Woodward, Joanne Gignilliat

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WOODWARD, Joanne Gignilliat

(b. 27 February 1930 in Thomasville, Georgia), Academy Award–winning actress known for taking on difficult character roles. She became famous in the early 1960s as the wife and frequent costar of the actor Paul Newman.

Woodward is the daughter of Wade and Elinor Trimmier Woodward. She grew up in Georgia and South Carolina; attended Greenville High School, in Greenville, South Carolina; and was a member of the Greenville Little Theatre Group. She graduated from high school in 1947 and attended Louisiana State University from 1947 to 1949. When her father went to work for the Charles Scribner's Sons publishing house, Woodward left college and moved with the family to New York City, where she began to pursue acting, joining the Actors' Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse. It was another forty years before she received a degree, graduating alongside her youngest daughter, Clea, at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1990. Her professional career began in earnest in 1953, when she understudied in William Inge's play, Picnic, during its Broadway run. Also involved in the production was her future husband, the actor Paul Newman.

Woodward's early career was in television, beginning in 1952 with her appearance in "Penny," a drama for the popular Robert Montgomery Presents series. By 1955 Woodward had landed a contract with Twentieth Century–Fox, and her career took off quickly. That same year she made her movie debut in Count Three and Pray (1955), a low-key Western set in the post–Civil War period. Two years later she appeared in The Three Faces of Eve (1957). Within a few years Woodward's versatility, professionalism, and delicate beauty made her one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Her performance in The Three Faces of Eve as a woman with three personalities won her an Oscar for best actress in 1958. It was the beginning of an intense ten-year period in which Woodward enjoyed worldwide fame, yet managed to achieve it playing difficult, often challenging roles.

Woodward had already proved herself a capable actress in her own right, but when she teamed up with Paul Newman in The Long Hot Summer (1958), she became part of one of Hollywood's most productive and enduring partnerships, both on-screen and off-screen. Woodward and Newman married on 29 January 1958 and have three daughters. The Long Hot Summer was the first in a series of highly successful films in which the pair co-starred. In the 1960s they were the dream Hollywood couple, appearing on screen together five times between 1958 and 1963. Not only were their performances of the highest quality, but the movies they starred in also were among the most popular of the decade. Woodward had a star placed on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard on 9 February 1960.

In Paris Blues (1961), regarded as one of the couple's best performances together, Newman and his jazzman buddy, Sidney Poitier, meet up with the innocent tourists Woodward and Diahann Carroll. With Paris as the backdrop and a Duke Ellington score for accompaniment, Woodward and Newman charmed audiences of the day. But the film has sufficient style to survive its period dialogue and is considered one of the best jazz movies ever made. Even in films that lacked the panache of Paris Blues, Woodward and Newman were able to satisfy their eager audiences. A New Kind of Love (1963) is the story of a writer who finds success writing about a young French-woman and her private life and ends up falling in love with her. In an otherwise disappointing film, Woodward and Newman shine with an appealing, comic-romantic, double act.

In 1968 the couple began a new phase in their professional relationship. Newman directed Woodward in the title role of the film Rachel, Rachel (1968), drawing out one of Woodward's finest performances as the naive, frustrated schoolteacher Rachel Cameron. At a time when female stars struggled to find complex, difficult roles, Newman provided Woodward with material that allowed her to demonstrate the impressive range of her acting talent. He has directed her three times more to great critical acclaim, and they have continued to act together, most notably in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990).

Despite the attention the couple received in the 1960s from the entertainment press, Woodward also showed that she had the ability to strike out on her own. Going against her usual choice of movie, she won the title role in The Stripper (1963), originally planned as a vehicle for the sexy star Marilyn Monroe, who died of a drug overdose in 1962. Yet even as a young actress, Woodward generally shied away from fashionable, glamorous roles. In many ways she had a dual career in the 1960s. On the one hand, she was a sought-after celebrity, yet she also was interested in popular 1960s causes, such as raising public awareness of women's lives at a time when their needs were often ignored. Beginning with her debut in Count Three and Pray, in which she plays a "wild" girl who is "civilized" by an attractive parson, Woodward was drawn to spirited characters. In the 1960s she often played women whose inner lives remain hidden from the outside world. As in Rachel, Rachel, these are often women whose spirit has survived an otherwise monotonous and conventional life.

During the 1960s Woodward built a reputation as an actress capable of sustaining mood through accurate, detailed characterization. She has won or been nominated for many awards. Her performance in Rachel, Rachel won her the New York Film Critics' best actress award and the Golden Globe. Since then she has won best actress accolades from the Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy, and twice more from the New York Film Critics. Woodward and Newman undeniably have benefited professionally from their relationship. They starred in some of the biggest movie hits of the 1960s, and Rachel, Rachel and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972) are representative of Newman's finest work as director. In 1992 they were jointly awarded the Kennedy Center honors for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. Both Woodward and Newman have long been concerned with charitable causes, such as Save the Children and research into Alzheimer's disease and diseases of childhood. Woodward is artistic director of the Westport County Playhouse in her hometown of Westport, Connecticut.

Biographical information about Woodward is available in Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Paul and Joanne: A Biography of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (1988), and Susan Netter, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (1989). Biographical articles include David McGillivray, "Joanne Woodward," in Films and Filming (Oct. 1984); Maureen Dowd, "Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward: A Lifetime of Shared Passions," in McCall's (Jan. 1991); and Steve Vineberg, "Joanne Woodward: From The Stripper to Mrs. Bridge, a Master Manipulator of Mood," in American Film (Nov.–Dec. 1991).

Chris Routledge

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