The 1968 Exhibit: "Rachel, Rachel," Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, August 1968

Rachel, Rachel, starring Joanne Woodward and directed by Paul Newman

Another one of the best movies of 1968, and I'm just now catching up with it (thanks again to Turner Classic Movies).  Rachel, Rachel, released exactly 42 years ago on August 26, 1968, was one of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar in 1969 (nominated with Funny Girl, Lion in Winter, and Romeo and Juliet, and the year's winner, Oliver!. Notice, by the way, that the mind-blowing 2001: A Space Odyssey didn't make the cut, although its director, Stanley Kubrick,  received a nomination.)

sep-paulnewman-2Rachel, Rachel is a quiet, small character study, a hybrid of an "art movie" and a mainstream "star" picture.  Rachel Cameron is a New England spinster, age 35, who feels life passing her by, rapidly.  "Nothing's real, nothing is now," she confesses to her friend Calla.  "If somebody pinched me, I wouldn't even hurt.  I've only got one life.  I say to myself, maybe next time, this or that comes around, I'll grab it, but nothing ever comes around, does it?"  She falls for (and has sex with) an old high school chum, who of course turns out to be a cad who dumps her when she gets too close.   There are things about Rachel, Rachel that mark it as a "contemporary" (1960s) movie--a lesbian subplot (Rachel's fellow teacher, played by Estelle Parsons, comes on to her); some flashes of fantasizing by Rachel (she has lurid flashbacks to her childhood--she's the daughter of the town undertaker--and she imagines overdosing her overbearing mother); a short dream sequence; a surprising scene of a somewhat countercultural religious awakening; and what must have seemed at the time to be some fairly explicit sex scenes.

The movie attracted a disproportionate amount of attention in the press for one key reason:  its producer and director, Paul Newman (left off the list of Best Director nominees that year).  At age 43, Newman was one the biggest Hollywood stars of 1968, the blue-eyed heartthrob who commanded the Sixties box office with Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Hustler, Sweet Bird of Youth, Exodus and other less memorable flicks.   Rachel, Rachel was his first directorial effort, and this -- far more than the picture itself or its star, Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward-- was The Story for numerous magazine and newspaper articles, beginning months before the film's release.


In this article in Saturday Evening Post in February 1968, when the movie was being filmed and was then called A Jest of God, reporter Jane Wilson gets the obvious fact about Newman out of the way quickly:  "In person he is so astonishingly handsome that it is impossible not to stare at him, and everybody does, all the time--men, women, children."  Newman is reported to be "tired of playing superstar, feeling 'burned out' as an actor."    In an October story in LIFE, Newman said about Rachel, Rachel:  "I wanted to prove to Hollywood that you can make a motion picture about basic, simple people without violence and a band of Indians scalping settlers."  (Newman shared this cover with his wife, but he had already been on LIFE's cover once in 1968--for a May article about Hollywood stars getting involved in the political campaigns, mostly for McCarthy and Kennedy.)

Although Joanne Woodward still lives in Connecticut, Paul Newman died in 2008--a fact one would not be able to glean from websites for "Newman's Own" food products.  Paul and daughter Nell Newman (who appeared in this movie as young Rachel) still grace the packaging of a line of organic foods.  He may have become a "brand," but he's still better looking than Orville Redenbacher.