In December of 1939, the city of Atlanta, Georgia, seemed the center of the universe as it hosted the grand premiere of Gone With the Wind. Fans gathered impatiently around the Lowes Grand Theatre as a parade of limousines made its way down Peachtree Street, carrying stars such as Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, who was attending the premiere with her partner and future husband Laurence Olivier. In a moment of unbridled enthusiasm, a nine-year-old fan rushed through the crowd and hopped on Olivier’s lap. Coincidentally, 38 years later, that same fan became Olivier’s co-star in a production of Come Back, Little Sheba— although now she was known as Academy Award–winning actress Joanne Woodward.
Joanne Woodward was born in 1930 in Thomasville, Georgia, to Elinor and Wade Woodward. When Woodward was 2, the family moved to Marietta, Georgia, and eventually on to Greenville. While at Greenville High, Woodward was active in the school’s drama department and also in the Greenville Little Theatre, where she appeared as Laura Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. A natural beauty, Woodward was named a “Sweetheart of ’47” and voted “Best Looking” during her senior year at Greenville High.
After graduation, Woodward attended Louisiana State University, where she majored in drama, and then moved to New York City to study with Sanford Meisner, one of the most influential acting teachers of the twentieth century. His first piece of advice to Woodward was to lose the “Southern drawl.”
While in New York, Woodward worked in various theatre and television productions, and in 1953 her agent introduced her to an unknown actor named Paul Newman. The two reconnected four years later on the set of The Long Hot Summer, a Southern-fried melodrama cobbled together from various William Faulkner stories. Woodward and Newman quickly became a couple and were married in Las Vegas the following year, not long after Woodward won her Best Actress Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve.
Over the years, Woodward has appeared in such classics as Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, The Glass Menagerie, Rachel, Rachel, and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, for which she earned her fourth Academy Award nomination. In recent years she has focused her attention to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a charity serving children and their families coping with cancer. Woodward and Newman remained married for 50 years until Newman’s death from cancer in September of 2008. The love affair of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman is one of the most enduring and respected in the world of film. Newman once attributed their longevity to the “correct amounts of lust and respect,” while Woodward said of Newman, “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”