Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Sometimes one doesn't realize how much we adore an actor until they're gone. That's the way it is with Paul Newman, who passed away Friday at his home in Westport, Connecticut.

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

I mention this while reading the New York Times' obituary, which lists so many of Newman's films, and not only American classics, but movies that I saw upon commercial release.

Unlike say, Marlon Brando or Cary Grant, I took in many of Newman's films at the theaters.

I must have seen "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" a half-a-dozen times (or that's what I remember; if that's an exaggeration, maybe the couple of times I did see the movie had an exponential impact). We had a small movie theater at the mall by my house. This was in the early-1970s, when I was in junior high. My parents let me go to the movies on the weekends by myself or with friends. "Butch Cassidy" is the film that reminds me most of that time. We didn't have cable TV back then, or iPods. It was still the age of the golden cinema, and nowadays I always hope that going to the movies will bring back the sense of fun and escape I had in those days - a carefree kid, really, innocent and out for a little getaway.

I remember, too, that Robert Redford was the heartthrob in all these flicks (like "The Sting"), but Newman was the sly joker, and he played off Redford magnetism just perfectly. I love the horseback getaway scene in "Butch Cassidy," where Newman and Redford are about to jump off the cliff and Redford says "I can't swim," and Newman says, "Are you kidding? The fall alone will kill ya!"

I don't remember the movie as a comedy, however. It's a tragedy when Butch and Sundance die in the blaze of bullets at the end, and the fade-away scene is a classic of motion picture artistry (reprised, for example, in 1991's "Thelma and Louise"). I just didn't want that movie to end...

Other films, like "Cool Hand Luke," I saw on Saturday afternoon's hanging around my parents house. I think I'm a lot like Luke, likely to spend the night in "the box" for getting too ornery for my keepers.

Anyway, I imagine I could go on.

I've only met a few actors in my life, and my dad once told me that Newman wasn't friendly to common folk, that he was cranky and stuck up. I always remembered that in watching his films. We like our stars on the screen so much, we don't want a negative image or personal background story to ruin it for us.

It happened to me, for example, with Sigourney Weaver. I bumped into her in Santa Barbara at a children's shoe store where we were both getting footwear for our kids. I lit up with the biggest smile and said hello to her, but she barely acknowledge me and went on about her business. That's certainly undstandable (while less forgivable), but it reminded me of what my old man has said about Newman. I don't know if he was a cranky guy to strangers - I had no personal experience with it. He did brighten many a Saturday afternoon for me, and his stunning good looks and clever deviousness endeared him to everyone.

May he rest in peace, and best wishes go out to his family.