Paul Newman died yesterday at age 83 after a long struggle with cancer. This tribute from Slate by Dahlia Lithwick describes Newman’s unassuming generosity in contributing a quarter of a billion dollars, 100% of the profits from his food companies, to help sick children. At his Hole in the Wall Gang camp,
Newman never stopped believing he was a regular guy who’d simply been blessed, and well beyond what was fair. So he just kept on paying it forward…Today there are 11 camps modeled on the Hole in the Wall all around the world, and seven more in the works, including a camp in Hungary and one opening next year in the Middle East. Each summer of the four I spent at Newman’s flagship Connecticut camp was a living lesson in how one man can change everything. Terrified parents would deliver their wan, weary kid at the start of the session with warnings and cautions and lists of things not to be attempted. They’d return 10 days later to find the same kid, tanned and bruisey, halfway up a tree or canon-balling into the deep end of the pool. Their wigs or prosthetic arms–props of years spent trying to fit in–were forgotten in the duffel under the bed. Shame, stigma, fear, worry, all vaporized by a few days of being ordinary. In an era in which nearly everyone feels entitled to celebrity and fortune, Newman was always suspicious of both. He used his fame to give away his fortune, and he did that from some unspoken Zen-like conviction that neither had ever really belonged to him in the first place.
Entertainment Weekly has a fine list of Newman’s best performances. His best-loved films are probably the two he made with Robert Redford, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was always superb as a flawed or damaged hero, as in The Hustler, Hud, and Harper. I enjoy his leading man performances in light romances like “A New Kind of Love” and “What a Way to Go.” But he was at his best in drama, and like many of the flawed characters unexpectedly seeking redemption he played, he kept getting better.
Here he is with Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
He was a lawyer no one expected to be honest in “The Verdict.”
And a man who was not going gently into old age in “Nobody’s Fool.”
Adam Bernstein’s perceptive obituary in the Washington Post sums up his career, calling Newman “the prime interpreter of selfish rebels.”
Newman had built up a critical reputation of imbuing stock characters with an intelligent restraint that often was not associated with the more flagrant of the Method acting followers. As examples, reviewers pointed to his work as boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) and an Army officer accused of enemy collaboration in “The Rack” (1956). He brought a vulnerability to roles that emphasized his physique, notably in “The Long, Hot Summer,” based on stories by William Faulkner, and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (both 1958), from the Tennessee Williams play.
And Lithwick, who worked at his camp, sums up the man:
Hollywood legend holds that Paul Newman is and will always be larger-than-life, and it’s true. Nominated for 10 Oscars, he won one. He was Fast Eddie, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy. And then there were Those Eyes. But anyone who ever met Paul Newman will probably tell you that he was, in life, a pretty regular-sized guy: A guy with five beautiful daughters and a wonder of a wife, and a rambling country house in Connecticut where he screened movies out in the barn. He was a guy who went out of his way to ensure that everyone else–the thousands of campers, counselors, and volunteers at his camps, the friends he involved in his charities, and the millions of Americans who bought his popcorn–could feel like they were the real star.
In honor of the upcoming election, a bi-partisan listing of classic movies featuring those two symbols of the political parties, the elephant and the donkey, with a tip of the hat to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who first assigned those animals to the Republicans and the Democrats.
1. Dumbo You’ll believe an elephant can fly in this charming animated Disney classic about the little elephant with big ears (NOTE: some ethnic humor that is insensitive by today’s standards)
2. The Adventures of Francis the Talking Mule WWII-era favorite Francis was an army mule who starred in seven popular comedies.
3. Billy Rose’s Jumbo Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, and Jumbo the elephant star in this circus story.
4. Shrek Eddie Murphy provides the voice for the talkative but loyal sidekick to the lovable ogre.
5. Fantasia Elephant ballerinas appear in one of the segments of this animated classic.
6. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh The anxious Eeyore the donkey is one of the most beloved characters in this movie based on the classic books by A.A. Milne.
7. Horton Hears a Who Tender-hearted Horton the Elephant (voice of Jim Carrey) saves the tiny speck of dust that is the home of the adorable residents of Whoville.
8. Au Hasard Balthazar This lyrical allegory is the story of a donkey-saint.
9. Hatari! Henry Mancini’s famous “Baby Elephant Walk” is one of the highlights of this genial John Wayne adventure-comedy set in Africa.
10. Pinocchio Pinocchio and Lampwick find themselves turning into donkeys when they neglect their responsibilities and families in this Disney animated classic.
There’s an op-ed in today’s Chicago Tribune is about the value of televised debates. It was written by my dad, Newton Minow, and his frequent co-author, Northwestern professor Craig LaMay. This week is the anniversary of the very first Presidential debate, the legendary Kennedy-Nixon broadcast from Chicago in 1960. Both candidates and most historians believe it played a decisive role in the outcome of the election.
Slate has a good video review of the highlights (or rather low points) of the past debates from Ford’s fumble on Eastern Europe to Al Gore’s sighs and George H. W. Bush looking at his watch as though he was bored.
On Monday, Dad and Professor LaMay participated in a panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) about the history and future of the debates with the producer of the Kennedy-Nixon debate, Don Hewitt (who would go on to produce “60 Minutes”), and Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter. From the audience, Kennedy advisor Ted Sorensen recalled briefing the candidate and former debates co-chair Rita Hauser, who recalled the 27-minute audio breakdown in the Carter-Ford debate and the wry comment by one-time Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy that he didn’t notice.
My dad is the only person to have helped organize every Presidential debate in U.S. history. He and LaMay have written a book, Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future.
In today’s op-ed, they describe the improved format of this year’s debates,
designed to get the candidates to talk directly to each other, rather than to the moderator. The 90-minute forum will be broken into segments, each devoted to a particular subject. This new format is a direct response to voter preferences and can only improve what are already the most genuine events of a campaign that is otherwise a carefully scripted and uninformative run of television news sound bites and (mostly negative) advertisements.
And they respond to criticism that the candidates merely recite canned answers:
The televised debates are the only place in the modern campaign where voters get the opportunity to compare the candidates and their views and see them think on their feet. Yes, the candidates will anticipate questions and prepare answers in advance. Who would expect otherwise? This is the biggest contest on the American electoral stage.
More important than what happens in the debate is what it means for American citizens.
You are smarter than the pundits and political professionals. After you watch tonight’s debate, turn off your television and avoid the spin that follows. Talk about the debate with your family, co-workers, friends, neighbors. Then go see what the pundits have to say, and whether you think they got it right. It is your judgment and your vote that counts, not theirs.
Finally, we confidently predict the winner of tonight’s debate and those still to come: the American voter.