Paul Newman Was A
Living Legend That Deserved It
The Man Who Was One Of The Best Actors Of His Generation Was Also Both A Philanthropist That Didn’t Just Donate Money But Made It The Aim Of A Business, And A Regular Guy Who Would Help Stranded Motorists
Image by Classic Film Scans and used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 3, 2014 — In a movie career that spanned more than half a century and 60 films, Paul Newman, who passed away in 2008 and would’ve been 89 this year, gifted audiences with iconic performances that inspired a legion of young actors and continue to delight each new generation of moviegoers. Whether discussing iconic roles such as the mischievous chain-gang gadfly in Cool Hand Luke; cue-man extraordinaire “Fast Eddie” Felson in The Hustler; uber-grifter Henry Gondorff in The Sting; trickster Butch in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the list of his memorable roles is in his early career is very long.
Along with prodigious talent that was nurtured at places like New York’s Actor’s Studio under the exacting tutelage of Lee Strasberg, in his early years, Newman’s sinewy physique was a palpable force in many of his movies (think a GQ version of Stanley Kowalski). And no one had irises like Paul – which seemed to emit an unearthly blue light more conducive to the color palette in a Renaissance painting by Botticelli than the shana punim of a guy with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother who mischievously considered himself Jewish because “it was more of a challenge.”
As Newman got older, there was no slackening of excellence in his performances, the ambulance-chasing Boston lawyer haunted by his wasted potential in The Verdict; the austere Midwestern father filled with moral rectitude in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge; and his Oscar-winning reprise as an older, wiser Eddie Felson in >The Color of Money. This list, too is very long.
In between acting gigs in 1988, Newman co-founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a residential summer camp for seriously ill kids. Hole in the Wall (now called the SeriousFun Children’s Network) has since expanded to more than 30 camps in several countries and serves thousands of children each year, free of charge.
With writer A.E. Hotchner, Newman started Newman’s Own which has been supplying American dinner tables with – among other things – salad dressing and pasta sauce since 1982 and which, to date, has generated a staggering $400 million for charitable causes. The actor would’ve been the first to say his involvement in these charities was his most important role.
Heartfelt encomiums continue to come from people who worked with him or admire his films, but let us tell you a story that was told to us years ago (the day after it happened, actually) by a friend and colleague of ours with whom we worked in midtown Manhattan.
Our friend was heading south on the Merritt Parkway in Westchester County when she blew a tire and flapped over to the narrow shoulder of the busy freeway. After maneuvering the radial out of her trunk, she told us she couldn’t find the tire jack. As cars whizzed by, she was at a total loss (this was years before the advent of cell phones made a rescue call to AAA a no-brainer).
After several desperate minutes, a car pulled onto the shoulder right in front of her. The lone Good Samaritan – Paul Newman – stepped out, flipped his trunk, took out his own tire jack and proceeded to manipulate the lug nuts like he was a member of his own pit crew at a Formula 1 trial (auto racing was one of Paul’s beloved hobbies).
After locking on our friend’s spare, he told her to “drive safely,” hopped back behind the wheel and disappeared into the scrum of traffic. They were the only words spoken by either of them.
Paul Newman: husband, father, actor, philanthropist, regular “Joe” never too busy to help a motorist in distress.
Godspeed and drive safely up there.
David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at www.reeltoreal.com
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