Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s daughter was rummaging through their attic at the family’s Westport, Connecticut, home when she made a surprising discovery.
“We’d gone through ripped bags,” the 62-year-old told Fox News Digital. “I remember right before one was about to be thrown out, I reached in – there were moths and dead mice everywhere… And I found the first 10 letters my dad ever wrote to my mom.”
“It was this close to being thrown away,” Melissa admitted.
The former actress is sharing an intimate look at her parent’s marriage in a new book, “Head Over Heels: Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman – A Love Affair in Words and Pictures.” It features more than 100 photos – some never before seen – of the Hollywood power couple from over the years.
Newman died in 2008 at age 83. Woodward, 92, has Alzheimer’s and lives a private life at the property they shared.
“There [are] quotes from the letters in the book,” Melissa explained. “I would read the letters and just go, ‘Oh, this is so sweet. This should go in the book.’ And then I would be reading on, and then I’d go, ‘Ooh, Dad, I can’t put this in the book!’”
“I always say, ‘People, read the things that my dad wrote to my mom… [and] take notes, man,’” she shared. “This is how you woo somebody. And it’s just so obvious that he was just [hit] upside the head. He fell for her so hard.”
Newman met Woodward in 1953 when they were both understudies in the Broadway play “Picnic.” At the time, the actor was married to his first wife Jackie Witte.
“Women were throwing themselves at him,” said Melissa. “Meanwhile, my mom said, ‘God, it’s a good thing that Paul Newman is handsome, because he certainly can’t act!'”
But the pair’s mutual attraction for each other was undeniable. The father of three embarked on an affair with the actress.
Newman and Witte divorced in 1958, and he married Woodward that same year.
“It was like a freight train,” Melissa said about the affair. “It was sort of inexorable. Jackie was a wonderful person, but I think they were just escaping the Midwest. I’m not sure if it would’ve lasted. So I would say that my parents’ relationship started in a minor key with collateral damage.”
“My mother made sure that all the children from both sides got together every summer,” she recalled. “We lived together. And my sister Steph says, ‘Your mom gave me my sisters.’ She came and lived with us when she was 14, and we’re still really close.”
“I have a lot of sisters,” Melissa boasted.
Melissa wondered if she should have been reading the passionate letters Newman wrote for Woodward. But in giving them a close look, it was clear that the actor was in love – and it lasted for the rest of his life.
She clarified that the letters were “bawdy” and “naughty,” but “not smutty.”
“I would get to a point in the letter where I’d say, ‘I can’t print this,’” she said. “But… It was charming.”
It’s not the first time that Melissa has discovered private testimonials from her father. In his posthumous memoir published in 2022, Newman described how the Oscar winner made him “a sexual creature.”
“We left a trail of lust all over the place,” he recalled. “Hotels and public parks and Hertz Rent-A-Cars.”
Newman also detailed how Woodward fixed up a room off the master bedroom of their Beverly Hills home with “a thrift shop double bed” and a coat of fresh paint.
“I call it the ‘F— Hut,’ she said proudly,” Newman noted. “It had been done with such affection and delight. Even if my kids came over, we’d go into the F— Hut several nights a week and just be intimate and noisy and ribald.”
Melissa said she wasn’t surprised by the revelation.
“It made perfect sense,” she remarked. “And I was like, ‘You go, Mom!’ My mom was just a free spirit. She was her own powerful force… She did it all. And evidently, she was a sex bomb at the same time.”
In the book, Melissa wrote that the doors to her parents’ bedroom had “comically large bolts” that “functioned like an airlock.” She also wondered why the bedroom needed two doors and a door knocker of two cherubs kissing that she couldn’t reach.
“I loved the musky smell of that unmade bed,” she wrote. “No doubt I almost witnessed the ultimate intimacy firsthand, long before I would have known what to call it.”
But the couple’s romance wasn’t a bed of roses. Newman grappled with alcoholism, and Woodward called his drinking “the anguish of our lives.” He gave up hard liquor in 1971, the New Yorker reported.
“Their navigating of their relationship was really messy,” Melissa admitted. “But they did it. And they stayed together in a Hollywood marriage for 50 years. That’s a rare bird right there… They fought with each other just like everybody’s parents. They didn’t fight with each other in front of us, but I do remember that my mother was tempestuous… There was a lot of stress, but there was also this thread… My dad [said] they would have these screaming fights. And he said, ‘I would leave. And then I realized I had nowhere to go, and then I would come back.'”
“They were best friends,” she reflected. “Yeah, there would be rough times. They would argue. They came close to splitting up several times, but they always came back together… They were so connected.”
Despite her parents being stars, Melissa said she had a normal upbringing in Connecticut, one where her mother cooked and would make clothes for her children on a sewing machine. She also had a British nanny named Duffy who only rode on a motorcycle.
“When I was growing up there, it was a town full of artists and writers,” she said. “I think about the people that my parents surrounded themselves with… My mother did a lot of stage work and taught young actors.… She got my dad to do a wonderful version of ‘Our Town.’ And he was terrified. He could drive 200 miles on a racetrack for an hour, but he was terrified to step out on the stage.”
Looking back, Melissa said the secret behind her parents’ decades-long union was “mutual respect.” And even during tough times, they remained devoted to each other.
“They were always together,” she said. “And they made art together. They were artistic compatriots, they were lovers and they were fighters… It was this ribbon, this cord that just tied them together despite everything. There was no way they could leave even when they wanted to… It was like a bungee cord. They’d always come back together.”
The love remained during Newman’s final years. Melissa described the couple as doting grandparents. She has vivid memories of Newman happily playing in a sandbox with her children.
“You’ve never seen anybody so happy as my dad in a sandbox,” she laughed. “He was respected by toddlers for being the fun guy to hang out with.”
She turned quiet.
“We always felt that my mom was so strong that if anything ever happened to her my dad would fall apart, but that if something happened to my dad, my mom would be fine. And I really think that’s why he left the planet when he did. I just think he had to be the first one to go. He couldn’t bear it.”
Today, Melissa wants people to remember her parents not as a picture-perfect couple, but as real-life people who refused to give up on each other.
“This book is a celebration of their love,” she said. “It’s a celebration of love in the face of a lot of adversity.”