Excerpt: 'Paul Newman: A Life'

Summer reading roundup - Paul Newman

Early on, Paul Newman realized that his good looks and baby-blue eyes would help him get in the door, but it was his work ethic that ultimately made him one of America's finest actors.

In 1952, Newman went to New York for a year to prove himself and became a part of the Actors Studio. It was there he said that he learned everything about acting. Using his connections, he went from Broadway to TV to films. Besides acting, Newman made time for success as a race-car driver, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

Shawn Levy's thorough memoir also describes Newman's shortcomings as a father and husband, but he does so without tarnishing the actor.

Read an excerpt of the book below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.

Chapter One

America doesn't have a national epic, but Our Town might do in a pinch. The cracker- barrel homilies; the good- natured ironies; the snapshots of bygone ways; the razor-sharp observations couched in polite language; the hints of pain; the hesitance toward joy; the sneaky surges of emotion; the climax that brings a welling to your eyes despite yourself. It contains us, Thornton Wilder's chestnut.

That's why it can sometimes feel that if you've seen one production of it, you've seen 'em all.

Or maybe not.

Take this one—in particular, take the male leads.

The Stage Manager is a hawkish fellow: slender, purposeful, knowing, vigilant. He dresses for comfort and doesn't care if his collar is straight or if his tie is askew. Disheveled, with his spectacles perched on the tip of his nose and a vaguely distracted air, he's still rakishly handsome; clearly he was a corker in his time. He appears to have lived every vicissitude of life, and while experience hasn't entirely softened him, it has provided him a store of indulgence to mete out, judiciously but amiably, as he sees fit. There's no doubt that he can size a body up in a few piercing measures, and there's no doubt, either, that his arithmetic is sure. But such is his air of decency and authority that you find yourself hoping he deems you worthy.

George Gibbs, the youthful hero, is another matter: an all- American boy with muscles in his shoulders and, you can't help but suspect, in his head. His heart is in the right place, heaven knows, even if he must occasionally be reminded of just where that place is. He's a handsome thing, and enthusiasms burble out of him infectiously. His gaze is open, and his springy mien belies a real zest for life. But when he takes the time to notice smaller things or surprises himself by stumbling upon a sincere emotion, he turns puppyish. He even, caught up in the swell of love, croons; you wouldn't tune a piano to it, but it's sincere.

Their interactions are brief but memorable. At one moment the Stage Manager assumes the aspect of a biddy and lashes out at poor, dim George for tossing a ball to himself in the middle of the road.

"You got no business playing baseball on Main Street," he cackles in an old lady's voice, cowing the boy, and you reckon he's getting a kick out of his charade as the lad dutifully scampers off.

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