Paul Newman

updated 12/27/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/27/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jimmy Cagney had to sing and dance to do it, John Wayne had to wear an eye patch and fall off his horse, and Robert De Niro had to bloat up by 50 pounds. But to take his best shot at a long-elusive Oscar, Paul Newman had to, as he put it, "crawl out of my skin." In Sidney Lumet's gutsy courtroom drama The Verdict, Newman, 57, finally sheds the macho image that has made him one of America's most durable sex symbols over 28 years in 45 films and zero Oscars for five nominations. In taking the against-type gamble—he plays a boozy, bleary Boston lawyer—Newman has won esteem from critics, audiences and just possibly himself. "I didn't resent having to show all my blemishes," he says. "It's so comforting not to have to be a movie star."

Yet middle age does seem to be finding the now-silvering Newman in breathstoppingly splendid form. (He distributes 145 pounds on a 5'10" frame.) If he cops the Oscar for The Verdict, it'll be a great joke on his buddy (and Butch Cassidy sidekick) Robert Redford, who turned down the role. If he doesn't, it won't change a thing. Newman and his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, 52, have stayed securely wed almost 25 years. "It ain't ever boring," he says. Newman remains—from April to October each year—an energetic auto racer. He's also a liberal activist, recently debating the nuclear freeze with Hollywood conservative Charlton Heston on ABC. In 1983 Newman will direct, co-write, co-produce and (with Joanne) co-star in Harry and Son, about a crane operator's attempts to communicate with an unhappy son. Newman, the father of six, says that his son Scott's death four years ago at age 28 from an accidental drug-and-liquor overdose was not this film's inspiration, but he does intend to make a film about that tragedy someday. Despite such dark moments, "I don't have a lot of regrets in my life," says one of the most-envied men in America. "I did the best I could with whatever equipment I had."

A pinch of this, a dash of that; now he's the man for all seasonings

Anyone as casual as Paul Newman would never be a candidate for the best-dressed awards, but the same can't be said for his salads. For years Westport, Conn.'s most celebrated citizen has been challenging the taste buds of his family, friends and neighbors with a tangy vinaigrette brewed in wine bottles in the basement of a barn next to his 250-year-old Colonial farmhouse. In 1980 Newman decided to bring the sauce out of the basement and into the supermarkets, teaming up on the venture with author A.E. (Papa Hemingway) Hotchner, 62, one of Paul's cronies and a neighbor for more than 20 years. Hotchner's wife, Ursula, 40, runs the day-to-day office operation in Westport. Last summer the three pals finally secured a factory in Boston, and "Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar Dressing" began to slosh off the assembly lines in August. Newman and the Hotchners, as business people, are performing like seasoned pros. The bottles retail for $1.29 each; Newman and company have so far shipped out 100,000 cases to supermarkets across America and Canada, grossing close to $1 million. (Profits go mainly to the Scott Newman Foundation, to promote accurate media representation of drug problems.) Adding spice to the operation are two new experiments currently in the works: "Newman's Own Industrial Strength Venetian Spaghetti Sauce" and "Newman's Own Natural Popcorn." Despite the hoopla, Newman remains unassuming. "I decided what I wanted most was to be the salad dressing king of New England," he sasses. "It reminds me not to take myself too seriously."

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