Sigh, well, what to say or add to the fray, except that I liked him, a lot.
I know I saw Hud in college (it was around then that the line "Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire" crept into my understanding of the world), but I'm pretty sure I saw it on my own, accidentally, at home on TV or something, not as part of film classes or the film society, partly because I can still almost recreate the surprise I felt stumbling upon it in my ignorance. The experience resulted, I realized later, in quantum leaps--level jumps--major bumps towards adulthood and understanding I didn't expect. Art, sex, tragedy, female autonomy. Men in jeans. Need, familial pain, evening silence.
That was half due to Patricia Neal as Alma, whose performance is so knowing that it somehow drags you toward worldly wisdom whether you want to go there or not, riding on that unbelievable voice. But the rest was basically due to Newman. I couldn't stop watching him--hoping he'd be onscreen all the time--despite how awful he was. He was amazing. The hooded, coiled quality his body, his eyes had... It was too much. It was such a sexual experience, that film--a confused one, in its mores and morality--but sexy, all the more so because of the beautiful dusty black and white cinematography, which allowed the physical energy to shine through more intensely, like his eyes, which you would know were blue (even if you didn't know) from the way they shone too. His physical beauty in that film was not unimportant nor a detraction from his abilities--there was something about it that confirmed why/how movie stars are important, in the way that some critics say movie stars can never be again since the demise of b&w. The fact that the film was old, period, was part of its power for me, reaching up from the past the way it did. And Newman was a man, even if an awful, conflicted man, not a boy. What can I say, it kicked me in the pants.
I also admired the man--the actor--for insistently, but in a dignified way, demanding that we know what he looked like as he aged, via his public image. He didn't hide it or squirm away, it seems like. I don't know if he was vain or bemoaned aging, but his actions created a cumulative effect I thought was human and honest.