Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925-2008


My earliest memories of Paul Newman are of him wrapped in a terry-cloth towel in (what was it?) HARPER or THE PRIZE. His pecs and shoulders damp and fresh out of the shower. For months the words “terry cloth” meant sex to me.

I also remember him, a bit later, open-shirted as a krazy beatnik painter, channeling Brando and Kerouac, in WHAT A WAY TO GO!

Before Brad Pitt, six-pack meant Newman.

The iconic image of Newman is the HUD poster. I saw the movie only on TV, but, all respects to Patricia Neal, Melvyn Douglas, and Brandon de Wilde, the movie was all Newman’s—bristling machismo, boy-manly arrogance, attracting and repelling with the same brooding looks.

It’s the poster Joe Buck takes with him to NYC in MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

And then, somewhat later, Newman made an even deeper impression on me when I discovered he was also a stage and film director, a political activist, a racecar driver, and a saucier.

He was a sort of Renaissance man, a master of many talents. He embodied Hollywood liberalism in the same way he embodied “cool," in a gentle, self-effacing way—so that nobody ever mistook him for seeking a career in politics (though maybe he should have).

His late acting career showed that he had lost none of his diamond-like intensity with age. His Sidney Mussburger in the Coen brothers’ THE HUDSUCKER PROXY is a fine comic villain—vain, opportunistic, slick, the decadent ghost of the can-do spirit. His sinister turn as crime king John Rooney in ROAD TO PERDITION presented us with a nightmarish father figure, self-justified and ruthless, a man whose cynicism and greed have caused him to loath even those he thinks he loves.

Paul Newman died yesterday. Cancer. He was a class act.


“I'm a supporter of gay rights. And not a closet supporter either. From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being ... by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.” –Paul Newman

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