With spouse Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward comprised one of the most successful husband-and-wife tandems in Hollywood history; not only among the most acclaimed film actresses of her era, she was also highly visible as a television and theatrical performer, as well as a prominent social activist. Woodward was born February 27, 1930, in Thomasville, GA, and later acted in campus productions while attending Louisiana State University. After relocating to New York she studied at both the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors' Studio, and in 1953 signed on as an understudy in the Broadway production of William Inge's Picnic; there she met Newman, and they soon fell in love. After starring in 1954's The Lovers, Woodward turned to television, appearing in dozens of programs. A performance in an episode of Four Star Playhouse caught the attention of Fox production chief Buddy Adler, who quickly snapped her up with a long-term contract.
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Woodward made her film debut in the 1955 Western Count Three and Pray. Her next project, the 1956 thriller A Kiss Before Dying, ran into controversy over its advertising campaign, and as a result appeared in theaters only briefly. Director Nunnally Johnson then requested Woodward's services for the starring role in his schizophrenia drama The Three Faces of Eve; Fox initially refused, but after everyone from Judy Garland to Susan Hayward rejected the role, the studio finally relented. The performance won Woodward a Best Actress Academy Award in 1957, but Fox remained unsure how best to utilize her skills; they next cast her in the Martin Ritt drama No Down Payment, appearing with a number of the studio's other aspiring talents. In 1958, Woodward and Newman co-starred in The Long Hot Summer; the couple married that same year, and then reunited for Leo McCarey's Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! After starring in the 1959 adaptation of the William Faulkner classic The Sound and the Fury, Woodward co-starred with Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind before teaming with Newman in the 1960 hit From the Terrace; they were again together in 1961's Paris Blues.
By now a mother as well as a wife, Woodward retreated from film for two years to focus on domestic duties. Upon returning to Hollywood in 1963, her career took a nosedive: Her comeback vehicle The Stripper performed poorly at the box office, and A New Kind of Love -- another project with Newman -- did not fare much better. When 1964's Signpost to Murder also failed, she again went on a two-year hiatus. Upon resurfacing, she starred in A Fine Madness with Sean Connery and in A Big Hand for the Little Lady with Henry Fonda. Despite good critical notice, neither was a hit, and Woodward spent the next year absent from moviemaking. The 1968 Rachel, Rachel was the outcome of Woodward's exile; she and Newman admitted it was carefully designed as a vehicle to resuscitate her career, and the ploy worked brilliantly -- he directed, she starred, and together they led the film to four Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Picture.
The following year Woodward and Newman reunited onscreen for the auto-racing drama Winning, and again starred together in 1970s politically charged W.U.S.A., a reflection of the couple's high-profile support of liberal causes; when 1971's They Might Be Giants proved unsuccessful, Newman directed Woodward to Best Actress honors at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The follow-up Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams earned Woodward another Academy Award nomination. The Drowning Pool (1975) was Woodward's last feature film for three years; she instead turned to television, co-starring with Sally Field in the award-winning Sybil and appearing in a remake of Come Back, Little Sheba in 1977. After winning an Emmy for 1978's See How She Runs, Woodward returned to feature films with the Burt Reynolds farce The End; it was her final big-screen appearance for six years; instead, she focused solely on TV, delivering a cameo in A Christmas to Remember before starring in 1979's The Streets of L.A.
After Newman directed her in 1980's The Shadow Box, Woodward earned an Emmy nomination for her work in Crisis at Central High and then spent the next four years exclusively on-stage, appearing in productions of The Glass Menagerie, Candida, and Hay Fever. In 1984, she finally returned to films in Newman's Harry and Son and that same year made her own directorial debut with the PBS feature Come Along With Me. As a professor stricken with Alzheimer's disease, she won a third Emmy for 1985's Do You Remember Love? In 1987, Newman directed her in a film adaptation of The Glass Menagerie. Woodward did not reappear for four more years, when she and Newman starred as the titular Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, a performance which earned her an Oscar nomination. In 1993, she suddenly enjoyed a major resurgence, appearing in two major theatrical releases, Philadelphia and The Age of Innocence (which she narrated) as well as a pair of TV movies, Blind Spot and Foreign Affairs. A small-screen adaptation of the Anne Tyler Pulitzer-winner Breathing Lessons earned Woodward an Emmy nomination in 1994. In 1996, she continued her television work playing herself in James Dean: A Portrait, and two years later she narrated My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports, a documentary about children who had been rescued from Nazi concentration camps. She continued to participate in documentaries, and lend her voice to various projects as a narrator, but she returned to acting in 2005's made-for-HBO adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Empire Falls. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi