Catching up after the 9th annual Port Townsend Film Festival, an event for which I have done a variety of hosting and teaching duties over the years. This year’s special guest was Piper Laurie, which meant the tribute movie scheduled for Friday night was The Hustler, which meant the day began with the news of Paul Newman’s death and a very strange piece of timing.
The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961). Seeing the movie again after many years, I was struck by the early-Sixties post-Beat vibe: jazzy soundtrack, edgy editing style (this was one of Dede Allen’s first big ones), posse of supporting-actor kooks. In the latter category, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason were both nominated for Oscars, but the whole movie is a gallery of types; Michael Constantine and Murray Hamilton add color (they almost add odor), and Myron McCormick might’ve gotten another nomination if he’d had a few more scenes. Piper Laurie gives a truly original, can’t-take-your-eyes-away performance, but as she explained at the festival, the opportunities she had after the film’s success offered nothing original, and she decided to stop movie acting until Carrie came along. (Trivia question in the making: is there another actor who left off movies after an Oscar nomination and picked up again 15 years later with a nomination for her first film back?) Laurie has also just directed her first picture, an absolutely lovely 24-minute piece called Property, based on a story by James Lasdun.
The morning the news broke about Paul Newman’s death, I found PTFF director Peter Simpson and asked if he would consider switching a scheduled panel discussion I was supposed to moderate on Sunday into a tribute to Newman–which is how (because Peter instantly said yes) we ended up earlier today with Piper Laurie, TCM host Robert Osborne, and longtime Newman friend and co-star John Considine sharing stories. I hope they got as much out of it as I did. The talk was warm but clear-eyed, and was at least as much about Newman’s personality, marriage, and charity work as about his stardom. The event was filmed and, when I hear of its being posted, I will provide a link.
Meantime, a link to an Amazon.com editorial review I wrote for a Newman box set: click here.