Later, when George escorts his sweetheart, Emily, to the drugstore for an ice cream soda, the Stage Manager takes on the persona of Mr. Morgan, proprietor and counterman. Precisely and warmly, he crafts the fountain treats for the youngsters, and when it turns out that George has forgotten his pocket money at home, he refuses to accept the boy's gold watch as collateral for the debt: "I'll trust you ten years, George—not a day over."
You sense affection in the older man and, equally, respect in the younger; the mutuality is warming. And as is so often the case, the warmth arises not only from the material but from the actors themselves—a real coup of casting, in fact.
The old man has acted for Leo McCarey, who directed the Marx Brothers, and Michael Curtiz, who made Casablanca, and he appeared many times on live television during that medium's golden age. The kid has worked with the Coen Brothers and Martin Scorsese and Sam Mendes and lent his voice to a big- budget Pixar movie and the video game version of it.
The old man is world famous: you can't go to the supermarket, the video store, or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without encountering his image or his legacy. You think of Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, and James Stewart as his equals. The kid is making a big name for himself, but he keeps getting compared to other actors, often as a way of dismissing him or counting him short: Marlon Brando, most often, and James Dean.
One has just turned thirty, has been married for six years, and has three children, the oldest not quite five. The other is seventy- eight, with his forty- fifth anniversary coming up and five grown daughters and a pair of grandkids with whom to celebrate it.
Physically, they share some traits: wavy hair, icy blue eyes, a classical handsomeness that looks patrician on the old fellow and preppy on the kid, and a springy grace that makes the young man seem coltish and the old man seem spry.
But their personalities are pretty distinct. The old guy is serious, a World War II vet who attended Kenyon College and the Yale School of Drama on the GI Bill and dreamed of becoming a teacher and takes an active part in politics; he's raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charity and served as president of the Actors Studio. The young guy is famous for his beer drinking and his practical jokes and his goofball sense of humor and his love of fast cars and motorcycles and his roles as antiauthoritarian rebels; he's already created a couple of parts on Broadway that have maintained a place in the national repertoire and made a few indelible TV dramas.
The older man you know: Paul Newman, playing the Stage Manager in the Westport County Playhouse production of Our Town as filmed at the Booth Theater on Broadway in early 2003.
And the younger man, well, you know him too: Paul Newman, playing George Gibbs in the same play, adapted as a musical for NBC television's Producers' Showcase in September 1955.
Between those two performances sits an entire career and, indeed, an entire life—not only of one man but of the culture in which he thrived.
The blind, impetuous vigor of youth; the wry, still acceptance of maturity; the progress of an artist in his craft; the maturation of a soul, a mind, a body; the life of a man and the half- century of history he lived and echoed and symbolized and even shaped: Paul Newman's story is all of it.