Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Paul Newman

January 25, 2008

I received this as one of those email round robin notes some friends are so fond of:

Only women of a certain era will fully appreciate this true story.
(if you don't understand this, tell your mother, she'll get it)

A Michigan woman and her family were vacationing in a small New England town where Paul Newman and his family often visited. One Sunday morning, the woman got up early to take a long walk. After a brisk five-mile hike, she decided to treat herself to a double-dip chocolate ice cream cone.

She hopped in the car, drove to the center of the village and went straight to the combination bakery/ice cream parlor. There was only one other patron in the store. Paul Newman, sitting at the counter having a doughnut and coffee.

The woman's heart skipped a beat as her eyes made contact with those famous baby-blue eyes.

The actor nodded graciously and the star struck woman smiled demurely.

Pull yourself together! She chides herself. You're a happily married woman with three children, you're forty-five years old, not a teenager! The clerk filled her order and she took the double-dip chocolate ice cream cone in one hand and her change in the other. Then she went out the door, avoiding even a glance in Paul Newman's direction.

When she reached her car, she realized that she had a handful of change but her other hand was empty. "Where's my ice cream cone? Did I leave it in the store?" Back into the shop she went, expecting to see the cone still in the clerk's hand or in a holder on the counter or something. No ice cream cone was in sight.

With that, she happened to look over at Paul Newman. His face broke into his familiar warm friendly grin and he said to the woman,
"You put it in your purse."

I guess you do have to be a certain age to grasp fully the effect Paul Newman had on us. The little story, probably apocryphal, was accompanied by this photo, which is clearly 20 years old, but captures his intelligent, witty-sexy appeal. It got me to thinking, how long has this little joke been in circulation?

So I looked him up on the Internet, and discovered that Paul Newman will turn 83 tomorrow. The Wikipedia article said that he has decided not to act any more, as learning lines is getting to be as difficult for him as finding the right roles. My heart sank a little as I thought of Newman as Ben Quick, the so-called barn burner in The Long Hot Summer; as Cool Hand Luke, who thought nothin' was sometimes a pretty cool hand; as Fast Eddie in The Hustler; Hud; the principled young lawyer with the shrewish wife in From the Terrace; Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Butch in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and on and on. So many of these parts relied on his manly-manliness, so many showcased the blueness of his eyes while Newman himself always gave his soul to the part. He was a natural Method actor with a comfort in the subtle changes that acting required of him. He inhabited the little universe of every movie. He was a pleasure to watch, for lots of reasons.

I can recall his former involvement with politics, braving the snows of New Hampshire with Gene McCarthy and with Paul McCloskey. How courageous he was, and how bright. Out of the movies he kept a low profile, a Connecticut family man who donated the profits from his salad dressing business to charity. What an interesting, unusual man.

Now I occasionally recognize his voice on a television commercial. It always brings that look of his to mind, that familiar, once-yearned-for appearance, not unlike a former lover who has moved on. Paul Newman has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. Now he is an elder, not a recluse, but seldom seen. I hope his life is happy, and that he has some idea how much he means to people -- not only women -- of a certain age. I hope he has a happy birthday.


Elmer Gantry said...

Cool Hand Luke and Long Hot Summer are a couple of my favorite movies.

I also recall from a couple of years ago an interview in which he replied "sometimes less is more" when asked if he would have played roles any differently in retrospect. For some reason, this stuck in my mind.

I think the most poignant line in Cool Hand Luke is when, at the conclusion of his dying mother's visit, his brother hands him a banjo and says "Now you've got no reason to come back."

The chemistry between Newman and Joanne Woodward in Long Hot Summer is clearly evident.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a birthday appreciation is due and not merely for the passing of another year. More, good thoughts come from the me because
he is one of few at such fame level that has no "rag" crap promoted. His work stands for itself and in it the characters all seem to have a warmth of personal contact. Is it the method acting or the actor himself? I think the actor, the man, his demeanor, makes me appreciate him. Even in Sweet Bird of Youth his character comes across as warm and personal while grasping for whatever he can get in a losing situation. Your email tale of him, which has come my way too, suggests to me more than just the flustered conscience of an admirer. Having obviously absorbed the woman's ice cream purchase as a watcher and enjoyer of people, his comment is voluntary, participatory, and on a personal level; in my mind's eye, the scene could be a piece of movie.
Yes , happy birthday, Paul Newman, and thanks for sharing your yourself through your work. As to sex appeal, I can't say. Women stir my pot of soup.

Anonymous said...

As Rocky Graziano in "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and as that Mick lawyer in "The Verdict" (a role for which he should have been awarded the Oscar) he played a man's man in ways that only real men can appreciate. Happy birthday, Mr. Newman.

Mary Lois said...

Funny about Newman and Oscars. He should have had at least three by now, but he got so discouraged being nominated and not winning that he stopped attending the ceremonies. He's only won one, I think for The Color of Money and he wasn't there to receive it.

By the way, women can too appreciate a "man's man." I'm here to tell ya.