However, that illustrious pedigree isn’t the main reason to watch the film. The reason you should sit down and watch The Long, Hot Summer before summer ends is because the film shows one of the greatest love stories that Hollywood has ever produced— although this one played out in real life, not the silver screen.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward first met back in 1953, both ducking into the air-conditioned office of their agent to escape the heat. They were two young, attractive stars trying to make it in Hollywood and had a fair amount in common and a fair amount of chemistry, too. However, Paul was married, so that was that. They met again on the set of a Broadway production of Picnic and discovered that they genuinely liked each other as people and co-workers. Hollywood brought them together again in 1957 when they were both cast in The Long, Hot Summer. The film starred Paul as Ben Quick a drifter (albeit a very good looking one) who wanders into a small Mississippi town. His father is well-known in the city, and not in a good way, but Quick decides to stay—in no small part because of Clara Varner (played by Joanne). When Varner’s parents try to push the two together, Clara and Ben are too stubborn to see that they are perfect for each other. When sparks eventually begin to fly between them, a jealous rival causes a tragedy that could tear them apart forever.
As they filmed the intense scenes, the two stars fell in love in real life and it’s hard to miss on screen. As Clara and Ben come to develop feelings for each other, Joanne and Paul give each other looks that are beyond the skill of any actor. It’s clear those feelings are 100% real—and it’s hard not be moved by them.
When the film was done, Newman got divorced, and the two stars turned their friendship into romance. They were married just a few months later. While many Hollywood romances crash and burn, Joanne and Paul remained happily married for 50 years. “People stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked,” Paul once said.
The couple had three daughters together, raising them far from the spotlight. They also co-starred in several films including From the Terrace and A New Kind of Love. When Paul wanted to try directing, he cast Joanne to star in Rachel, Rachel. Working with her husband helped her bring out the best, and she was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars.
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The golden couple were easy on the eyes, of course, but according to Woodward, that was not the reason their romance lasted. “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that is a treat,” said Woodward.
There was also a great deal of mutual respect and love between the two stars. If you’re ever looking for a little heartwarming pick-me-up, check out this photo of Paul Newman gazing at his wife while she holds the Oscar she won for Three Faces of Eve. His look says it all. “We really liked each other,” Woodward said about the secret to their long marriage. “We could talk to each other, we could tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust.”
They celebrated their golden anniversary a few months before Newman’s death in 2008. To see where it all began, though, you need to watch The Long, Hot Summer.