Paul Newman’s illustrious career was marked by a scarcity of blockbusters, with the exception of two films co-starring Robert Redford, which turned out to be box office sensations. Another notable hit in his filmography was the disaster epic, “The Towering Inferno.” Despite its success, Newman didn’t find the experience of making it particularly enjoyable.
Renowned actor Ethan Hawke paid tribute to his idol, Paul Newman, by creating a documentary series about him in 2022. During promotional interviews, Hawke disclosed how Newman’s approach to working on “The Towering Inferno” influenced his own decision to take on the role of Marvel villain Arthur Harrow in “Moon Knight.”
“Did he [Newman] admire blockbusters and superhero movies? No, I don’t. He hated doing ‘Towering Inferno.’ That was his idea of a giant sellout. You see him in physical pain in that movie. But, it’s still a job. You still have to put food on the table,” remarked Hawke, shedding light on Newman’s pragmatic view of his craft.
One significant reason for Newman’s discontent with “The Towering Inferno” was his well-documented rivalry with co-star Steve McQueen. The two clashed over top billing, ultimately leading to the pioneering practice of ‘staggered but equal’ billing, with their names arranged diagonally on the screen.
The intensity of McQueen and Newman’s feud extended to disputes over dialogue in the film. McQueen relentlessly negotiated with the screenwriter until the two stars had an equal number of lines, resulting in Newman dubbing McQueen “chicken sh*t.”
Examining Paul Newman’s filmography from the mid-1950s onward, “The Towering Inferno” indeed stands out as a departure from his usual body of work. Aside from a handful of exceptional westerns, Newman ventured into genre films sparingly. He did, however, take on a peculiar science fiction project in the 1970s under the direction of Robert Altman.
Despite his iconic status, Newman grappled with insecurities about his acting abilities. He was acutely aware that he wasn’t even the most accomplished actor within his own household, being married to the immensely talented Joanne Woodward. Additionally, Newman harbored reservations about certain films, like “The Silver Chalice,” recognizing them as missteps in his career.