Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

He was as American as you can get. The actor who died today was an icon, but the man was even more--someone who loved his country, not in an abstract or flag-waving way, but as a patriot who opposed bad wars and gave millions to people in pain.

In 1968, our paths crossed as we both stepped out of our working lives to try to stop the war in Vietnam. When I invited him to lunch with a dozen magazine editors, he told me the prospect of talking about himself was so unnerving he had stayed too long in a steam bath to calm down. Sitting next to him, I had to titrate the balance of beer and ice water to keep Newman relaxed and hydrated as he eloquently described his feelings about the war.

In the early 1980s, our mutual friend A. E. Hotchner wrote about their light-hearted efforts to bottle and sell Newman's salad dressing. Since then, a line of Newman's Own products has earned a quarter of a billion dollars for charities, especially those affecting children.

"While his philanthropic interests and donations were wide-ranging," reads a statement from his foundation, "he was especially committed to the thousands of children with life-threatening conditions served by the Hole in the Wall Camps, which he helped start over 20 years ago. He saw the Camps as places where kids could escape the fear, pain and isolation of their conditions, kick back, and raise a little hell. Today, there are 11 Camps around the world, with additional programs in Africa and Vietnam. Through the Camps, well over 135,000 children have had the chance to experience what childhood was meant to be.

"In Paul's words: 'I wanted to acknowledge luck; the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, who might not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.'"

Paul Newman was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years, and they lived in Westport, Ct. When someone asked him about marital fidelity, he famously answered, "Why go out for hamburger when you can have steak at home?"

He will live forever in old movies as Butch Cassidy, Henry Gondorff, Cool Hand Luke, Hud, Fast Eddie Felson and all those memorable Americans he created, but some of us will remember him as the man with the bluest eyes we had ever seen--and the biggest heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.