"I thought Newman was arrogant.
When I finally got him into bed, I taught him who the man was."
– Steve McQueen on Paul Newman
Thus began a rivalrous relationship that was frequently acrimonious. McQueen turned down Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) because he wouldn’t accept second billing to Newman. The two fought like cats and dogs over the positioning of their names on the movie poster for Towering Inferno (1974). McQueen was a brash liar, but Newman found himself strangely attracted to him, and there was obvious sexual tension between the two. But Paul was also having a sexual relationship with Sal Mineo at the time, and Mineo had fallen madly in love with him and wanted to live together as a couple. When Paul rejected that offer, Mineo attempted suicide.
By this time Newman had moved his mistress, Joanne Woodward, into the Chateau Marmont. If those walls could talk. Christopher Isherwood called on Paul and Joanne. Gore Vidal was a resident on a different floor (as a cover, Woodward considered marrying Vidal to further the future of his race for the U.S. presidency). Marilyn Monroe once knocked on Newman’s door with a bottle of champagne and got lucky, since Paul was alone that afternoon. Grace Kelly hit on him at the Chateau Marmont – it was Newman who felt lucky that day.
Photo: Rivals McQueen and Newman spar on the rooftop in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
But I digress.
About this time Newman developed a serious man crush on Robert Wagner, but it did not turn sexual. Two later crushes (Robert Redford and Tom Cruise) also ended with similar results. Fortunately Newman was able to satisfy his need for man-on-man sex with McQueen, who was still hitting on him. Once Newman agreed to meet Steve in a cheap hotel in Long Beach, where McQueen said, “I’ve got every horny woman in Hollywood trying to get me to f*ck her. I need a break, a different kind of action now and then. You’re the kind of change I have in mind.” This sort of clandestine activity between the Hollywood rivals went on for years.
Just around the corner was one of Newman’s great cinematic triumphs, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), in which he plays a repressed homosexual by the name of Brick. James Dean was lined up for the role, but he died in a car crash before production began. In the film version, the direct homosexual references were removed from the Tennessee Williams script in order to satisfy then current production codes. The film script dances around the reasons Brick and Cat (Elizabeth Taylor) haven’t slept together in years, but mention of the suicide of Brick’s close football chum Skipper is retained.
Newman told Tennessee Williams, "The role of Brick is perfect for me. All my life I've been split into two different directions. One side of me wants to live life with my gay football buddy Skipper, the other side is tempted to fuck the living shit out of Maggie the Cat and be the heterosexual stud most of my fans want me to be."
Hollywood insiders divulge that Elvis Presley was considered for the part of Brick, and that Elvis and Paul got together to talk about it. Elvis asked about Newman’s friendship with James Dean. Newman swore that Elvis told him, “I’ll make a confession. I’m about the straightest dude that ever walked the planet. But if that f*cker ever called me, I’d come running. I guess you’d say I have an obsession with Dean.”
Faye Dunaway tries to keep the rivals apart in Towering Inferno (1974)
Well, honestly. The next time I go shopping for salad dressing, it won't be the image of starving children that comes to mind.