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The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man summary

Paul Newman

A Memoir

4.4 (43 ratings)
24 mins
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    The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man
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    The Decorative Boy

    Decoration. This word comes up a lot when Paul Newman thinks back to his childhood. He was born in the Cleveland, Ohio, suburb of Shaker Heights, in 1925. To say that his mom, Tess, kept a clean house would be an understatement. It was so clean, it didn’t look like anyone lived there. It was a well-decorated house, and looking back, Newman can see that he was just another of his mom’s decorations.

    In fact, Newman sees two sides of himself: the decorative boy and the orphan. The decorative boy got dolled up and fussed over by his mom, was paraded around in front of her friends, and tried to please. The one who was treated as though he was nothing more than an extension of his mother. 

    The orphan, however, was his core being. The orphan was the one who didn’t know what was happening to him or who he really was. The one who would spend the next 50 years trying to catch up and deal with what his mother’s upbringing had done to him. Like trying to cope with the fact that, if Paul had been an unattractive child, his mom wouldn’t have paid him any attention at all.

    Meanwhile, Paul’s father, Art Newman Sr., was co-owner of a local sporting-goods store. Art Sr. also had unhealthy ways of subtly rebelling against the domineering powers of the Newman matriarch. He hid bottles of bourbon in the house. When he got home from work he would take a couple shots from a bottle in his closet. Other times, he would sneak down to the basement, usually under the guise of checking on the water heater, in order to drink and smoke cigarettes.

    On some special occasions, Art Sr. would more actively protest Tess’s desires for picture-perfect domesticity. Tess would have the table perfectly arranged, with an ironed tablecloth and fine china, the kids wearing their best suits and ties, and then Art Sr. would sit down at the table wearing his dirtiest, rattiest clothes. Stuff like this could lead to screaming fights between the parents. Paul remembers a time when Tess grabbed a large framed picture off the wall and brought it down right over her husband’s head. Art Sr. was left walking around, wearing the frame like a giant necklace.

    Paul knows that because of these family dynamics he started building up walls around himself long ago. Walls that made it difficult to be in touch with his own feelings and communicate with others. He wonders if his father’s alcoholism and his inability to communicate led to some of these issues – as well as Paul’s own heavy drinking, and the terrible addiction problems his first son, Scott, faced.

    We’ll get into this, and more, in the sections ahead, as Paul stumbles into acting, marriage, and fatherhood, in very quick succession.

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    What is The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man about?

    The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (2022) is a thoughtful memoir that finds the legendary actor Paul Newman looking back at his life with a critical, introspective eye. Newman isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating as he looks back on his career, as well as his shortcomings as a husband and father.

    Who should read The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man?

    • Movie buffs
    • Fans of introspective memoirs
    • People interested in the life of an actor

    About the Author

    Paul Newman was an award-winning actor and director, who has appeared in numerous films including The Hustler, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Nobody’s Fool. He was also a championchip race car driver as well as a respected humanitarian who has raised nearly $1 billion for multiple charities.

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