September 30, 2008
I can't help it. I'm not ready to let him go. I'm working my way through the five stages of grief and I'm at the "bargaining" point, if I keep talking, writing, and otherwise dredging up memories, I won't have to accept the fact that Paul Newman really died last Friday.
Here's an excerpt from my book, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree: "Fairhope's real center for me was next door to that photographer. The Fairhope Theater faced Fairhope Avenue at the corner of Church Stret. Family films ran every day. There was a 3:15 P.M. show Monday through Friday for the school crowd, and Mr. Summerlin, the owner, mailed a printed calendar to everyone in town every month. We could then plan our moviegoing schedules for a month in advance. I probably attended movies two or three times a week after school, usually with friends in tow.
"My attachment to movies was stronger than most. This was brought home to me many years later in a recollection told me by Linda Horne, whose parents were well-known intellectuals in town. Linda said her mother had not been exposed to movies as a girl and always felt she was missing something as a result. She didn't want to deny this world to her children, so she didn't discourage Linda when I would invite her to go to a movie with me.
"There were times when Linda and I would take the Greyhound bus to Mobile, see a movie at a big downtown theater within walking distance of the bus station, and then get the next bus home, chatting about movies all the way there and back.
"Years later Linda, driving home to Housatonic, Connecticut, from Boston, saw an attractive, middle-aged couple in intense conversation, walking along a roadside path. They looked familiar to her, and she kept saying to herself, 'I know those people; they're friends of Mary Lois's,' but she couldn't place them. Try as she might, their names didn't come to her.
"As she pulled into her driveway she remembered the names of my 'friends': Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward."
The sense that the couple was accessible and interesting as people permeated the whole country. My first husband, convinced I was going to be a movie star one day, used to ask, "And will we have Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward over for dinner some times?"
When I was in the newspaper game in NYC in the 70's I used to have lunch with a guy who loved theatre and movies too. His claim to fame was having seen the Broadway production of Picnic the night the understudy for the lead stepped in to take on the role (that would have been young Paul Newman). Joanne Woodward understudied Millie (but didn't go on that night). Theatre history anyway.
I'll get used to the idea that he's gone. These things take time. I still stop surfing when The Long Hot Summer is on and he's telling Joanne, "All right then, run, lady, and you keep on running. Buy yourself a bus ticket and disappear. Change your name, dye your hair, get lost--and then maybe, just maybe, you're gonna be safe from me," nailing her with those blue eyes, and I melt right down to my toes, the same way I did when I first saw the movie at the age of 18. I'm looking forward to the replay of his whole body of work on Turner Classic Movies and when they run out, there is still DVD rental. I'm sorry I didn't become a movie star so that I could could count him as a friend. But I am among the many people in the world who held him in a secret compartment in their hearts. He hasn't left yet.