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WATCH: Paul Newman Made His Screen Debut On Live TV 70 Years Ago Today

His career didn't take off after his appearance on Tales of Tomorrow, but the camera loved him from the start.
  • It was years still before he'd become a household name, but the camera's love affair with Paul Newman began here. (Headshot: 20th Century Fox Film Corp/Everett Collection)
    It was years still before he'd become a household name, but the camera's love affair with Paul Newman began here. (Headshot: 20th Century Fox Film Corp/Everett Collection)
    Overwhelmed by Peak TV? Aaron Barnhart is your guide to the good, the great, and the skippable. Subscribe to get all his Primetimer reviews.

    If you were an aspiring stage actor in New York in the early 1950s, you did television because you were basically doing a stage play — only in a tiny studio under really hot lights.

    Seventy years ago today, a Method actor named Paul Newman landed his very first television role on a dramatic anthology series called Tales of Tomorrow. And even though he barely had any lines, the camera loved him. A star was not born that day, but stardom was conceivable.

    Tales of Tomorrow, which aired from 1951 to 1953 on ABC, was one of TV's very first science fiction shows for grownups. It aired adaptations of classic works like Frankenstein and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but most of the scripts came from aspiring writers willing to work cheap, including an English science writer named Arthur C. Clarke.

    Newman is part of a quartet of actors in the Tales of Tomorrow episode titled "Ice from Space," which aired live on the East Coast Friday August 8, 1952 at 9:30pm. (The kinescope version below would air on ABC's West Coast affiliates two weeks later.) Written by E.H. Frank, the story revolves around a block of ice that came from space and is … deadly. And not just if you lick it. As it happens, the military base where the ice appears is being investigated by a nosy congressman played by Raymond Bailey, the future Mr. Drysdale of Beverly Hillbillies fame.

    Newman plays a sergeant who's there mostly to watch and take orders. When we first lay eyes on him six minutes into the episode, it's in a close-up. There he is, standing in the shadows, chewing gum. But he's all-in. Even though he has no lines in this scene, he's clearly alarmed by what he hears the Russian scientist Meshkoff (Michael Gorrin) saying about this mysterious ice block. As the scene ends, Newman's job is to slowly pace around the ice block long enough to allow the others to run over to the set of the next scene. He sells that walk pretty well, too.

    Of course, it's early days for Paul — he hasn't even met his future wife Joanne Woodward. That will come in 1953 when they both are cast in the play Picnic. Woodward would go on to do an episode of Tales of Tomorrow herself, and by 1957 had been cast as the lead in the Three Faces of Eve, for which she would win an Oscar while her dashing husband toiled in relative obscurity.

    For more Newman and Woodward, we highly, highly recommend the new HBO Max docuseries about their marriage and careers, The Last Movie Stars. (Read our review.)

    Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.

    TOPICS: Paul Newman, HBO Max, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Last Movie Stars, Joanne Woodward