If Gregory Peck and Burt Lancaster were the last of the line of the true screen legends, whose careers peaked before TV became the dominant medium, Paul Newman was one of the following generation of stars only slightly less bright. There are few left alive with his stature as a screen icon.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman were the top male box office stars, with Redford the youngest of the three. McQueen was the number one male box office star in 1964, when he made Love With the Proper Stranger alongside Natalie Wood, who was the top female star of the time. Robert Redford made a breakthrough later in the decade with films like Barefoot in the Park and The Way We Were, though he too starred alongside Natalie Wood in Inside Daisy Clover, by which time her star was fading.
Newman always seemed to be playing second fiddle to somebody. He was the one you got if you couldn’t get James Dean or Brando, and played the “mature one” when starring alongside Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. He appeared with McQueen in The Towering Inferno, and though that was a huge event movie, it was hardly going to win him any plaudits.
Still, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a great film, and like Clint Eastwood Newman was always willing to play his age, which means his performances in the 80s and 90s are often worth checking out. He certainly aged better than Redford. My favourite Newman film is probably Harper, which was known in the UK as The Moving Target. The screenplay by William Goldman (writer of Butch/Sundance) was based on a novel by Ross McDonald. It’s a classic of mid-60s cinema.