Paul Newman (1925-2008) as Butch Cassidy
Paul Newman (1925-2008) as Butch Cassidy

I am not a public speaker. I am not a politician. I’m not here because I’m an actor. I’m here because I’ve got six kids. I don’t want it written on my gravestone, ‘He was not part of his times.’

I made a visit to the Hole In the Wall Gang Campwebsite where they have a sweet tribute to their founder Paul Newman. The Hole In the Wall Gang Camp (named after the gang of bandits in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) is a camp for children with serious medical conditions.

William Goldman (an Oberlin grad like me), who authored the script for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” said Paul was “the least starlike superstar I’ve ever worked with.”

So much has been going on in the past week, that I couldn’t pause for one second to really absorb the blow of Paul Newman’s death from cancer Friday, September 26. It was announced the next day. I used to say, one of the saddest days of my life would be the day Paul Newman joins the ancestors. You hate losing your great allies, the people who can’t be bought or sold, people who truly are humanitarians and really decent human beings too. But 83 years lived purposefully isn’t such a sad thing. Not to be inspired by Paul Newman’s life is a cause for mourning.

I used to joke, that President Richard Nixon wasn’t so bad because he kept the social programs going during his administration, but putting Paul Newman on his enemy’s list was criminal. Yes, Paul Newman, an actor, was on a President’s enemies list. Nixon aide Charles Colson produced the list in 1971. Paul was pretty proud to wear the “enemy” badge of honor. Fortunately, his support of the anti-Vietnam War candidate Eugene McCarthy, civil rights and othe didn’t carry the same consequences in 1968 as the 1950s Joseph McCarthy witch hunt for the House Un-American Activities Committe. Three hundred twenty artists were blacklisted in that roundup. But Paul was able to run free, make movies, and eventually out distanced the list as well as the President (Nixon resigned in 1974).

Even though I can mix a tastier vinaigrette on my own, there’s something about buying Newman’s organic….well it’s Paul Newman, and sales from the Newman’s Own label pumps millions of dollars to people in need and charities worldwide. Paul Newman described the enterprise as a “joke that got out of control. I’m not surprised that right now the Newman’s Own website is unavalable due to high traffic.

I can’t remember the first Paul Newman movie I ever saw. Actually, I think it was “The Long Hot Summer” with Joanne Woodward (his wife). I thought they were the ultimate non-Hollywood-like star couple. I would see his second directoral debute at Smith College in Northampton, MA – “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-the-Moon Marigolds” (1972), based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel. Joanne Woodward plays Beatrice, a single mother, embittered by her husband’s death leaving her to raise two daughters on her own. Matilda, the reserved science-minded daughter is played by Woodward’s and Newman’s real-life daughter, Nell Potts. [Nell Potts or Nell Newman made her first appearance in her dad’s first directoral debut “Rachel, Rachel.”] The title for “The Effect of Gamma Rays…” is taken from Matilda’s science project which is the device for the dramatic peak in the film: Beatrice makes that “every kid’s nightmare” entrance at the school’s science fair awards ceremony totally wasted and insists on making a speech of her own.

But over the next week or so I will break into my own Paul Newman film stash: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” based on the Tennesse Williams play; And the buddy films “The Sting” (my favorite favorite and sometimes my mantra) and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” I never liked the ending of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” because I became attached to the characters, and I still can’t figure out what “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” has to do with two outlaws or a western. But the chemistry between Newman and Redford trumps all my reservations. It was a friendship chemistry that extended off camera as well.

Numerous tributes have been pouring out of the blogosphere this weekend and the MSM. So much praise for Paul Newman’s performance in “The Verdict.” It’s worth another look I suppose. By the time I rewatch all these films…..dag!