Discovered 2 years ago in the family warehouse and recently published is the book “The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man” – this is the fate of the memoirs kept by Hollywood legend Paul Newman with the help of his close friend Stuart Stern.
Both are now deceased, but Söderlund, the youngest of the actor’s five daughters with the iconic blue eyes, opens a new prism through which her father’s personality can be read.
Paul Newman and screenwriter Stuart Stern conducted a series of interviews over 5 years – about childhood, career, family and fame. The two collect a huge volume of notes, but for unknown reasons at some point they give up. After their deaths – Paul Newman in 2008 and Stern – in 2015, information about the thousands of pages of interview transcripts disappeared. They are rumored to have been burned. Until 2 years ago when it was revealed they were found in his widow Joan Woodward’s warehouse. And recently – and edited in “The extraordinary life of an ordinary person”.
The book paints a candid picture of a tormented star who doubts himself and reflects on his alcoholic father, his obsessive mother, his first marriage, his failures as a father and his excessive drinking. Reading the manuscripts was difficult for Newman’s daughter, who learned “a lot” about her father that she didn’t know. “It’s very cruel,” she says.
So what surprised her the most?
At one point in the book, Newman says he’s “always worried” about “not being good enough.” And he wonders how much of his career is down to him or his looks.
The actor explains in his memoirs: “It’s hard for someone like me, who has always had this horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that his success simply came from being lucky enough to be born with a certain appearance.” Soderlund says her father wanted to be treated as much more than just a good-looking guy.
“It was heartbreaking, he felt that no matter how hard he tried, he would get nowhere: that is, he would not be able to overcome that beautiful face and those beautiful eyes.”
In the 1970s, Newman formed a highly successful on-screen relationship with Robert Redford. The two make films and for many years have been looking for the right script to make another film together. But the book reveals that the pair weren’t real off-screen friends at the time. “You can’t count on Redford,” says Newman. “You’re never sure he’s going to be there. It’s just insulting.”
Söderlund believes that any tension is due to different ways of working.
In the book, Newman also hints at tensions in his relationship with Woodward. He once said of his marriage, “I have a steak at home. Why do I have to go out for a hamburger?”
Yet there are hints of betrayals in the memoir. “We had problems”he tells a friend. “It hasn’t all been flowers and roses.”
“Oh, there was tension”Soderlund confirms. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task being married to him. But I think the impressive thing is that they worked really hard to stay together. I give them a lot of credit for getting through some really tough times and to come out the other side stronger and better. My dad wouldn’t take his last breath until my mom was holding him.”she reveals.
Söderlund remembers a father who “worked a lot, so he was often away”. She adds: “When he was home, he was a big kid. That was when I was little. He liked to play with you and throw you in the pool. He was funny. But he wasn’t reliable.”
In the decades since the conversations were recorded, Soderlund says Newman “worked hard on himself” and “felt much better as he got older.” She says the decision to publish the memoir, filled with so many intimate revelations and surprising insights, was a “difficult decision”. But in the end, she and her sisters decide to follow his wish. “It’s something he wanted.”
As Newman himself says: “I want to leave some kind of record that will clear things up, poke holes in the mythology that has sprung up around me, bust some of the legends and keep the piranhas at bay.”
“Something to document the time I’ve been on this planet with some accuracy.”