In Memory of Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Early this morning, publicist Jeff Sanderson confirmed that actor Paul Newman died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near Westport. He was surrounded by his family and close friends. To honor him, our own Maggie Van Ostrand has written a few anecdotes in his memory. Paul Newman was 83.

Paul Newman wasn’t just an Oscar-winning movie star and director, he was a philanthropist, practical joke player, and award-winning race car driver.

The roles he chose were immortalized by his outstanding performances in films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Hustler, The Sting, The Verdict, The Color of Money. He was an electric Mt. Rushmore with a thousand twinklers behind his bright blue eyes

And he tried to soften the effect he had on fans. Here are two stories of what it was like to encounter Paul Newman face to face:

When I was an agent, my office was at 9000 Sunset Blvd., a building owned by several show business people, including Paul Newman. I often saw him on the elevator, said hi, and averted my eyes out of respect (but it was really because I didn’t want him to think I was uncool or a slobbering fan).

One night about 2:00 a.m., I pulled out of the parking garage in my new Mustang convertible and at the first traffic light on unusually empty Sunset Boulevard, I happened to look next to me while waiting for the light to go green. There was Newman grinning at me and gesturing with his forefinger mutely inviting me to race him down Sunset. He was in a beat-up VW bug, rusty-reddish in color, and faded. Really dinky looking. No contest.

I had a new Mustang. No contest. I shrugged “sure, why not?” and, when the light turned green, I jammed down the pedal. Before it even hit the floor, I was covered in his dust.

Next day somebody told me Newman did that all the time, that he had a racing engine under that crappy looking hood and was always on the lookout for victims.

Another time, a Michigan tourist visited a small Connecticut town. Sunday morning, she got up early to take a long walk. After a brisk five-mile hike, she decided to treat herself to a double-dip chocolate cone, and stopped in at the local ice cream parlor.

One other person was in the shop. Paul Newman. He was sitting at the counter having a doughnut and

The woman’s heart skipped a beat as her eyes made contact with Newman’s famous baby-blues.

The actor nodded hello and the flustered, star struck woman smiled back. Now what?

Pull yourself together, she told herself. You’ve got a life. He’s just a person like you. Oh really?

The clerk filled her order and she took her double-dip chocolate ice cream cone in one hand and
her change in the other. Then she went out the door, avoiding another glance in Paul Newman’s

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 cone holder on the counter. No ice cream cone was in sight.

With that, she looked 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.”

Hemingway said of bullfighters that they lived all the way up. So did Paul Newman.

More to Read: