Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: Last of the Renaissance Men

What we have here… is a failure… to appreciate.

Actor. Philanthropist. Businessman. Family Man. Democratic political activist. Exemplary Italian-American. Even a frickin’ race car driver!

Okay, I know the Paul Newman tributes will still be rolling in, probably for weeks. So it’s too early to say he was not appreciated. Nevertheless, I’ll gladly take any opportunity to remind us of his Oscar-nominated performance in Cool Hand Luke (from which I stole and altered the famous “failure to communicate” line above… BTW, Paul lost that particular Oscar to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night, –no shame in that, for 1967 was possibly the finest year ever for Hollywood features) . Newman eventually won his only Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money  in 1986. It was a fine film, but clearly a sentimental Academy vote, as it was not even close to the best work of either Newman or its director, Martin Scorcese.

Empire Falls was Newman’s final live action feature film (technically it was a television miniseries, but who cares, it was better than most theatrical fare and won him an Emmy), and along with his Oscar-nominated performance in Nobody’s Fool  in 1994 (both stories were written by the great Richard Russo), his brilliant portrayals in these two films showed that growing old, gracefully or not, does not have to mean the end of one’s career as an artist.

Newman was also the voice of Doc Hudson in Disney/Pixar’s Cars (technically his final feature), and he elevated the performances in that film considerably. As a parent, I’m glad my son’s first experience of Newman’s considerable talents was through such a sweet film and representative performance. In fact, I look forward to eventually introducing Graham to Butch Cassidy, the young Fast Eddie Felson, and Newman’s Oscar-nominated Frank Galvin character in the David Mamet-penned The Verdict (1982). The man had both guts and charm, like few others before or since.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss the way that he changed the entire face of business and philanthropy later in his life. In 1982, his Newman’s Own product line was introduced (I think the pasta sauce or Caesar salad dressing was first). Good authentic food (often Italian), at a reasonable price, for a good cause. How could it lose? He eventually earned over $100 million with these food products, all the proceeds of which went to charity. Then came the Hole in the Wall camps, for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

He just celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary with Joanne Woodward. And while I’m sure he was no saint (too interesting to have been perfect), I doubt we’ll hear a single unkind word about him.

I’m gushing now, I know. And I’m sure there are other more eloquent tributes out there. But I couldn’t let this one pass. Rest in peace, Paul …hopefully at 170mph behind the wheel of St. Peter’s best stock car.


Responses

  1. 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.

  2. Paul Newman is a legend for his work in movies, and he’s a stud for all his work outside of movies


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