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Joanne Woodward: The Life & Times of Hollywood’s Unsung Hero

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward is a veteran actress and producer who is also known for her philanthropic and humanitarian work. For more than 60 years, she has starred and featured in a variety of films and productions that stand as a testament to her acting prowess.

Woodward’s long list of accolades includes an Oscar, three Golden Globes Awards, one BAFTA, and three Primetime Emmy Awards. Later on in life, Woodward devoted more of her time to charitable causes and philanthropic pursuits.

Joanne Woodward – Early Life

On February 27th, 1930, Joanne Gignilliat Trimmier Woodward was born in Thomasville, Georgia. Her father, Wade Woodward, worked for a publishing company but it was her mother, Elinor Woodward, that had a greater impact on her career.

She was a huge fan of Hollywood and its movies. It was this love of movies that led her to name her daughter after Joan Crawford, using the Southern spelling “Joanne.”

Joanne Woodward posing in 1959.
Joanne Woodward posing in 1959.

Her mother’s love for movies soon rubbed off on Joanne, and she developed a passion for films and acting from a young age. By the time she graduated high school, Joanne had played several characters in school plays and theatre.

She had also won several beauty pageants as a teenager. These experiences began to set her up for a career in show business. She learned from an early age that she could become a movie star if she put in the work.

After high school, Woodward enrolled in Louisiana State University, majoring in drama. After her graduation, she moved to New York looking for opportunities to perform. It was here that her career in acting began.

Early Theatre & Television Roles

Joanne Woodward began her career with roles in several television shows that were fairly successful at the time. Shows like Goodyear Playhouse, Tales of Tomorrow, Danger, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Ford Television Theatre, Armstrong Circle Theatre, all gave her a taste of television acting.

You Are There, The Web, The Elgin Hour, and Star Tonight cast her in parts that would make her more noticeable and prominent. These roles gave her a steady flow of work and publicity before she moved on to the bigger screen.

In 1953, Woodward joined the New York production of Picnic, where she met the prolific young actor Paul Newman. Newman and Woodward would later marry to become one of the most prominent power couples in Hollywood.

Woodward won her first appearance on film in the feature film Count Three and Pray. The film had Joanne playing an orphaned tomboyish character who was fascinated with the leading man. Her acting in the film led to a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox.

Her contract led to various guest-starring appearances in established television shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The 20th Century-Fox Hour, Kraft Theatre, and Studio One in Hollywood.

Rise to Fame

In 1956, Joanne Woodward secured her second feature film with A Kiss Before Dying, the directorial debut of Gerd Oswald. The film follows an ambitious young man on a route to dark ambitions and conflicts. Woodward portrayed “Dorothy,” the pregnant girlfriend of the protagonist who would be murdered in his quest for fortune.

Joanne later mentioned in an interview that A Kiss Before Dying was the “worst role” she ever played. However, it was a time when she needed all the experience she could get.

In 1957, the lead role of The Three Faces of Eve was given to Joanne Woodward. Based on the thriller novel with the same name, the film was directed by the famous Nunnally Johnson. The film was critically acclaimed and went on to become a huge success.

For her leading role, she was given an Academy Award nomination and later, Woodward won the Oscar for Best Actress, further launching her into the limelight. The award also gave Woodward the distinction of being the first actress to win an Oscar for acting three different personalities (Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane).

20th Century Fox continued their support by casting her in the lead role in No Down Payment. The film showcased Woodward’s ability in portraying emotionally-conflicted women. This movie also began her long association with film director Martin Ritt.

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

In 1958, Woodward featured as the leading lady opposite Paul Newman in The Long, Hot Summer, based on three works by American author William Faulkner. At the time, Newman was married to his first wife, Jackie Witte. But Woodward’s romance with Newman grew during the shooting of the movie.

Although the film wasn’t a huge success at the box office, it helped sustain Woodward’s career. For Paul Newman, it won him the Best Actor Award during the Cannes Film Festival.

Woodward and Newman’s romance later culminated in the two exchanging marriage vows in 1958. They would go on to become one of the most prolific and well-known power couples of the era in Hollywood.

One might say it was a thing of destiny to have these two stars meet in this film. Newman was, at the time, signed on with Warner Bros. who allowed Fox to cast him on loan. Newman later recounted that he had immediate affection for Woodward because of her beauty and charm.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were recast in the 1958 comedy, Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys! where both the stars reaffirmed their on-screen chemistry.

Two years later, the couple was cast together in From The Terrace directed by Mark Robson. Robson’s directorial expertise captured the real-life couple’s acting chemistry in a simple but engaging plot.

As far as the contemporary critics were concerned, the film was not a masterpiece. But for the actors involved, it pushed them into further stardom.

One advantage they had was the wide popularity they enjoyed. This recognition gave them an almost certain measurable success to their movies even if the plot was weak. Woodward would later mention that From The Terrace was one of the films she especially liked because of the way she appeared and portrayed her character.

In 1961, the same year as the birth of their first daughter Claire, Woodward was cast opposite Newman in Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues. The movie was criticized for being underwhelming.

But critics later acknowledged the effort that went into capturing the jazz culture and music composition in the movie, with The New York Times saying it was a must-watch for jazz lovers.

Woodward also got the opportunity to star with Sidney Poitier and jazz legend Louis Armstrong. For Joanne Woodward, it represented her foray into a more unconventional choice of film. It showed that she was willing to push the boundaries of artistic expression as an actor and performer.

Balancing Roles as a Mother

By the time Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were cast in the 1963 film A New Kind of Love, Joanne was already a mother. She was continuously finding it harder to make time for her film career and role as a mother.

Woodward later explained how she almost resented the fact that Newman would be away on shoots while she would be stuck at home.

In her 1981 interview with The New York Times, she recalls this tough period. “I curtailed my career because of my children. Quite a bit. I resented it at the time, which was not a good way to be around the children.

Paul was away on location a lot. I wouldn’t go on location because of the children. I did once, and felt overwhelmed with guilt.”

This, of course, did not mean that she would stop acting altogether, she continued acting in films later on in life.

Newman’s Direction

Paul Newman’s directorial debut came in 1968 when he cast Joanne as Rachel Cameron in Rachel, Rachel. The high point of the movie’s reception came when both Newman and Woodward were nominated for an Academy Award and the Golden Globes.

Newman went on to direct The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds where once again, he cast Woodward as the lead. Nell Newman, one of their daughters was also cast in the film. The film achieved better critical success compared to Newman’s first movie.

Woodward was once again nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress but narrowly missed out to Liv Ullmann. However, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the 1973 Cannes Film Festival both adjudged her Best Actress.

Post 1980s & 1990s

After appearing in The Shadow Box, another one of Newman’s films in 1980, Woodward returned for a stint on Broadway. Her return to Broadway is best remembered by Candida which was produced by Michael Christofer in 1982.

She continued appearing in television shows that appealed to her such as Crisis at Central High (1981) and Do You Remember Love (1985)

In 1982, Woodward not only wrote the teleplay but also directed Come Along with Me. It was a production of a Shirley Jackson story and featured Paul Newman as the voice character of Hughie.

On the big screen, Newman and Woodward were reunited in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. The movie follows a family who tries to adapt to changing world views and norms.


In 1988, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward established the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The camp covers a 300-acre plot that provides outdoor activities and recreation to children and families suffering from cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It caters to over 20,000 children each year.

The camp conducts a variety of outreach services not just to families, but also to hospitals. Most attendants believe that the establishment is a reflection of Woodward and Newman’s desire to give back to society for all the success they experienced.

The Jefferson Awards recognized their efforts in 1990 by giving the academy award-nominated couple the ‘Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged.’

Joanne Woodward Today

In 2008, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s long romance ended. Woodward was widowed when her husband passed away after an illness which many believe to be lung cancer. Sadly, since the death of her long-term partner, Joanne Woodward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Woodward’s life and accomplishments in film and fame continue to inspire. Her graceful evolution from plays to television, films and humanitarian work stands as a testament to her talent and values as a person.

Throughout the success of her movies and countless awards, Joanne Woodward demonstrated a grounded personality which is often left behind in the fast pace of show business.

An artist who starred in dozens of films and television series, she continues to be among the unsung heroes of Hollywood.

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