Paul Newman’s 50-Year Marriage Started at the Expense of His Relationship with His 1st Wife

Paul Newman was overly in love with his first wife, Jackie Witte, five years his junior. The couple got married when they were young, but their union ended in divorce because of an affair.

Paul Newman broke up his family and shared he was ashamed of his decision. He met his first wife, Jackie Witte, in the years after World War II, and she was an aspiring actor like him.

Newman was a 24-year-old Navy veteran, and Witte was just nineteen and yet to graduate from college when they first met in a small town where they had both taken a summer stage work.

(L) An undated image of American actor Paul Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward. (R) Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman at the Radio City Music Hall for “A Change Is Going To Come: The Concert for John Kerry” on July 8, 2004 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images


Newman had turned his back on a job in the family firm and opted to pursue his love for acting instead. He previously participated in acting while in university and tried to find work in local theatres in the Mid-west.

When he crossed paths with Witte, they moved together to a theatre company in Woodstock in Illinois. The pair later tied the knot on December 27, 1949.

At first, people believed they only got married young because Witte was pregnant, but that was not the case. They were just two people who were head over heels with each other.

Pictured: An undated portrait of Paul Newman appearing in deep thoughts | Photo: Getty Images

While in Woodstock, Newman’s acting career struggled to take off. Even though he had the looks, a theatre manager once told him that he was not a “leading man material.”

When Witte fell pregnant, the couple had to face the prospects of giving up the theatre. However, coincidentally, his father had just died, and he was required to continue running the family business.

The film director then moved with his pregnant wife to Cleveland, Ohio, where their son Scott was born. Newman was 25 years old at that point, and it seemed as though his passion for acting was over.

Paul Newman arrives for the “Road To Perdition” film premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater on July 9, 2002 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

But he could not stop yearning for the stage and used to go to performances in the town’s playhouse and even watched fellow actors taking their curtain calls.

Newman ended up dipping into all his savings for a master’s degree in theatre at Yale University with the plan that if acting did not work out for him, he could at least teach the subject:

“I had no stars in my eyes or aspirations to be a Broadway actor, but I did want to be in some part of the theater, and a master’s degree always protects you.”

Paul Newman pictured at the Ford Motor Company’s 75th anniversary special, A Salute to the American Imagination, originally broadcast October 5, 1978 on CBS television | Photo; Getty Images

So off he went along with his wife and infant child into the unknown. Nothing could deter Newman, who desperately wanted a foot in the door. He and Witte rented the top floor in New Haven.

He described it was as “an old wooden three-family house.” Witte occasionally commuted into New York City to seek modeling gigs while her husband augmented his savings with work as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.

Newman eventually dropped out of Yale and took a leap of faith for one year to launch his career in the Big Apple. Before he and Witte moved to New York, she had told him that she was expecting their second child.

Portrait of American film director Paul Newman as he poses against a pale red background in the 1960s | Photo: Getty Images

His responsibilities were growing, and he persisted in making his acting career a success. Before he knew it, he was getting minor roles on television and auditioned for stage plays.

Slowly but surely, Newman’s career began to take off, and he even landed one role in a Broadway play called “Picnic,” where he was also an understudy of lead actor Ralph Meeker.

Newman played Hal, a heartthrob who made lonely women fall weak to their knees in a small Kansas town. However, he had trouble morphing into the character, and there was one instance where he had to seduce Madge (his love interest) while twirling her at the picnic dance.

Actress Joanne Woodward holds her Oscar statuette while sitting next to husband, Paul Newman, during the Governor’s Ball, an Academy Awards party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 1958, Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

The stage actor was required to loosen up a bit and he eventually did. Most notably, the girl he was dancing with throughout the rehearsals noticed the transformation, the young actress who had been cast as an understudy of Madge.

Her name was Joanne Woodward. Interestingly, at first, she did not recognize Newman’s craft and revealed that when she first saw him act:

“I thought he was terrible. And he was. Just a pretty face.”

Meanwhile, she had unknowingly made quite an impression on Newman the first time they met in their agent’s office. When asked if it was love at first sight for the future couple, Woodward laughed it off in an interview with Today back in 2002.

She recalled that period and said it was an August hot day, and she was having a bad day at the time. Woodward shared despite Newman being good-looking, it did not matter, and therefore he did not have a good impression on her at first.

But when they got to know each other, the more she seemed to Newman like an ideal girl. He described the type of person she was saying:

“She was modern and independent. I was shy, a bit conservative. It took me a long time to persuade her that I wasn’t as dull as I looked.”

An undated photo of Joanne Woodward arriving at the Pantages Theatre with her husband, actor Paul Newman, for the 30th Annual Academy Awards | Photo: Getty Images

But at that time, Newman was still a married man with two kids already, and Woodward was merely dating. Meanwhile, Witte was a stay-at-home mom whose world was no longer the same after welcoming two children.

She had given up on her acting aspirations while her husband seemed fulfilled professionally. Moreover, there was tension around the house, according to a friend.

After following Newman around in two cities, Witte was stuck at home while the father of her children spent much of his nights in Manhattan working and socializing with some of his acting friends.

An undated portrait of Paul Newman in 1981 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

Newman liked the company of writers and actors, as did Woodward, so Witte rarely went out with him. With that said, the co-stars were two attractive people with a deep mutual interest and a noticeable feeling of companionship.

It gave Witte a good reason to become suspicious because Newman spent most of his time with Woodward, and the two were bonding but kept it a distance in respect of Newman’s marriage. Woodward once said:

“Paul and I were good friends before we were lovers. We liked each other. We could talk to each other and tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust.”

An undated image of Broadway stars, Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward | Photo: Getty Images

Still, Newman’s marriage with Witte continued, and they appeared happy to the public. Soon after, they welcomed a third child named Stephanie in 1954.

Newman’s career continued to grow, and when filming in Hollywood, he would spend more time with Woodward. But the guilt of threatening his marriage consumed him, which led to alcohol abuse.

On the other hand, his romance with Woodward continued to develop. A friend commented on their relationship stating theirs was more of an ordeal than a courtship.

Portrait of Joanne Woodward standing next to her car in Hollywood, November 1957 | Photo: Getty Images

Newman was torn between his loyalty to his children and his honesty about having feelings for Woodward. At the same time, the “Sybil” alum suffered torments at finding herself in the role of a homewrecker.

Newman eventually admitted his feelings to Woodward to his friends and then broke the news to Witte that he was in love with another woman.

One other friend stated Witte and Newman got married young and grew up to be different people. So Newman made up his mind and finally left his family for Woodward.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman in a studio portrait, issued as publicity for the film, “The Long Hot Summer,” in 1958 | Photo: Getty Images

At one point, he was seeing a psychiatrist to address the genuine pain that occurred amid the break-up of his marriage to Witte. At the same time, he flaunted his relationship with Woodward publicly, and the two became a power couple.

After Witte made peace that their marriage was over, Newman started sorting out the terms of their divorce while knowing Woodward was pregnant with their first child. It was the final straw for Witte to let him go after learning about the pregnancy.

She and Newman went ahead with the divorce, and after it was finalized in 1958, he was asked about it in the press and he said: “I was probably too immature to make a success of my first marriage.”

Newlyweds Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward kiss behind a wedding cake during their wedding reception at the El Rancho hotel-casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, January 29, 1958 | Photo: Getty Images

One time he confessed that he was “guilty as hell” about the dissolution of their marriage, adding, “And I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life.”Nonetheless, Newman finally picked up the pieces and moved on with Woodward, and they were dubbed “Hollywood’s golden couple.”

The lovebirds wed in Las Vegas on January 29, 1958, and honeymooned at Connaught Hotel in London. They were married for 50 years until Newman’s death in 2008 at age 83. 

The duo welcomed three children, daughters, Nell, Clea, and Melissa. However, their marriage was anything but perfect. In 2009, it was revealed that Newman was a flawed man who was a heavy drinker and that he openly had a long affair while married to Woodward.

Pictured: Paul Newman, wearing a tuxedo and a bow tie in Venice, 1963 | Photo: Getty Images

Still, he worshipped the ground his wife walked on, was a hopeless romantic, and he loved his wife dearly. It was eleven years into their marriage when Newman started an affair in 1968 with Nancy Bacon, a divorced Hollywood journalist.

The rumors of his infidelity nearly ruined his marriage to Woodward. Bacon had revealed that she spent several days on film sets in Mexico and nights in a hotel suite with Newman. She claimed they met in her Los Angeles apartment.

However, the scandal died down at some point, but Newman kept coming back until midway through 1969 when he and Woodward briefly separated, and he decided to work on their marriage. Bacon ended the affair because of his drinking habits and intimacy.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman at the Radio City Music Hall for “A Change Is Going To Come: The Concert for John Kerry” on July 8, 2004 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

While Newman’s heavy drinking also affected his marriage with Woodward, the two still stuck it out. In December 2020, a Rolex watch given to Newman by his wife for their 25th anniversary was sold at an auction for $5.4 million. He was a former race car driver. 

Woodward had engraved it with the words: “Drive slowly, Joanne.” Their daughter Clea once told Closer, “To me, this watch shows my mother’s tolerance of his continued passion for racing and reflects the enduring love between them which remained for another 25 years until his passing. “

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