Beyond his salad days, the old cool hand is still nobody's fool
March 31, 1995
Steve Wulf

Newman in “Fool”


He's been "Fast Eddie" Felson (twice), Ben Quick, Ari Ben Gannan, Hud Bannon, Cool Hand Luke, Lew Harper, Harry Frigg, Henry Gondorff, Chance Wayne, Rocky Graziano, Brick Pollitt, Butch Cassidy, Reggie Dunlop, Frank Galvin, Judge Roy Bean, Gov. Earl Long, Gen. Leslie Groves, Mr. Bridge, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody, and even ‑in Silent Movie‑ himself. In Nobody's Fool, the 70‑year‑old Paul Newman slips into the 60‑year‑old Sully, and the result is not only a Best Actor nomination but a Best Newman one, as well. According to one of Newman's own, daughter Clea, 29, "I grabbed Dad's face [at the end of the movie], and I said, 'This is the best you've ever been."

On the surface, Newman wouldn't seem to bear much resemblance to the iconoclastic upstate New York loser he plays in Nobody's Fool. But as he has said, "Sully is a lot closer to me than I would care to admit." Part of the similarity lies in Newman's background; this son of an Ohio sporting‑goods‑store owner seems as comfortable in the fictional snowy hamlet of North Bath as he did portraying the minor‑league player-coach Reggie Dunlop in Slap Shot (1977). But Newman's story also has an unspoken parallel with Sully's: The actor, who lost his only son, Scott, to an accidental drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, plays a man coming to terms with his long‑abandoned son.

Newman's interplay with actors as diverse as Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith, and Gene Saks is almost thrilling to watch, but there is one, sitting‑on‑the‑steps scene with Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays his friend Rub, that's as good as acting gets.

Twice in the film, each time with a different meaning, Griffith's character tells Sully, "You're a man among men." There's only one meaning here: Newman is an actor among actors.