Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

"I wanted to acknowledge luck. The beneficence of it in many lives and the brutality of it in the lives of others, especially children, who might not have a lifetime to make up for it."

-Paul Newman, on his style of low-key philanthropy

He was a great-looking movie star who eschewed traditional leading-man roles in favor of playing heels and anti-heroes and became an icon for it. He was a fine actor who was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and even as he aged continued to turn in tremendous performances (1982's "The Verdict" and 1994's "Nobody's Fool," a movie that reminds me very much of my pop, come to mind.). In the span of 4 years he managed to make 3 films that started with the letter "H" - "Hud," "Harper," "Hombre." He was reportedly thrilled when he found that he had made #19 on Richard Nixon's famous enemies list in the 70's for his political views. He was an accomplished racer of cars and managed to remain married to the same woman for 50 years, once famously remarking "Why go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?" As simply an actor and one of cinema's all-time great movie stars, his life would certainly be memorable and worthy of remembrance.

But Newman took things up a notch. In 1980 or so he and a friend got the idea that his homemade salad dressing, which he bottled and gave out as Christmas presents to friends and neighbors, could do some good in the world via his celebrity. Thus was born "Newman's Own" line of food products (Mrs. Blogfoot has never gotten over the fact that I prefer Newman's delicious "Marinara" spaghetti sauce to her mother's recipe). With a company motto of "Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good," this company has donated all of it's after-tax profits to charities, an amount that to date is estimated to be be over $250 million dollars. Relief efforts, schools, and arts & humanities have all benefited, but a good chunk of it goes to his "Hole In The Wall Gang" camps. Named after his gang in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", the camps are a place where children with life-threatening diseases can attend free of charge and forget about being sick and just be kids for a while.

Did he do this for publicity? Hardly. In fact, he turned down a proposed commendation from President Clinton in the 90's for his efforts. As former camp counselor Dahlia Lithwick writes on

"In an era in which nearly everyone feels entitled to celebrity and fortune, Newman was always suspicious of both. He used his fame to give away his fortune, and he did that from some unspoken Zen-like conviction that neither had ever really belonged to him in the first place."

Plus, he ate 50 eggs. Nobody can eat 50 eggs.

No comments: