EDITOR’S NOTE — In celebration of Women’s History Month, MDJ Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp has shared the stories of some of the women who made their marks on Cobb County and beyond. This is the final story in that series.
Before she was accepting Oscars and attending premieres on the arm of Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward was just a little girl playing in the streets of Marietta’s Forest Hills neighborhood. Few could have predicted that she would one day be the gem of Gem City and beyond, the darling of the silver screen.
Joanne Gignilliat Woodward was born in Thomasville in February 1930 and moved to Marietta in second grade. Her relatives, the Gignilliats, are buried in St. James Episcopal Cemetery. After her junior year at Marietta High School and her parents’ divorce, her family moved to Greenville, South Carolina. She graduated from Greenville High School in 1947. She attended Louisiana State University and then headed to New York, where she would soon find fame as a film star.
Woodward was nominated for four Academy Awards and, in 1958, won the Best Actress Oscar for “The Three Faces of Eve.” Her long filmography includes “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956), “The Long Hot Summer” (1958), “Rachel, Rachel” (1968), “Sybil” (1976), “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” (1990) and “Philadelphia” (1993). She also holds the distinction of being the first personality honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
In 1953 and 1954, she understudied in the New York production of “Picnic,” which featured her future husband Paul Newman. They would work together once again in 1957 on the set of “The Long, Hot Summer” and were married the following year. Woodward and Newman were married for 50 years until his death from lung cancer in 2008.
According to a 2002 MDJ article, while she was growing up in Marietta, she often visited the Daniell-Hill-Kendall House on Kennesaw Avenue. It was built around 1910 by her great-aunt, Olivia Bacon Daniell. Newman reportedly had a replica of it made into a dollhouse for her.
As another story goes, when she was 9 years old, Woodward traveled with her mother to Atlanta for the premiere of “Gone With The Wind.” During the parade, she leapt into a limousine carrying Laurence Olivier and sat in his lap because she had a crush on him after seeing “Wuthering Heights.” She said she later recounted this story to Olivier when they worked together on the 1977 television production of “Come Back, Little Sheba,” for which he replied that he remembered the encounter.
When she and Newman began having children, she took a step back from the silver screen to raise them, although she accepted a small number of roles throughout the following years. She and Newman made their home in Westport, Connecticut, to raise their two girls away from the California spotlight. They also started up Newman’s Own Foundation, whose food and drink products’ sales go directly to charities.
Many of the charities that have benefitted from the foundation and the couple are here in Marietta. They often bought tickets to the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art’s Masterpiece Ball and made generous gifts to Theatre in the Square, The Georgia Ballet, the Glover Park restoration, the Cobb-Marietta Museum of Art, the Aviation Museum and the Veterans’ Memorial in Smyrna.
In 2004, the couple wrote a $10,000 check to help the efforts to renovate and save the Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre.
Her brother, Wade Woodward III, said at the time that she had actually contemplated buying the theater at one point, but decided to donate instead.
“Hers was the very first donation that came in to the Strand Theatre,” Strand General Manager Andy Gaines said. “We have it framed in the office. That was the first, but not the only donations they have made to the Strand. They also have seats in the theater and have contributed in several ways since then.”
She has been spotted several times on the Marietta Pilgrimage Christmas Home Tour, and was even emcee at Marietta High School’s 100th anniversary celebration.
In 2017, a city of Marietta park was named in her honor in the very neighborhood where she was raised. Her roots remain, quite literally, in the town she once called home.