THE LAST MOVIE STARS – Review by Susan Granger

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James Baldwin wrote: “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle; love is a war, love is growing up.”

That’s perhaps the best summation of Ethan Hawke’s searing six-part HBO Max documentary, The Last Movie Stars, delving into the tumultuous marriage of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. While they were neighbors in Westport, Connecticut, they were acquaintances, not close friends, our paths occasionally crossing at dinner parties and supermarkets.

According to Hawke, Newman’s youngest daughter Clea gave him a treasure trove of home movies and transcripts of interview tapes with everyone from her dad’s first wife, Jackie Witte, to directors John Huston, Martin Ritt, Martin Scorsese, George Roy Hill and Sidney Lumet. Paul was writing a memoir with screenwriter Stewart Stern, then changed his mind and impulsively burned the tapes at the dump.

Since he didn’t have their voices to narrate, Hawke has George Clooney reading Paul’s quotes with Laura Linney playing Joanne and Brooks Ashmanskas embodying writer Gore Vidal, who gave the series its name. Plus there’s Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Zoe Kazan, Billy Crudup, Sally Field and surprisingly candid comments from Newman’s daughters: Stephanie, Nell, Melissa and Clea.

The Last Movie Stars not only examines the complexity of the Newmans’ marriage but also shows how the trajectory of their individual careers influenced, affected and challenged their bond. “Only the two people who are involved know what binds that relationship together,” Joanne notes.

To his credit, Hawke doesn’t gloss over the difficult times: Paul’s struggle with alcoholism, Joanne’s discontent at being relegated to raising six children (three from Paul’s first marriage), and the loss of Paul’s son Scott to drugs in 1978.

“My children are all wonderful. I love them all…but if I had to do it over again, I’m not sure I’d have children,” Joanne confesses. “Actors don’t make good parents.”

Throughout 50 years, they remained passionate partners, leaving a philanthropic legacy in Newman’s Own products, Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camp and Scott Newman Center.

FYI: In 2007, 77 year-old Joanne Woodward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Paul Newman died of lung cancer at age 83 on Sept. 28, 2008.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Last Movie Stars is a nostalgic, engaging, intimate 8, streaming on HBO Max.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.