Cool Hand Luke: What Really Went on Behind The Scenes

Famed actor Paul Newman, starred as Lucas ‘Luke’ Jackson half a century ago in the film Cool Hand Luke. After that, he became a movie icon, but did you know Newman wasn’t the first choice for the role? Similarly to the book, the movie focuses on a man who spent an entire night rampaging and was sentenced to two years of hard labor in a Florida chain gang.

Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman
Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

While he was incarcerated, the protagonist experienced mental and physical trauma. He faced several struggled during his time in prison, but Luke somehow managed to fight through at these hardships and make his way back to positivity. Casting and cinematography were incredible, but it’s what went on behind the scenes that were more interesting.

Check out these backstage secrets of the classic movie Cool Hand Luke.

An Ex-Con Novel

Donn Pearce introduced the world to Cool Hand Luke in his novel. The reason the story as a realistic take on prison life is because the author spent time in the Department of Corrections chain gang and loosely based the tale on his experiences there. He also included tales he heard about an inmate named Luke Jackson while he was in there.

Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
Photo By Globe Photos/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

At the tender age of 20 years old, Pearce was convicted for burglary. He was by no means innocent, and he spent time working in the forgery industry before becoming a burglar himself. Pearce was skilled in forging documents that allowed him to leave the country and go after going AWOL from the US army. He managed to travel to places like Europe and Canada.

The Perfect Lead

Believe it or not, Paul Newman wasn’t the studio’s first choice for the part of Luke Jackson. The film’s producers actually had strong opinions on who they wanted for the lead role. They really wanted Jack Lemmon to play the character. He was a brilliant actor; however, he turned it down because he didn’t feel like he was the right one for the part.

Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman
Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Another actor who was considered was Telly Savalas. Unfortunately, he already had his hands full and was in Europe filming The Dirty Dozen. The actor could have technically made it back to the US in time if you took a plane, but he wanted to travel by boat. Since the production team didn’t have time to wait around for him, they ended up going with Paul Newman.