Joanne Woodward, a Georgia native, is an Academy Award–winning actress and activist. She ranks among the most well-respected actors of the twentieth century.
Joanne Gignilliat Woodward was born on February 27, 1930, to Elinor Trimmier and Wade Woodward in Thomasville, where her father was a school administrator. In the late 1930s the family moved to Marietta. Her mother worked at Bell Bomber, and her father became a traveling salesman. She attended Marietta High School before the family moved again, in 1945, to Greenville, South Carolina. Her older brother, Wade, would later work for Bell Bomber before becoming an architect.
As a child, Woodward shared with her mother a great interest in movies. In 1939 she and her mother attended the premiere of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta. After the family moved to Greenville, Woodward began acting in the local theater, the Greenville Little Theatre, and received good reviews. She graduated from high school in 1947, and although a drama teacher encouraged her to move to New York City to pursue an acting career, her father insisted that she go to college instead. She attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and majored in drama but left school after two years and returned home. Only when her father saw her perform in Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie was he convinced that she had real talent; he then allowed her to pursue acting in New York.
Relocating to New York City, Woodward joined the Actors’ Studio and Neighborhood Playhouse. She worked with the distinguished dramatic coach Sanford Meisner, who told her that she must lose her southern accent. Woodward started out with small modeling jobs and bit parts in television. In 1952 she was introduced to another young actor, Paul Newman, by the agent that represented them both. Shortly thereafter, they were both cast in William Inge’s play Picnic, she as an understudy and he in a small part.
Woodward moved to California in 1955 to take on her first major film role in the Hollywood western Count Three and Pray. She next appeared in the films A Kiss before Dying (1956) and The Three Faces of Eve (1957). In the latter, she plays a real-life (but anonymous) Georgia woman plagued by multiple personality disorder, a demanding role that required her to switch constantly between the three very different personalities that her character manifested. The film was written and directed by Georgia native Nunnally Johnson. Woodward won the Academy Award for her performance in March 1958, just two months after marrying Newman, who had himself emerged as a major star by that time. The couple eventually had three daughters, Elinor Terese (“Nell”), Melissa Stewart, and Claire Olivia. Both Nell and Melissa have worked as actors.
The Three Faces of Eve made Woodward a major star, and she would remain so throughout the 1960s. Often cast as a southern character, she appeared in the film adaptations of two William Faulkner novels: The Long Hot Summer (1958; adapted from The Hamlet), the first of many films in which she costarred with her husband, and The Sound and the Fury (1959). She also starred with Marlon Brando in Tennessee Williams’s The Fugitive Kind (1959). Woodward and Newman continued to appear together in such films as From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), Winning (1969), WUSA (1970), The Drowning Pool (1975), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990), and the HBO production of Empire Falls (2005). Woodward also starred in a number of films directed by Newman, including Rachel, Rachel (1968), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972), and The Glass Menagerie (1987).
Woodward received Oscar nominations for her roles in Rachel, Rachel; Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973); and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. She plays a psychiatrist to Sally Field’s title character in Sybil (1976), another true story of a woman with multiple personality disorder. Woodward won Emmy awards for Do You Remember Love? (1985), in which she plays an Alzheimer’s patient, and for See How She Runs (1978), in which she plays a middle-aged woman who runs in the Boston Marathon. She appeared primarily in made-for-television movies during the 1980s and 1990s and had a small role in the acclaimed film Philadelphia (1993).
In the late 1980s she returned to college to complete her degree, and in 1990 she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York, alongside her daughter Claire.
Before Newman’s death in 2008, he and Woodward, longtime social and political activists, worked together on a variety of other projects. She assists with Newman’s Own, a line of food products that donates all profits and royalties after taxes to various charities, primarily the Hole in the Wall camps for children with debilitating diseases, which was founded by Newman. The couple has worked for drug abuse prevention through the Scott Newman Foundation, which they established after the drug-overdose death of Newman’s son from a previous marriage.
Woodward continues to visit and support her childhood home. In recent years she has donated money in support of local efforts to restore the Strand Theatre, a historic movie house in downtown Marietta, as well as to Cobb County’s Georgia Ballet company. In 1992 she attended the Marietta High School Foundation banquet to celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of the city school system.
From 2000 through 2005 Woodward served as the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, in Westport, Connecticut, where she and Newman were longtime residents. She is artistic director emeritus for the theater.