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A BRITISHER’S VIEW - RIP: Paul Newman (1925-2008)

“Beauty is truth, truth is beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” [John Keats, 1795-1821].

Every few generations, there comes along an actor who is so skilled at his craft and so attuned to humanity that we can almost smell the perfume of his goodness.

Such a thespian was Paul Leonard Newman (January 26, 1925-September 26, 2008), whose famous blue eyes, iconic movies – 34 at last count – and grand devotion to the underprivileged will continue to enthrall lovers of beauty, film and philanthropy for decades to come.

Newman’s modesty and humility, during a career on the big screen and stage that spanned more than half a century, were a refreshing relic in a place called Tinseltown, where stars are christened at dawn, get drunk on hauteur by mid-day and begin demanding like divas by dusk.

Where others compromised their entertainment value and reputations by clamoring upon political soapboxes, or proselytizing about their religious beliefs, Newman worked with quiet diligence behind the scenes to better the lives of others. In 1982, he teamed up with writer A. E. Hotchner to establish a chain of food products called Newman’s Own, whose proceeds – in excess of $200 million, to date – were donated to charity.

The “ordinariness” of the foods – among them, pasta sauce, salad dressing, lemonade and popcorn – only boosted Newman’s esteem as being just a regular bloke, with whom one could share a laugh and a few beers in the local pub.

Without fanfare, the Academy Award winner and 10-time nominee also penned a book with Hotchner entitled, “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good,” wooed edgy writers with his $25,000 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award,” helped establish a summer camp for ailing children in his home state of Connecticut (which expanded to branches in Ireland, France and Israel) and during the Kosovo crises of 1999, he gave $250,000 in refugee aid.

As a screen actor, he remains unparalleled. Few may have caught his first movie, The Silver Chalice (1954), which was a total disaster except for the appeal infused into it by Newman, who portrays the artisan responsible for designing the wine cup for the Last Supper.

The film may have bombed, but a star was born, thanks to that ‘artisan’s’ baby blues, curly locks and Adonis-like physique.

While he depicted a rebellious persona in his work – who can forget his portrayal of Hud Bannon in Hud (1963), or his seal on the art of self-destruction with a martyr’s complex in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke – Newman kept the Hollywood jungle at bay with clean, simple values.

His 50-year marriage to Joanne Woodward and their close-knit family of five children and eight grandchildren became the platinum standard in Hollywood, where celebrity pairings dry up faster than the ink on a pre-nuptial agreement.

What endeared Paul Newman even more to his fans was his passion for genuine pursuits of the heart. His passion for auto racing brought him to Brooklyn in 2006, where he hoped to start an annual three-day, Grand Prix-style race at Floyd Bennett Field; an idea he soon axed after receiving a first-hand taste of Brooklyn politicians at their worst. During an April 2006 meeting at the Brooklyn Marriott, State Senator Carl Kruger, a proponent of the plan, admonished an aide to Rep. Anthony Weiner, who opposed the idea, continuing a tempest he had brewing with the congressman, in which such choice phrases as: “Do you have a f…… problem with me?”; “I’m going to give you a bad hair day” and “You “pussy” were flung back and forth. At the meeting, as he sat elbow-to-elbow with Paul Newman, Mr. Kruger “did everything but throw a plate” at the Weiner staffer, as Newman’s business partner Geoffrey Whaling, diplomatically, recalled to this column at the time.

In the end, as fans enjoy a Newman movie, munching on Newman’s Own popcorn, they can only marvel at the complexity and simplicity of a man who ultimately became as famous for his convention as for his stardom.

E-mail“A Britisher’s View” at BritView@courierlife.net. All letters become the property of Courier-Life Publications and are subject to publication unless otherwise specified; please include your name, address and daytime telephone number for verification.

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