Paul Newman and Sidney Portier

Paris Blues (1961).

Original Music: Duke Ellington
Principal Cast: Paul Newman (Ram Bowen), Joanne Woodward (Lillian Corning), Sidney Poitier (Eddie Cook), Louis Armstrong (Wild Man Moore), Diahann Carroll (Connie Lampson).

The plot featured Poitier and Newman as American expatriate musicians living in Paris after World War II. Newman is studying classical music while earning a living playing in a jazz club owned by a woman with whom he is having a casual affair. Poitier enjoys life abroad as an escape from the racial hatred he experienced at home in America. They meet two young vacationing schoolteachers, Carroll and Joanne Woodward, and pair off. Carroll eventually convinces Poitier it’s better to return to the States and face bigotry head-on rather than hiding out in a foreign country. They leave together with plans to marry. Newman gives up his bachelor status and casts his fate with Woodward after it becomes clear his classical music career is going nowhere. But at the last minute, he meets her at the train station to tell her he won’t be going back to America with her after all.

In the Harold Flender novel on which the movie is based, the story centered only on a black jazz musician who falls for a black schoolteacher vacationing in Paris. For the screen, producers hedged their bets by adding a white couple and casting the very popular Newman and Woodward team. Some viewers have suggested that the film might have been an even stronger examination of race (and a more interesting love story) if the black man had paired off with the white woman and vice versa. There was even a rumor that that was the intention going into production but it’s never been confirmed.

Poitier’s beautiful co-star almost didn’t take the part, but Carroll couldn’t resist the script because although it was a contemporary love story, “it showed some social and political awareness and presented black people as normal human beings.”

In real life, the couple had been married since 1958, They would continue to have one of the longest personal and professional partnerships in Hollywood, and have acted together in seven other films.

 

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