Paul Newman

I never met Paul Newman, although I am pleased to have appeared in a movie with him.

My wife, however, did meet him, the story of which I would like to relate to you now.

It’s the mid 1980s. She’s working in a swanky independent bookstore on the Upper East Side of New York. One evening, a tall, rattily-dressed elderly man walks in, with dark glasses, a baseball hat and excellent posture. He approaches her at the counter and asks for a book he has ordered.

Now then: she is not a star-gazer. When I told her one day that I was to travel to Hollywood to take a meeting with Warren Beatty, she screwed up her face in confusion and said "Remind me which one is Warren Beatty?" When we went to see Interview with the Vampire, after the movie was over she said "So…which one was Tom Cruise and which one was Brad Pitt?"

Anyway, so this tall, thin, rail-upright elderly man in dark glasses and a baseball hat approaches her at the counter and asks for a book he’s ordered. And she says "Sure. Name?"

The elderly man stares at her. As though she is, perhaps, an idiot. She begins to get uncomfortable. An awkward beat passes. "Newman" he barks, in a deep, gravelly voice. "Okay," she says, not quite sure what she’s done to get this customer mad at her. She goes back to their files and find that there are two people named "Newman" with books on order. She asks "First name?"

The elderly man looks as though he’s been slapped. Another tortured beat passes. "PAUL," he barks, as though he would just as soon bite off her head.

"O-kayyy," she says, still not sure what this man’s problem is. She goes to check on his order, as tendrils of smoke begin to rise from the elderly man’s head. As it happens, there are, oddly enough, a number of "Paul Newman"s who have accounts with the store, and she fetches her supervisor to help with the order. The supervisor greets Mr. Newman warmly and goes off to see about his order, leaving my wife alone with him at the counter again. He’s apoplectic now, frozen in a rictus of mortification.

Keep in mind, even if she has never seen The Sting, she uses this man’s salad dressing on a regular basis — she’s not unaware of movie-star/food-mogul Paul Newman, she just doesn’t recognize him in his ratty clothes, his baseball cap and his dark glasses.

Trying desperately to find something nice to say to this odd customer, she notices that he’s got an interesting ring on one of his hands. She compliments him on the ring and the man suddenly lights up. His scowl transforms into a handsome grin and he begins to boast proudly of his career in racing. The ring is a championship trophy from one race or another and he is very proud of it indeed. He whips off his glasses and she is met with a pair of piercing blue eyes, bright and lucid enough to shoot laser beams. As he expounds at length about the talent of his pit crew and the thrills of competitive racing, his face suddenly snaps into focus for her — oh, you’re that Paul Newman."

Anyway, it turns out the book he’s ordered won’t be released for another three months, so after cheerfully regaling my wife with stories of the racing life he goes off on his merry stats


36 Responses to “Paul Newman”
  1. mcbrennan says:

    That’s an excellent story. Does she remember what book he was after?

  2. That’s a great funny story.

    Lest we forget, he was for the left. Any enemy of Richard Nixon is a friend of mine.

    • Todd says:

      As with all the sad deaths of this year, my biggest regret for the great Paul Newman is that he did not live long enough to see the end of the reign of Dauphin Bush II.

      • ndgmtlcd says:

        I’m tempted to say “Look at it on the bright side, at least he didn’t live to see McCain and Palin get into the White House”, but in fact the first thing I thought was that he lived through the Watergate hearings and Nixon getting kicked out of the White House, and that is no small joy.

      • quitwriting says:

        I feel stupid for not knowing this reference… to the Google!

        *three minutes later*

        Ah, it’s French. I see. *nodnod*

        • Todd says:

          Almost there: it’s also a specific Dauphin, primarily the arrogant, entitled, foolhardy Dauphin of Shakespeare’s Henry V, who is referred to, quite disparagingly, simply as “the Dauphin.”

          • quitwriting says:

            Heheheh. Yeah, I’m sure Bush shares a lot with him. I was never able to get much past Shakespeare’s comedies (the list of which I personally include Romeo & Juliet because that was freakin’ hilarious).

          • popebuck1 says:

            I’ve been thinking Bush is a lot more like feckless, petulant, unlovable Richard II – but then again, Richard II was poetic in his downfall, and actually becomes sympathetic by the end. So maybe we should go right to the bottom of the barrel and say he’s King John.

          • richaje says:

            Actually, he is never referred to as “the Dauphin” but always as “the Dolphin” (and on one occasion “my cousin the Dolphin” – which always made me smirk). Clearly that isn’t because Shakespeare and his audience didn’t know French – remember, this is the play that has an entire scene between Katherine and Alice largely in French – in fact, I suspect it is quite the opposite (since “dauphin” means “dolphin” in French).

            There’s a lot of propoganda in Shakespeare’s characterization of “the Dolphin” as an arrogant and feckless prince. Keep in mind that “the Dolphin” is later King Charles VII of France, who – with the aid of the Maid of Orleans (aka Joan la Pucelle) – ultimately outlasts Henry V’s ephemeral conquests and reunites the kingdom of France. I suspect he was still hated by good Englishmen a century and a half later.

            • Todd says:

              I am not shocked that Shakespeare’s characterization of The Dauphin is not historically accurate.

              • richaje says:

                Of course, I just find his characterization of the Dolphin fascinating. He’s the villain of the piece – a prancing, incompetent, feckless Frenchman (the king and the herald are treated far more sympathetically). And yet, Shakespeare (and much of his audience) knows that in the end, the Dolphin wins. How we characterize our villains says a lot about who we are (and what we fear we might be).

  3. stormwyvern says:

    Aside from being a person whose charitable works and acting career made for more than a life well lived and a man who made the term “aging gracefully” into a total understatement, Paul Newman was also the only man in the world I’ve ever known my mother to be attracted to who was not my father. She got to see him in person once. It was a fundraiser for a local feminist group and my mother, being a longtime leftie as well as a Paul Newman fan, eagerly attended. She told me that she really couldn’t hear a word he said, but she didn’t care. Just seeing him was more than enough. I also recall my dad once telling me that my mother’s level of enthusiasm about going out to see a movie is usually fairly mild, but when the movie in question was “Nobody’s Fool,” my mother was rather more insistent that they see the film as soon as possible.

    He was a man of incredible talent and generosity and I wish I could have seen him in person too.

    OK, I’ll bite: what movie were you in with him?

      • stormwyvern says:

        Oooh. You were in a movie with a lot of people.

        Thanks for sharing your wife’s story. If he gets mentioned in another film analysis, maybe I’ll tell the story of how I got to see Matt Damon.

    • Anonymous says:

      Paul and Mom

      In fact, my mother insists that Paul Newman is the only man she would’ve left my father for. She loved his politics.

      • Todd says:

        Re: Paul and Mom

        My wife says the same thing about Matt Damon — although she makes it clear that what she means is that she would leave me for Jason Bourne, not Matt Damon. Which, well, who wouldn’t?

        • quitwriting says:

          Re: Paul and Mom

          I’d leave you for Jason Bourne…

          • rennameeks says:

            Re: Paul and Mom

            I don’t think Jason Bourne has what it takes to maintain a blog of this calibur.

            • Todd says:

              Re: Paul and Mom

              That may be so, but my wife doesn’t read my blog.

            • quitwriting says:

              Re: Paul and Mom

              Ah, but what he lacks in blogging ability he makes up for in spying ability. Want to know the exact details of the up-coming geek movie? Get Jason to break into their offices and get you an entire roster complete with final draft scripts and salaries down to the budget for the food. Awesome.

              Then you get your side-line, Todd Alcott, to write a blog about. Double-bonus!

              So maybe I wouldn’t leave Todd for Jason, but I may split my time between the two. 😀

              • Todd says:

                Re: Paul and Mom

                Unfortunately, all of Jason Bourne’s time is taken up with self-discovery. To get Jason Bourne to break into a studio office, you’d have to convince him that the studio is making a series of movies about his life that will finally answer the question of who he is.

                — Hey, wait a minute…

  4. Very good story, and well written. 🙂

    A friend of mine, in her mid-60s, lived in the same town as Peter Gabriel during the early 80s, while raising her 3 children.

    She and he were sitting, watching their children in a school play, and during the intermission, she asked him, “So, what do you do?”.


  5. Anonymous says:

    That’s a great memory, but I guess your wife is very short. Newman in his prime scraped 5’9″, although his official biography said 5’10”. He was indeed a very nice, multitalented man who had no ego. He must have gotten up on the wrong side of bed that day, it can happen. There will never be another one like him.

    • Todd says:

      Errors of reportage are to be laid at my feet — for some reason I remember Newman as over six feet. Perhaps only in my mind’s eye.

  6. Sky TV is playing a Newman tribute – in this order: Hudsucker Proxy, Cool Hand Luke, Torn Curtain (which I keep meaning to catch, Hitchie!) and for a finale, Slap Shot!!!!

    So in which act am I to expect to see you?????

    • Todd says:

      Toward the beginning of Hudsucker, I briefly yell at Tim Robbins in the mail room. Not the main guy yelling at him, but another guy. Don’t worry if you don’t see me — I go by pretty fast.

      • Are you the first other one or the second!! You are right about it being fast!
        I really liked the film and would like to watch it again after I look through your review from long ago.