After debuting at SXSW last March, Ethan Hawke‘s The Last Movie Stars, a six-part doc about the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, will begin streaming on HBO Max on 7.21.

I watched the first episode last March, and it’s clear that the focus is on what a wonderful, cooler-than-cool, super-glorious relationship Paul and Joanne had. They first met in ’53 or thereabouts, got married in 1958 and stayed together for 50 years. Paul died on 9.26.08.

To me the relentlessly celebrated mythology of Paul and Joanne’s marriage has always felt a tiny bit bothersome. As in less than trustworthy.

No marriage is easy or perfect or without issues. A workable, tolerable marriage is almost always the result of very hard work — all kinds of soul-barings, renegotiations and reappraisals at the kitchen table. Which is why portrayals of the Newman-Woodward marriage never seemed quite real to me.

Did they in fact have a strong and healthy marriage? All the accounts say yes, but to me the only thing that makes their history recognizably human (which is to say flawed) is the affair that Paul had with journalist Nancy Bacon in ’68 and ’69. An account of the affair was included in Shawn Levy‘s “Paul Newman: A Life” (2009).

If Ethan’s miniseries goes there, fine. But if he avoids it, he’s a sidestepper.

Friendo who knows the Newman-Woodward story and has dealt with the Newman family: “I haven’t watched the doc, but I’m sure it’s authorized, and as the surviving Newmans don’t care for anything remotely negative being said about their patriarch, I’m confident that it will avoid all unpleasant or even circumspect episodes/behaviors.

“[That said], I do believe that it was a truly golden relationship, built on mutual respect, amusement, tolerance, even passion. So, yeah, too good to be true, but also — for the most part — true.”

And you know what? For the sin of mentioning the 18-month Bacon episode I’m going to be attacked. Because people want to believe what they want to believe.

Legend of Paul and Joanne,” posted on 3.17.22:

“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 is basically a valentine doc, and having dug into Shawn Levy‘s “Paul Newman: A Life” (’09), a very thoroughly researched and written biography…well, I shouldn’t say more but Hawke’s basic intent is to go ‘wow, they were so cool!’ at every turn in the tale.

“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.”