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Video Remembrance: Paul Newman

September 29, 2008 12:16 PM

Much of the opportunity for young New York-based actors to hone their craft in the mid to late 1950s was on television. One of the young actors making the rounds in those days was Paul Newman, who died Sept. 26 at the age of 83.

Almost all of TV was broadcast live in those days, and there were a number of drama series on the air. Most of them were broadcast from TV studios in New York. Furthermore, most of these series were anthologies, meaning every week a different story was broadcast with a new cast—they were not continuing series with the same cast of characters.

‘BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY’

By mid-1956 Mr. Newman had appeared in more than 20 TV productions. He’d also made two movies. The first one, “The Silver Chalice” in 1954, was a costume drama that Mr. Newman himself later said almost ended his career before it had really begun.

The second one was more auspicious. He played the lead character—boxer Rocky Graziano—in the MGM biopic “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” He got the part when the actor who was supposed to play Graziano, James Dean, was killed in a car crash.

The film was released in July 1956.

Mr. Newman’s next film role would be in “The Rack,” by Rod Serling. That movie was based on an hourlong drama of the same name (that Mr. Newman was not in), which had been broadcast in 1955 on TV on “The U.S. Steel Hour,” an anthology drama series sponsored by the United States Steel Corp.

But before he began work on his next feature, Mr. Newman appeared in a moving drama, “Bang the Drum Slowly,” that also appeared on TV on “The U.S. Steel Hour.”

It’s the same story—about a slow-witted baseball player who finds out during the season that he’s dying—that was made into the 1973 movie starring Robert De Niro as the dying player and Michael Moriarty as his roommate, a pitcher.

In the original TV version Mr. Newman played the pitcher and Albert Salmi played the dying player.

Richard Corliss, the longtime film writer and reviewer for Time magazine, in his essay about the death of Mr. Newman this past weekend, wrote, “Looking today at Newman's early work, we see that he wasn't always convincing when he played characters whose IQs were 30 points below his. As Graziano, or as the star pitcher in the TV version of 'Bang the Drum Slowly' (both in 1956), he struck attitudes rather than slipping into these athletes' skins. At 31, he was still callow in film terms. To prove his movie mettle it took another two years, and another broken-down jock: Brick Pollitt, the crippled, impotent husband of Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie the Cat in Williams' 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' Newman's acute expression of Brick's Scotch-stoked bitterness earned him the first of his nine Academy Award nominations.”

I think Mr. Corliss has it exactly right.

We are pleased to present a short clip of Mr. Newman’s work in “Bang the Drum Slowly.” The show was broadcast live, on Sept. 26, 1956, 52 years to the day that Mr. Newman died. In 1981, producer Sonny Fox dug up an excellent kinescope of the show and it was rebroadcast as part of a PBS series on the Golden Age of Television. Kinescopes were made by taking a “film” picture of the live broadcast. We present this clip with the kind permission of Mr. Fox.

—Chuck Ross

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Comments (2)

I had the priviledge of meeting Paul Newman, his Wife Joanne Woodward and family at my Silverbird Restaurant in NYC. He was, like his wife an example of two people who are world-wide stars on the screen but regular, caring and compasionate human beings off the screen. Paul Newman will be sadly missed....Walk in beauty Paul

Allison:

Great find, Chuck. Thanks for getting Sonny Fox to share it with TV Week and us.

BTW, I loved Sonny Fox as a kid.

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