read by his father, for $5. He left school at 14 to become an apprentice at the Globe Photos agency, and then two years later began taking pictures of celebrities partying in the Big Apple. After military service as a cameraman in the Signal Corps, his first gig as a stills photographer for the movies came in 1954 on Magic Fire, a Wagner biopic. Ten years later, he quit photography when the Universal Studios president Edward Muhl persuaded him to cross over to become a producer himself – but in the intervening decade he captured most of the stars of the day. He worked with Rock Hudson (who was responsible for Fuchs coming to Hollywood in the first place), Gregory Peck (who became godfather to his son, Alexandre), Sean Connery, Shirley MacLaine, Cary Grant and Marlon Brando. He made bets with Sinatra at the casino in Monte Carlo, whiled away evenings listening to Beethoven in the Congo with Audrey Hepburn, and befriended Gina Lollobrigida and Newman.
The natural, intimate quality of his photographs of Newman is also down to Fuchs' particular talent for making stars feel at ease. "It's a sense of trust," says his son Alexandre, who is also a photographer and who found the photos in storage around 10 years ago – many of them on negative strips that hadn't seen the light of day for 30 years. "My father had a gregarious personality and he made friends easily," he continues. "That was his particular skill. He almost always had a close relationship with the people he photographed." Fuchs also showed his subjects the photos before they were published – they might look candid, but they were fully approved.
Many of the shots taken for Exodus, Otto Preminger's 1960 epic about the founding of the state of Israel, were shot on location, though the interior scenes were filmed in Hollywood. However, other pictures of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, to whom he was married for 50 years, were shot at their home in Paris. The image of Newman walking his dogs on a deserted Parisian street (overleaf) is remarkable for the emptiness of the scene, and the rare anonymity it gives the Hollywood star standing within it.
"We tend to be nostalgic about our past and these photos were taken at a particular time when the myth of the celebrity – and that of the paparazzi – were both growing," says Alexandre Fuchs. "People wanted to have a relationship with these celebrities, but at that time there weren't many photos that drew people into their lives. Now, publicity images feel very packaged, but then, they had this sense of innocence."
Compared to the studio portraits of Hollywood's golden age, Fuchs' pictures – like that of Newman and Woodward reclining in deckchairs – feel less self-conscious, and a whole lot cooler. Back in the Thirties and Forties, stars would pose for contrived, camp or melodramatic pictures that required lighting, make-up and props (such as the pistols with which Humphrey Bogart posed to make him appear more macho). Here, however, Newman's natural masculinity is conveyed by his strong, physically perfect body and statuesque features. He even manages to appear manly while playing table tennis. The images underline our image of the actor not only as a beautiful man, whose sculpted nose and jaw were balanced by the hint of softness in his defined lips and those swimming-pool-blue eyes, but also as a latter-day Renaissance figure.
Newman's six-decade career encompassed great performances in films such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958, The Hustler in 1961 and The Color of Money in 1986, for which he finally won an Oscar; but also included film production and direction, political activism, philanthropy and professional car-racing. Newman said he was happiest in a sports car, and the wonderful shot of him sitting at the wheel (page 12) shows him looking relaxed and lost in thought, with no suggestion that he is necessarily about to drive anywhere.
This sense of calm wasn't just a photographic illusion, however. When Fuchs was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2001, he recalled Newman's desire for harmony on the set of Exodus: "Paul had it in his contract that Otto Preminger couldn't shout at him." And just as Newman avoided on-set drama, Fuchs eschewed flashy theatrics in his photos. Instead, these portraits of a cinematic legend embody a quieter kind of myth-making.
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