Things You Didn’t Know About The Classic Film Cool Hand Luke

Released in 1967, Cool Hand Luke stars Paul Newman as Luke Jackson who is imprisoned in a Florida prison camp to refuses to submit to authority. The film was a success at the box office and was met with glowing reviews by critics and audiences, helping to establish Newman as one of the biggest actors of the time. However, there’s more to Cool Hand Luke than most people think, whether it’s symbolism that most people miss or drama behind the scenes. Check it out to see what actually went on behind the scenes of Cool Hand Luke!

Based On A Novel

Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Believe it or not, Cool Hand Luke is actually based on a novel on the same name written by Donn Pearce. The book is loosely based on Pearce’s own experiences during his time in a Florida Department of Corrections chain gang and the rumors he heard about another convict named Luke Jackson.

Pearce was arrested in 1949 when he was 20 years old for burglary, although he was also skilled at forgery and traveed around the world using fake documents while on the run from the US Army.

Trouble Finding The Right Star

Paul Newman in a car
Art Zelin/Getty Images
Art Zelin/Getty Images

Even though nobody could imagine anyone else as the lead except Paul Newman, he wasn’t always the first choice. Numerous people were approached to play Luke Jackson including Jack Lemmon, but he didn’t believe that he was the right man for the role.

Telly Salvas was also contacted to play the role, but he was in Europe at the time filming The Dirty Dozen. Salvas didn’t want to have to travel to try out for the role, so Paul Newman was chosen for the lead instead.

The Infamous Egg Scene

Paul Newman eating eggs
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In Left Hand Luke, there’s a scene when Paul Newman’s character, Luke Jackson, tries to win a bet that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour. As rough as that sounds, what Paul Newman had to do to film the scene was still pretty bad!

In order to make it look convincing, Newman had to chew the eggs, however, he claims that he “never swallowed an egg.” Supposedly, he kept a trash can next to him during filming and would spit out the eggs whenever he could.

The Car Wash Scene

2_jvo
EW
EW

Upon watching the scene with “The Girl” washing the car, it seems as if it was filmed in one perfect shot including both the men and actress Joy Harmon. However, it turns out that the scene with Harmon washing the car and the men’s reactions were actually filmed separately.

That short scene is seared into the minds of fans, and Harmon is now aware of the impact she had on viewers although she was clueless at first. “I was just washing a car to my best ability and having fun with it, with the sponge and everything,” she has said. “I was not aware that there were two meanings to things that I was doing.”

The Men Were Freezing During The Car Wash Scene

Convicts digging
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When Joy Harmon was filming her iconic car washing scene, she had no idea just what a big hit it would be. She also had no idea that Newman and the other actors weren’t shivering because they were told to, but because of how cold it was filming the scene.

Harmon explained, “I just figured it was washing the car,” however, the men were outside and shirtless and were colder than it looked. They also never saw her washing the car in the first place.

A Scene With A Banjo Essentially Halted Production

Paul Newman playing the banjo
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

After learning that his mother had passed away, there’s a scene in which Luke plays the banjo and sings the song “Plastic Jesus.” However, Paul Newman insisted that he really play the banjo for the scene, but the problem was, he didn’t know how to play the banjo.

So, the film took several weeks to film so Newman could get comfortable with the instrument and learn the song. Harry Dean Stanton, who had a relatively small role in the film was the man who taught Newman how to play.

The Author Had A Cameo

Convicts In Cool Hand Luke
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Although the author of the book, Donn Pearce, isn’t exactly recognizably famous, the production team was kind enough to give him a cameo in the film where he plays the convict named Sailor.

For some reason, on the last day of filming, Pearce ended up punching someone on set, resulting in him being uninvited to the premier. Certainly, Pearce wasn’t thrilled that he wasn’t allowed to attend the party for the movie that he’s responsible for.

Paul Newman Honed His Accent

Paul Newman on a water taxi
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

Paul Newman really wanted to make sure that his character was as realistic as possible, right down to the accent. To get the accent just right, he traveled to West Virginia, where his character was from and studied the local accents and customs.

This included speaking extensively with the locals, and recording their conversations so he could refer back to their accents later. Furthermore, he paid close attention to their behavior and mannerisms so he might be able to replicate them in the film.

It Wasn’t Actually Filmed In Florida

Luke getting out of the shower
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Although Cool Hand Luke is set in Florida, anything that makes the environment look like Florida was done with the help of movie magic. Surprisingly, not a single scene was filmed in the state of Florida, although production teams were sent to the real Tavares Road Prison to take pictures and measurements of the site.

Using what they had learned, they made an almost identical version of the prison in Stockton, California, which is equally as convincing as the real thing.

The Most Famous Line In The Film

The Captain in Cool Hand Luke
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Although the film is well-known for numerous reasons, it also helped to give birth to the famous line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The line has even been ranked as No.11 on the American Film Institute’s greatest movie quotes list. The line is said by the prison’s warden who’s referred to as “the Captain.”

According to the Captain’s backstory, it was a line that he picked up during his time studying criminology and penology. The line became so popular that it can be heard in various mediums throughout popular culture.

Lukes Prison Number Has Significance

Paul Newman holding a snake
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Among the other numerous hints at Christianity sprinkled throughout the film, one that many people might miss involves Luke’s prison number, which is 37. If you combine it with his name you get Luke 1:37, which is a scripture from the Gospel of Luke.

The scripture reads: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”This greatly fits Luke’s character, who embodies the scripture throughout the film through his many Christ-like sacrifices. It’s a hard reference to catch at first but it makes a lot of sense.

The Film Was Extremely Profitable

cool-hand-luke-30
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard

Surprisingly, the budget for Cool Hand Luke was $3.2 million, a relatively large sum of money at the time. However, even though it may have had a high budget, it made an incredible $16.2 million at the box office, quite the profit!

Yet, the film wasn’t just successful at the box office, it was also incredibly well-received by critics and fans. In his 2010 book, renowned film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and described Newman’s performance as “unforgettable.”

Luke Committed A Relatable Crime For The Audience

Luke and the parking meters
Warner Brothers-Seven Arts/Getty Images
Warner Brothers-Seven Arts/Getty Images

In the film, Luke finds himself in chains after he gets drunk and is caught cutting the heads off of parking meters. Luke later explains that he did so with the intention of “settling an old score.”

Luke’s fellow convicts on his chain gang are impressed by his crime, claiming that they had never seen someone commit such a random crime. The crime helps to create a bond between Luke and the audience since nobody likes parking meters and have probably wished they could have done the same.

Donn Pearce Wasn’t The Biggest Fan Of Newman

Paul Newman with a shovel
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Believe it or not, even though nobody could imagine anyone playing Luke besides Paul Newman, author Donn Pearce wasn’t very thrilled. Pearce believed that Newman was too “cute-looking,” and that a man on a Florida chain gang should be a lot tougher-looking than Newman would ever be.

He also supposedly commented that Newman “Wouldn’t last five minutes on the road.” Yet, in the end, surely Pearce was happy with the decision to cast Newman considering the success of the film.

The Director Had Little Experience

Rosenberg on the set on Amityville Horror
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Getty Images
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Getty Images

Incredibly, Stuart Rosenberg, the director of Cool Hand Luke, didn’t have all that much experience behind the camera before making the film. In reality, he had zero experience whatsoever.

Prior to making Cool Hand Luke, he had only directed a few episodes of the television series The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone. However, after the success of the movie, he went on to direct over a dozen films including Voyage of the Damned, The Amityville Horror, and The Pope of Greenwich Village.

Paul Newman Is A Philanthropist

Box of Newman's Own pizza
Kevin Schafer/Getty Images
Kevin Schafer/Getty Images

Although Newman is best known for his performances on the silver screen, he’s also an incredibly generous man. In 1982, he, along with author A.E. Hotchner partnered up to create a line of food products called Newman’s Own.

The company started out making salad dressing but has since expanded to make frozen pizzas, pasta sauce, and more. Since its inception, every cent that the company makes goes to Newman’s Own Foundation, which then donates it to charities around the world. So far, it has raised well over $500 million.

The Role Of Luke’s Mother Almost Went To A Different Actress

Jo Van Fleet with an Oscar
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The actress who portrayed Luke’s dying mother was performed by the young Jo Van Fleet, an actress known for playing roles of women older than herself. As it turns out, Van Fleet wasn’t the first choice for the role.

She was only offered the position after the role was turned down by major Hollywood star Bette Davis. However, Davis refused the role since she considered it to be too small of a part and therefore a waste of her time.

Missing His Wife

Joanne Woodward posing on a couch
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images

Paul Newman was married to Joanne Woodward, who was also a Hollywood star and frequently acted alongside her husband. In total, she appeared in at least ten films that Newman was in, along with another five that Newman directed himself.

Surprisingly, however, she was not in Cool Hand Luke, one of her husband’s most popular films. Yet, it’s assumed this is most likely due to the lack of availability of female characters, and that she would have been separated from the majority for the cast anyway.

There Were No Women On The Set

Men in the barracks
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In order to make the actors feel as though the set they were on was authentic, director Stuart Rosenberg forbade any women from being on the set. This meant that the men had to spend all of their time together, much as if they were in an actual chain gang, in addition to the heartache of missing their significant others.

Unless she was needed for work, Rosenberg even banned Joy Harmon from the set who played “The Girl.” She was forced to stay in a hotel room for two days before shooting her scene with the men.

Newman Knew The Film Was Going To Be A Success

Newman posing in front of a green background
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

By the time that Newman had accepted the role of Luke in Cool Hand Luke, he was already an established and successful actor. He felt on top of the world at the time and was confident that there wasn’t a chance of the film not succeeding.

Supposedly, Newman told a visitor on set that “there’s a good smell about this…we’re gonna have a good picture.” Clearly, Newman’s predictions came true and it became one of his most popular films to date.

Ding! Ding!

Paul Newman boxing scene
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The boxing scene in Cool Hand Luke is regarded as one of the greatest in the film. While it might be hard for some audiences to watch, it was certainly harder to film. The scene took an exhausting three days to film until Paul Newman and George Kennedy had it perfected.

Of course, filming such a high-intensity boxing scene is no walk in the park, yet the two men acted as professionals and did whatever was needed to get it done right.

Paul Newman Loved Racecar Driving

Newman in a race car
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Aside from being one of the most iconic Hollywood actors of his time, Newman also had a series of other hobbies with one of these being race car driving. Not only was he an enthusiast of the sport, but he participated as a driver as well.

He’s even stated that “It was the first thing [I] ever found any grace in.” He also recorded a TV special about racing, held many charity events revolving around the sport, and raced under the name P.L. Newman.

The Producers Were Obsessed With Newman’s Eyes

Paul Newman's blue eyes
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

During the filming process, the studio producers weren’t happy with the number of scenes that had been filmed with Newman, so many of them had to be re-shot. However, this wasn’t because of Newman’s acting skills, but instead, his eyes.

The scenes that were re-shot in order to better see Newman’s striking blue eyes. His eyes were one of his most defining features, and the filmmakers assumed the film would do better the more his eyes were featured.

Going For Full Authenticity

Paul Newman doing work
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

With a movie about a chain gang, one would assume there would be a fair amount of sequences that feature the men performing manual labor. Well, there’s no shortage of that in the film, and as it turns out, the men were actually put to work.

In the film, the convicts are shown resurfacing a road with asphalt. In real life, the men actually ended up resurfacing a whole mile of California highway! Wonder if they were paid for that too!

Staying In Character

Morgan Woodfrey as Boss Godfrey
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Actor Morgan Woodward played the sunglasses-wearing Boss Godfrey or “the man with no eyes,” and apparently, he took his role very seriously. Supposedly, he would stay in character when the cameras were turned off, continuing to wear his sunglasses and not speaking to the “convicts.”

Woodward is also known for his less intimidating roles including Marvin “Punk” Anderson on the hit soap opera Dallas, as well as several guest appearances on the western series Gunsmoke.

George Kennedy Worked Has For His Role

George Kennedy as Dragline
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Although surprising to many, George Kennedy was the only actor to win an Academy Award for his performance in Cool Hand Luke. He played the character of Dragline, starting as Luke’s enemy for most of the film until the two eventually become best friends.

However, Kennedy didn’t have the role handed to him. Instead, he spent $5,000 of his own money to promote and advertise himself for the film. In the end, it all worked out, and Kennedy took home an Academy Award.

The Set Fooled A Building Inspector

Newman walking out of a building
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The set designers did such a good job making the set of Cool Hand Luke look as realistic as possible that they fooled a building inspector from San Joaquin County, California. Walking through the set, he believed that it was am actual compound and that it was being used by migrant workers.

He then set to work posting signs on all the buildings that they had been “condemned” by the state of California. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, but it must have made the set designers proud!

There Was A Serious Time Crunch

Luke's mom in bed
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Cool Hand Luke was on an incredibly tight schedule during the filming process. So much so, that the scene when Luke’s mother visits him in prison was only allocated one day to shoot. While this may have seemed doable, it certainly wasn’t easy.

The scene had a whopping of eight pages of dialogue, which would prove to be extremely difficult to accomplish. However, thanks to Jo Van Fleet and Paul Newman’s professionalism, they managed to succeed in a seemingly impossible task.

The Film Brought Newman And Rosenberg Together

Paul Newman as Luke
Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Cool Hand Luke was was one of director Stuart Rosenberg’s first times behind the camera and his first time working with Paul Newman. Not only did the film help to kick start Rosenberg’s career, but it also started a close relationship between he and Newman.

After the movie, Rosenberg and Newman went on to work together in a series of other films including WUSA, Pocket Money, and The Drowning Pool. Nevertheless, many agree Cool Hand Luke was their best work.

It’s Full Of Christian Imagery

Laying like Jesus
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Although it’s not obvious to everyone, Cool Hand Luke is actually full of Christian imagery if you pay close enough attention. Luke Jackson is portrayed to be a Jesus-like figure and manages to win over the masses with his charisma although is eventually sacrificed.

Furthermore, after the scene with the eggs Luke lies exhausted on the table in a similar manner Jesus hung on the cross. Christian iconography is used countless times during the film with Luke even singing praises.