Character and class are words I rarely think of in connection with the acting profession. But when I think of Paul Newman, those are the first words I would use to describe him. Handsome, tough, sexy, those adjectives are all secondary. Talented. There's an understatement. Gifted beyond reason. Intelligent, thoughtful, rational. Humane.
I never wanted to meet Paul Newman, so I guess I got my wish. I never wanted to meet him because he was a man of character and class. I always felt he was the kind of human being that I will always fall short of being, and I just never wanted to see either disappointment or contempt in those crazy-blue eyes.
All that acting talent and success and celebrity, and what does the man go and do? He creates a food manufacturing company that has donated more than $250,000,000 to charity, provided jobs to I dunnohowmany people, and has the world's best company motto: "Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the Common Good." What did I say? Character and class.
The first time I saw Paul Newman I didn't like him. Well, his name was Hud at that time and he was what my mom would have called a no-account. Thirty-five years on and I still love to watch Hud so I can despise him all over again.
As decades passed Newman seemed to go from strength to strength, acting wise. When you thought he couldn't be better than when he played Rocky Graziano or Fast Eddie Felson or Hud, he would come along and dazzle you as Ben Quick or Lew Harper. Who else but Paul Newman could personify literary legends like Quick or Brick Pollitt and never get typecast? It got so the man could turn in iconic performances like that in Cool Hand Luke as easily as Cary Grant could wear a tux. Do you realize that Newman didn't even get an Oscar nomination from 1968-1980, even though he gave us his take on Butch Cassidy (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); Henry Gondorf (The Sting); Reggie Dunlop (Slap Shot); Lew Harper (The Drowning Pool); and Murphy (Fort Apache the Bronx), among his many performances in that span?
Paul Newman tops many of my favorites lists: My all-time favorite movie: The Sting. My favorite sports movie: Slap Shot. My favorite bad boy role: The Long Hot Summer (just edges out Hud). Favorite guest on Actors' Studio. It's a funny thing though, that my favorite Newman movie is not one of those I've already named. And while I firmly believe that his performances in Absence of Malice and Verdict should have won him Oscars, as did The Color of Money, my favorite Newman film is one not often remembered by the masses: Nobody's Fool. If Paul Newman had been born without talent or ambition or native intelligence, if he had never received any breaks in life, I believe he would still have been the blunt, compassionate, lost-but-found town-caretaker that Sully was in that film. He had the character for it.
My condolences to Mr. Newman's family and friends. As for myself, I refuse to mourn his passing. As an actor and more, as a human being, he gave me so much to celebrate.