tribute in the Around the World in 80 Days Almanac described Robert Newton as "gifted," "sensitive," "warm-hearted," and "rebellious." "He was a nonconformist," it says, "his own man on and off the stage." In his book Bring on the Empty Horses, David Niven describes his friend "Bobbie" as "a brilliant actor" and "a highly intelligent, erudite, kindly, and knowledgeable man." He had a disrespect for petty authority and arrogance and an outrageously off-beat sense of humor, yet he took his work seriously, having a tendency to live his roles (sometimes publicly) when not performing them on stage or screen. "Take care of your work first. Everything else will be taken care of," was his philosophy, according to his High and Mighty costar/roommate Robert Stack. In his spare time, he enjoyed fishing, shooting, reading, walking, and cooking.
Sadly, Newton's career was hampered by alcoholism. His reputation for drinking and unreliability eventually caused many directors trepidation in hiring him.
In 1948, director David Lean found it a struggle to keep Newton's urge to overact in check in Oliver Twist, but, thus reined in, Newton's zeal resulted in what was probably the actor's second most memorable film role. Ironically, Lean, who was known for his puritanical attitude towards drinking and dislike of actors in general, had worked with Newton before in This Happy Breed (the actor's first color film) and Major Barbara and was quite fond of him. He once said:
David Niven also said of Newton's drinking:
Melvyn Bragg points out other likely contributing factors in his biography of another famous drinker, Richard Burton: A Life: "Alcoholism was then barely acknowledged and certainly not a widespread and alarming medical issue." Later, speaking of Newton, he adds, "It was a time when drink proved not only machismo but independence and a contempt for the opinion of the world--two of the qualities most longed for by actors in their perpetual bondage to the four thongs of the telephone, the contract, the reviews, the applause. Drink was a sovereign unto its own. At that court Newton for a time was King."
Newton's Obsession costar, Phil Brown, remembers, "... when I was working with him, he was off the booze and ... felt that he was uninteresting when he was off the booze. ... He was a charming man though."
Richard Burton said of his friend, "I've told him. We've all told him. If he doesn't lay off, it'll kill him." And Deborah Kerr once said, "He was a very dear man, and it was a great tragedy that in the end he destroyed himself through his increasing dependence on alcohol."
In 1955, Newton took on his final role, as the Scotland Yard detective Inspector Fix in the Academy Award-winning Around the World in Eighty Days. David Niven, who plays Phileas Fogg in the film, recalls working with his friend and shares these personal insights about him in the book The Moon's a Balloon:
The Mexican bullfighter-comedian Cantinflas arrived to play my valet, Passepartout, and Shirley MacLaine was signed to play Princess Aouda.On March 25, 1956, Robert Newton died in the arms of his wife Vera at the age of 50. The official cause was a heart attack. Vera, who died in 2000, and her late husband were memorialized by their son, Kim, at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
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