Several months ago I watched the first episode of The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max, 7.21), a six-part Ethan Hawke documentary about Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward that seemed, based on episode #1, to be a celebration piece — a doc that says what a wonderful, cooler-than-cool, super-glorious relationship they had.

I posted my understanding of the doc series around 10 days ago.

Paul and Joanne first met in ’53 or thereabouts, got married in 1958 and stayed together for 50 years, parted only by Paul’s death in ’08.

Hawke’s admiration for Newman-Woodward is upfront and unfettered, and his fascination with the transformative acting world of New York in the 1950s is fully conveyed. But this seems to basically be a valentine doc, and having dug into Shawn Levy‘s “Paul Newman: A Life” (’09), a very thoroughly researched and written biography…I shouldn’t say more but Hawke’s basic approach seems to have been very admiring.

I’ve since been told that this isn’t the case. I’m told that Hawke doesn’t mention the name of a journalist, Nancy Bacon, with whom Newman had an affair in ’68 and ’69, but that the affair is definitely mentioned. It’s also acknowledged that Newman was a functioning alcoholic, and that the booze was a real problem for a while. Woodward even kicked Newman out of their Westport home at one point, or so the story goes.

So I’ll be marathoning it starting tomorrow.

Newman made around 12 films in the 1950s, and none of them really hit the mark. No, not even Robert Wise‘s Somebody Up There Likes Me (’56). Because Newman was playing someone else, which isn’t his metier. Newman had to play Paul Newman-ish characters, and that didn’t really start until he lucked into Eddie Felson in Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler (’61). Between The Hustler and The Road to Perdition (’02), Newman starred in roughly 40 films, and ten of them were really good. Okay, 16 if you want to be liberal about it.

Creme de la creme: The Hustler (’61), Hud (’63), Cool Hand Luke (’67), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (’69), The Sting (’73), Slap Shot (’77), Fort Apache, The Bronx (’81), The Verdict (’82), The Color of Money (’86) and The Road to Perdition (’02) / 10.

Good to Pretty Good: Sweet Bird of Youth (’62), Harper (’66), Sometimes a Great Notion (’70), The Mackintosh Man (73), The Towering Inferno (’74), Nobody’s Fool (’94) / 6.

Four first-rate films in the ’60s, two in the ’70s, three in the ’80s and one in the aughts.

Woodward’s career peaked between the late ’50s and late ’60s. Her best were A Kiss Before Dying (’57), The Three Faces of Eve (’57), The Long, Hot Summer (’57), The Fugitive Kind (’60), Paris Blues (’61), The Stripper (’63), Rachel, Rachel (’68), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (’72), Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (’73), The Glass Menagerie (’87) and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (’90) / 11.

Newman took a crack at writing his autobiography, we’re told, but the project stalled or went stale in his head, and he wound up burning all the taped audio interviews. But the tapes had first been transcribed, and we get to hear certain portions from these. Several hotshot actors voice the various players. George Clooney does Newman, and Laura Linney reads Woodward’s tapes.