Excerpt: 'Paul Newman: A Life'

Newman was proud of his profession, eternally grateful to his teachers and peers and colleagues and to the writers and directors who created the roles and the projects he appeared in. But like other men's men who take up acting, he could find himself embarrassed by the fussiness of his craft, and he had a need to assert himself in other, more physical areas of life in order to pass muster with himself. And so auto racing, as alien a pastime to the arts as could be imagined, became a second world for him. Picking it up in his mid- forties, he was seen at first as a dilettante. But his bulldog tenacity (and, too, his native athleticism and his uncommon financial means) took him to remarkable levels of accomplishment: four national amateur titles, two professional race victories, a second- place finish at the famed twenty- four hour race in Le Mans, and, at age seventy, a victory in his team's class in the 24 Hours of Daytona—making him the oldest person to win a sanctioned auto race ever, anywhere. As a team owner in even higher classes of competition, his success was greater still: 8 national titles and107 individual race victories—a massive haul.

And he was nearly as accomplished an entrepreneur as he was a race- car driver and owner. As a purveyor of food products, a business that he didn't enter until his mid- fifties, he created new standards for the elimination of preservatives and the use of fresh ingredients in salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, salsas, and snack foods. And when he expanded into organic foods, his became one of the nation's most recognized and trusted brands. Those businesses led to another area of achievement: philanthropy. Aside from the millions of dollars and thousands of hours he donated privately over the years, his Newman's Own Foundation, which gave away all posttax profits from the food businesses, doled out more than $250 million in its first twenty- five years of existence. And in the final years before his death, Newman bequeathed his share of the company—valued at nearly $120 million— for similar distribution.

It's a staggering list of achievements—the acting, the racing, the earnings, the giving away—and he could sometimes seem uneasy about it all and, especially, about the image that the rest of the world had of him as a result. The great sportswriter Jim Murray, who met him on a racetrack, opined, "He's probably the only guy in America who doesn't want to be Paul Newman." And William Goldman, who wrote Harper and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, remarked similarly, "I don't think Paul Newman really thinks he is Paul Newman in his head."

In rare unguarded moments, he admitted as much. "The toughest role is playing Paul Newman," he told a reporter. "My own personality is so vapid and bland, I have to go steal the personalities of other people to be effective."

He wasn't blowing smoke. He was a man of great gifts, but he was genuinely humble, believing in work and family and luck and community and the greater good—and if a surfeit of that good slopped up onto his plate over the years, he would be sure to share it, and he would do so in the best humor he could. Somehow he had turned the gifts life and luck had granted him into things he could multiply and give back. Occasionally along the way he would misstep or be discourteous or make a wrong aesthetic choice or drive ill- advisedly or whatnot, but what he never did was hole up, retreat, give in, surrender, or fail to engage.

"What I would really like to put on my tombstone," he once said, "is that I was part of my time."

And he was.

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